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NetApp and VMware Cloud Foundation made easy Part 3: VCF and Element principal storage

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Josh Powell
Josh Powell

In the previous blogs in this four-part series, we covered VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) basics and Virtual Infrastructure (VI) workload domains using NetApp® ONTAP® FlexGroup volumes and NFS. When you create a VCF workload domain, you can use VMware vSAN, NFS, and VMware Virtual Machine File System (VMFS) with Fibre Channel (FC). For your principal storage, another way to create a VCF workload domain is to use VMware vSphere Virtual Volumes (vVols). In this blog, we show you how to provision a VI workload domain using NetApp SolidFire® scale-out storage systems. SolidFire storage systems are powered by NetApp Element® software and they’re great for creating vVols as your principal storage with the iSCSI protocol.

vVols, Storage Policy Based Management, and Element software

VMware vVols abstract your SAN and NAS storage into logical dynamic disk pools called vVols datastores. Together with Storage Policy Based Management (SPBM) and virtual machine (VM) storage policies, vVols provide you as a VMware vCenter Server administrator with granular storage control at the virtual machine (VM) level. They also simplify how you apply service levels.

With iSCSI storage, vVols do more than traditional logical unit numbers (LUNs). With iSCSI storage and vVols, Element service to each Virtual Machine Disk (VMDK) is better when you use VM storage policies. You can offload VM snapshots to your array and have the UNMAP command automatically clear dead space. You have your full array capacity available, rather than being limited to the capacity of the datastore LUN that underlies a traditional VMware datastore.

To use vVols, you need a storage array that has a vSphere API for Storage Awareness (VASA) provider that can execute commands for vSphere. SolidFire scale-out storage systems have a VASA provider for these commands. The systems can be your principal storage for VCF workload domains when you select the vVol option during VI workload domain creation. VMware vSphere hosts access storage on the cluster through protocol endpoints (PE) that run on each node.

Here’s how a vSphere data center works with VMware vVols and NetApp Solidfire as the VASA provider:

screenshot of chart

Element VASA provider registration and container creation

To make VMware vSphere aware of the vVols capability of the SolidFire cluster, you must first ensure that the VASA provider is registered with vCenter. The VASA provider is the control path between vSphere and the SolidFire cluster and executes commands on behalf of vSphere.

In this example, we’re adding the VASA provider through the Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) Manager in preparation for provisioning our VI workload domain:

1. Log in (with administrator credentials) to the NetApp Element UI by using the management virtual IP address of the SolidFire scale-out storage system.

2. After you are logged in, navigate to Cluster > Settings to display the status of vVols. Verify that vVols has been enabled. Copy the VASA provider URL of the storage cluster.


3. While still in the Element UI, create a storage container to host the vVols datastore. Navigate to vVols > Storage Containers and select Create Storage Container.


4. Enter a name for the storage container. You can leave the CHAP Settings fields blank to allow the Initiator Secret and Target Secret to generate automatically. Click Create Storage Container.


5. Log in to SDDC Manager with administrator credentials. From the dashboard, navigate to Storage Settings and click + Add VASA Provider.


6. Enter the VASA provider information, which includes the name, the VASA provider URL, the Element storage credentials, and the container name and container type. Click Save.


Virtual Infrastructure workload domain creation

As mentioned in our previous blog, Getting Started, the VI workload domain has an important role within the VCF construct. To easily create a VI workload domain with vVols, Element storage, and iSCSI, use the VI Configuration wizard.

VI workload domain creation

The detailed steps for creating a workload domain are outlined in Part 2 of this blog series, “VCF and ONTAP principal storage.” When you are creating your workload domain using vVols as principal storage, make sure you do the following during the creation process:

1. Within SDDC Manager, navigate to Inventory > Workload Domains, click the button to add a workload domain, and select the VI – Workload Domains option.

2. At the start of the workload domain creation process, select vVol when presented with the Storage Selection dialog box. Click Begin to start the process.


3. Complete the following sections of the VI Configuration wizard: 

- VI Domain name 

- Cluster details 

- vCenter details 

- Networking details 

- Appropriate hosts

4. In the vVol storage step, select values from the drop-down menu for the vVol storage and specify a name for the datastore that will be created on the storage container. The storage container selected in this example is the one we created on the Element cluster earlier in this blog.


5. Complete the following sections as you complete the VI Configuration wizard:

- Licensing information

- Review Object Name summary

- Review

After the workload domain is successfully provisioned, verify that all hosts show up in their workload domain and all the other details are correct.



In this blog series so far, we've talked about provisioning your storage in VCF, including various methods for deploying your principal storage. Element with vVols allows for granular control of your VMs and offloads many tasks so that your ESXi nodes don’t waste precious resources on storage-related functions.

For more information about vVols and Element software, see TR-4642: VMware vSphere Virtual Volumes for SolidFire Storage Configuration Guide.

Make sure to read the final blog in the NetApp and VCF series:

  • NetApp and VCF made easy—Part 4: ONTAP tools for VMware and supplemental storage

To read the earlier blogs, see:

Learn more. View our online demos featured during VMworld 2021

Josh Powell

Josh is a Technical Marketing Engineer at NetApp designing Hybrid Cloud solutions . His focus areas include VMware, Data Protection and Software Defined Storage. Over his 20 year career in the storage industry he has held numerous roles related to driving customer satisfaction and product improvement. Prior to joining NetApp Josh worked as a Senior Storage Consultant at HPE.

View all Posts by Josh Powell

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