How does vSphere Replication 8.3 work with vSAN 7.0 U1?

VMware vSphere Replicaton Appliances VRA installed on Protected and Recovery sites enable replication of VMs between those locations. VRA is very popular and well documented. The question is how its latest edition integrates with vSAN 7.0 U1?

The best way to check is to install and test both solutions. The configuration proces is simple, we domwnload ova, deploy it on both sites, make sure an appliance is reachable by local vCenter (DNS and NTP are required) and a service account we use for registering VRA in vCenter has sufficient privileges. During installation, we get a Site Recovery plugin in a local vCenter and VR Agent on each local ESXi.

Configuring VRA in https://fqdn_vra:5480 VAMI portal

VRA can work as standalone solution providing replication service between clusters under the same vCenter. Paired with remote VRA offers a protection from a site failure. It integrates with vCenter we can setup a VM protection directly from vCenter UI.

vcsa-5 and vcsa-16 pairing

After site pairing is done, we can start replication tasks. In this example both sites are vSAN 7.0 U1 clusters. To check how vSAN SPBM integrates with VRA, I will create a task to change vSAN SPBM when replicating on the destination site.

VM aga_2 has a 400 GB VMDK disk on the source side. It has FTT-1 mirror SPBM policy with Object Space Reservation 100%. This means I get 2 copies of VMDK on the vSAN datastore and it occupies around 800 GB of space.

From the source vCenter I can now configure replication for this VM,

The steps are simple, we have to select a Target site (vCenter-16).

VRA checks if this VM can be configured for replication.

For a vSAN datastore at a Target site we can select (even per disk) a different vSAN storage policy than the one at a Source site. In this scenario I select FTT-0 SPBM, which means I will have just one copy od the VMDK (not recommended in production!). Sometimes it happens a budget for a remote site is limited and a storage space there may not be sufficient to store more copies of the data. I want to check if it is possible to replicate from FTT-1 to FTT-0. If yes, in real-life scenarios we could save some space and have for example RAID-1 mirror on a Source side and a RAID-5 on Destination.

vSAN SPBM at Destination site

The most important part of the replication setup is setting Recovery Point Objective and the number of points in time (snapshots) we can revert to in case of a failure at the Source site.

Configuring replication of aga2 to use vSAN storage policy ftt-0.
After first replication sync, on Target vCenter: vcsa-16, replica of aga2.vmdk has around 400GB, which means only one copy of the object is stored on the vSAN datastore.

After a successful syncing between Source and Target sites, we can RECOVER aga2 VM. This means it will be registered on Target site. It can also be powered on right away.

The VM was replicated with points of time/snapshosts available. Now we can revert to the selected snapshot from the Target site.
The VM is powered on at the Target site, change to FTT-0 vSAN policy was successful.

vSAN storage policies integrate with VRA. This is not a new feature introduced in 7.0 but I still remember some time ago replicated VMs had always Default vSAN Policy (2 copies) and manual SPBM refresh was required after recovering a VM. There was no way to save space on the Target site with the SPBM policy change as it had to be re-applied later.

What is new in 7.0 is the fact that vSAN Capacity Report in vCenter UI shows how much data is used by vSphere Replicaton. In previous versions we were not able to detect how much of a vSAN capacity was used by disk replicas.

A small advice at the end. VM replicas are not registered in a Target vCenter, so it is easy to miss the actual size they use. We will not see so many VMs under vCenter but the replicas will be there. Check usage breakdown regularly. If you keep many point in time copies of the VM, the number of the vSAN components will also grow (with FTT- policy each object will have 3+ components ). It is good to check Capacity utilisation in vSAN Skyline Health: “What if the most consumed host fails”. Component utilisation in vSAN environments that are target for vSphere Replication is usually high.

Extending a network with HCX Network Extension

Network Extension (NE) is a HCX service mesh appliance that helps to extend L2 network between two sites. It is used to provide network accessibility when migrating VMs between sites. Most popular use case is to use NE when migrating (via HCX or using other methods) VMs from on-prem site to cloud and back. It is also a little bit overused because the configuration is so easy and fast, we may want it stay there forever ;-). If this is the case, it is worth mentioning Mobility Optimised Networking (MON) NE feature would be needed for latency sensitive production workload. MON provides routing based on locality of source and destination VMs and prevents L2 Extension Tromboning. With MON VM in site B (remote) could communicate with other VMs in other segments without reaching site A where its gateway is located.

For my step by step demo I am using two locations: site A (on-prem) where network segment aga_test is originally configured and site B (cloud) where the network aga_test will be extended. Site A uses NSX-T and DHCP is configured for my segment but NSX-T is not required, it can be any vSphere Distributed Switch VLAN/tagged network.

HCX-5 (site A, connector role) and HCX-1 (site B, manager role) are paired and NE service mesh appliances are deployed on both locations. NEs create unmanaged Encrypted Transport Tunnel between sites on the network link defined in Network Uplink Profile.

