IT administrators looking to pair their VMware solution with storage hardware have most likely noticed products labeled as “VMware Ready.” The label lends credibility to the product and probably gives admins the peace of mind that the systems they are pairing will work properly with one another. But what exactly does "VMware Ready" mean?
In this podcast with VMware expert Mike Laverick, learn what the label VMware Ready implies and the difference between products with the VMware Ready status and the Community-Supported Hardware and Software list on VMware's website. Laverick outlines the testing process applied to storage hardware vying for a spot on the VMware Ready list, including an explanation as to why certain storage products get a spot but others don’t, and explains to listeners why they should never assume, despite VMware's stamp of approval, that hardware or firmware is up to date and will work with VMware without flaws.
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SearchVirtualStorage.com: VMware designates certain storage hardware products as VMware Ready. Can you explain to us what VMware Ready means?
Laverick: A lot of listeners are familiar with programs from other vendors where the vendor has a badge or logo that verifies that the device or software being used has been tested against their technologies and found to be compatible and work. If you compare [VMware's program] to other programs from other vendors, it’s the same process. [In the past] the ecosystem, as it's sometimes referred to, were able to develop technologies independently of VMware without having to get a stamp of approval from the vendor to indicate that the product was at least compatible with various flavors of VMware's vSphere. I think you can view it as trying to give the customers who are going out to buy complementary technologies, in this case storage hardware, a reassurance that this particular technology [is VMware-certified hardware, meaning it] will work with what they've bought.
SearchVirtualStorage.com: VMware also lists "Community-Supported Hardware and Software" on its website. What differentiates the ones on that list from the ones with VMware Ready status?
Laverick: To some degree, the answer to that question is in the name: "community." In this case, the software or hardware that you might be using [off this list] hasn't been officially certified by VMware in an official program, and it doesn't have the VMware Ready logo. Instead, it's supported by people, like myself, in the community. Outside of corporate space it's very popular for people to use home labs to learn about VMware technologies, and very often they can't afford the hardware that's officially listed. Also, there are small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that might decide to use something that they know is stable and reliable but just isn’t officially supported by VMware. That can be on the server side to some degree, but it appears quite often on the storage side because storage arrays that are commercially available can be extremely pricey and can exclude people working at home or at SMBs. There have always been a raft of various technologies, like FreeNAS and Openfiler, which work just as well but they’re not commercially supported or available; they're in the open source area of technology development.
SearchVirtualStorage.com: Can IT shops assume that major storage systems will ship with VMware Ready status? Or do they really need to be concerned that their storage system might be incompatible with their VMware environment?
Laverick: The old rule in the previous decade was that for every $1 spent on VMware, most shops then spend at least $4 on storage. So it's really in the interest of these storage vendors to have this [VMware Ready] status and be able to plaster it all over their websites to reassure customers that they'll get a compatible system.
It's also common knowledge that when an array ships from a factory, by the time it actually gets installed and set up in your own environment, its firmware … or management systems could be out of date. I wouldn’t want to suggest that just because something has a VMware Ready certified logo that you wouldn’t go through the same level of due diligence that you would with any other system. So if you're buying a new array, or even if you've got an existing array that is VMware Ready, you'd still want to make sure that your firmware and software [are] up to date.
That's critically important in the world of VMware because VMware does work very closely with the storage vendors -- they have a number of programs and APIs to allow the ESX hypervisor to make direct SCSI calls to the array to improve performance. If the firmware isn't up to date it may not be aware of those APIs and therefore you won't get the benefits that you're hoping to get.
So you always want to do due diligence and check that [the hardware] was properly supported and was up to date from a firmware perspective.
SearchVirtualStorage.com: Lastly, do you know what kind of testing process is applied to the products that are certified as VMware Ready?
Laverick: Let's talk about the Hardware Compatibility List, or HCL, which I'm sure listeners will have heard of from other vendors. It won't come to anybody's surprise that VMware doesn't have an enormous data center filled with every server, storage system and network that exists on the planet -- it's unfeasible for any vendor to be able to test internally all hardware or software systems.
Like any process, it’s a certification process. VMware outlines the various tests that should be done and what functionality should be supported. So long as that self-certification process is successful, that vendor will get their server or piece of storage on the HCL.
VMware likes to triage its resources -- it's not like any old storage vendor … can set up a storage array tomorrow and say, "We'd like to be on the program." [VMware is] really looking at the top tier of vendors, not the smaller vendors [or] small arrays; those wouldn't appear on the HCL. [There is the case that Iomega] is on the HCL, but EMC owns that company so they have some leverage in [getting] certified.
It's kind of a joint process between VMware and the hardware vendors, where they go through these predefined tests. That then is fed into VMware's QA process, and then finally they [are placed] on the HCL. It's quite a long process, as you might imagine, because hardware is the foundation to what we're doing in terms of virtualization, and, therefore, it has to be rock-solid for the platform to be rock-solid as well.