Over the last few years LeftHand Networks has quietly – or maybe not so quietly – grown its install base to 9000. Like a growing number of storage-centric businesses, it has developed a customer niche in the small and midsize enterprise (SME) market providing economical iSCSI storage products for these environments. However no matter what size customer a storage vendor supports, all storage vendors must now account for the growing presence of VMware virtual machines (VMs) in these environments, and LeftHand Networks is no exception.
The difference is that the type of functionality that a storage vendor needs to incorporate into its products to support VMware is driven by the market segment it serves. LeftHand Networks’ heavy focus on SMEs coupled with its SAN/iQ software gives it flexibility and advantages that most other providers of iSCSI storage software or hardware typically cannot offer for VMware.
However as LeftHand Networks seeks to move into adjacent markets such as small and midsize businesses (SMBs) or remote and branch offices (ROBOs) who are looking to implement VMware, it needs to hit their two hot buttons: low cost and simplicity. Over the years, LeftHand Networks SAN/iQ software has delivered this in the SME space by giving them the option to turn existing servers into storage controllers and then presenting that server’s storage to other network servers as iSCSI storage targets. These clients can then cluster two or more of these servers together using SAN/iQ’s clustering technology to create a highly available configuration.
These technologies coupled with LeftHand Networks’ new focus on SMBs and ROBOs is seen in today’s new product offering – their Virtual SAN Appliance (VSA). The two features that particularly stand out about LeftHand’s VSA are:
- It provides for failover between different VMware ESX servers using VMware’s VMotion feature without a requirement for an external iSCSI or FC SAN. Typically the only way users can take advantage of VMware VMotion, which allows for failover of a VM from one physical machine to another, is when it is deployed in conjunction with a SAN. VMotion’s requirement for a SAN may preclude an SMB or a ROBO from utilizing this feature. LeftHand Networks circumvents this requirement for an external SAN by using its SAN/iQ software to virtualize disk (internal or external) on each VMware server and then creating a cluster of VMs on different VMware physical servers.
- LeftHand Networks SAN/iQ software appears on VMware’s Hardware Compatibility List (HCL). This achievement is a first, to the best of my knowledge, for a software provider of storage virtualization software. I have talked to other storage virtualization software providers who have expressed a great deal of frustration about their inability to receive this coveted certification from VMware because of what it means in terms of achieving customer acceptance of their product. LeftHand Networks VP of Business Development, Karl Chen, told me that surveys of VMware customers reveal that 88% of them are more comfortable with a product certified by VMware than products without a certification. So it was a real coup for LeftHand Networks to obtain this certification from VMware for their SAN/iQ storage virtualization software.
The growth of iSCSI SANs is certain to grow in the coming years as Ethernet performance increases and costs continue to drop. But not every SMB and ROBO needs or wants an Ethernet iSCSI SAN on their initial install but still want to experience the data protection and application failover benefits that VMware’s VMotion delivers. Now thanks to LeftHand Networks understanding of their specific needs, its new VSA offering and their recently awarded VMware HCL certification, it looks like these benefits may now become achievable goals for SMBs and ROBOs after all.