The goal is to enable L2 communication between vm1 in site A and vm2 in site B. Additional points are for making DHCP working on extended network.

aga_test is NSX-T 3.0 subnet: with DHCP enabled
HCX service mesh with Network Extension appliance deployed between hcx-5 (site A) and hcx-1 (site B).
When NE appliance is deployed, we can create a Network Extension. Take a look at the description, “the default gateway for the network extension only exist at the origin site”, that is why MON may be useful.
We pick a network to extend from the list: aga_test.
This is the moment when we can enable MON. It is included in HCX Enterprise license. We provide gateway address and NE appliance that we want to use.
The network extension is ready in just a few minutes.
Service Mesh view provides more details on extended network: L2E_aga_test
vCenter on site B shows the extended network L2E_aga_test in the Network tab
Extended segment is visible in the Segments view in NSX-T on site B. Default Segment Security doesn’t allow DHCP so for the L2E_aga_test it has to be allowed.
Creating DHCP_Allow_Sec profile that allows to receive DHCP traffic for VMs on the extended network.
vm1 is deployed on Site A in aga_test network and has address
vm2 is deployed on Site in L2E_aga_test extended network and got address
vm1 pinging vm2
vm2 pinging vm1
The connectivity between vm1 and vm2 can be also verified using NSX-T Traceflow feature.

vSAN 7.0 U1 – new features spotted (part 2)

While browsing the familiar vCenter UI right after an upgrade from 6.7U3 to 7.0U1 I noticed some small but nice changes I wanted to share.

Enable Capacity Reserve for vSAN datastore

Cluster -> Configure-> vSAN Services: this part just got a new option: Enable Capacity Reserve. To be able to see the benefits of this improvement, lets see how it was in pre-7.0 era.

In my 4-node vSAN cluster where hosts have around 17,49 TB capacity each, the datastore capacity is 69,86 TB. When actually written capacity (used by VM) reached 49,47 TB which was more than 70% of the cluster space, it was still ‘all green’ for the cluster in CAPACITY USAGE view. Don’t look at dedupe savings, this is just a test environment.

The only indication that the datastore was getting full and that we could potentially run into rebuild issues if a host failed was vSAN Skyline Health check “What if the most consumed host fails”.

In this situation having datastore which was 70% full already and 47 TB of VM data, loosing 17,49 TB would mean datastore size around 52 TB. 47/52 means datastore full in 90%. But I was still able to create new VMs, this limit was soft.

For vSAN 6.7 to stay on the safe side we had to use fixed 25-30% of slack (free) space regardless of the cluster size. 25-30% guaranteed there would be enough space for rebuilds and cluster operations in case of a node failure but in many cases it was too much and not everyone was an expert in monitoring the cluster size. On the other hand, not everyone could afford to constantly monitor the space making sure no one creates an automation task to provision hundreds of VMs over the weekend that could make vSAN datastore full.

Capacity Reserve is a feature that helps to control the vSAN capacity and is specific to your cluster size. It will also protect the cluster from provisioning new VMs, so datastore will not get full.

In my case, I still have 4-node vSAN Cluster with capacity 69,86 TB. When I enable Capacity Reserve feature, my VMs use only 9,19 TB of vSAN datastore. I don’t get to set the capacity reservations, the exact values are calculated and set for me. When I select Operations reserve, it is up to me to select also Host rebuild reserve (the first one has to be selected to be able to select the second).

Looking at capacity Overview of the vSAN datastore, I see that the system has reserved 16,54 TB for the host rebuild (23.68 %) and 1.78 TB for operations (2.54%).

When I create more VMs and vSAN tasks, my capacity utilisation reaches 45.45 TB (the utilisation is now almost the same as in the first scenario). I can also see the Operations reserve increased to 7.08 TB (10%). It is because I created more VMs and more tasks so more cluster resources would be needed for operations.

You can see Capacity Overview changed colour to yellow, showing I am reaching my space limit. Actually “free” space on disks is now 815 GB. The remaining capacity is secured in case of a host failure or rebuilds.

You can also see an alert in vCenter: vSAN Health alarm “Cluster disk space utilization” triggered although cluster still has free capacity. Isn’t it little bit like HA Admission Control for a storage?

Even though there was still some space on vSAN datastore, it prevented me from creating new VMs.

We also get Disk space vSAN Health alert “This cluster level disk usage is above 34 854 GB, which is 80% of the host rebuild tolerance threshold”.

And in addition to that, also ‘What if the most consumed host fails’ is triggered independently of the other alerts.

It seems the feature is very effective and finally we can put a hard stop and prevent vSAN from getting full.

vSAN 7.0 U1 – new features spotted (part 1)

While browsing the familiar vCenter UI right after an upgrade from 6.7U3 to 7.0U1 I noticed some small but nice changes I wanted to share.

RAID_D for integrity

When we put a host in Maintenance Mode with Ensure Accessibility option we will see a new RAID type ->RAID_D. It guarantees that all new write operations have two copies of data (for data integrity). In the example below esxi-59 is in MM, so all new writes go to esxi-74 (as a backup for esxi-59) and to esxi-79. Note that Witness object in this example is also on esxi-74 node as the RAID_D component. It is because we have 3 node vSAN cluster.

Compression ONLY

If the workload is not dedupe – friendly but can benefit from compression, now there is an option to enable Compression only on vSAN all-flesh datastore. The bonus is (in comparison to dedupe & compression) that in case of a failure of a capacity disk, whole disk group will NOT be unmounted.

Datastore Sharing aka HCI Mesh

If you have more than 2 clusters under the same vCenter, you can mount vSAN datastore from the remote cluster and use as a spare capacity for VMs.


Now the famous VMware fling IOInsight is integrated with vCenter UI performance tab. We can run an instance of it on the selected target hosts and monitor in detail I/O performance of VMs.

I/O Performance comparison between VMs

We can now pick up to 10 VMs and compare I/O performance between them for more detailed analysis on how does a certain VM behaves in comparison to others on a shared chart or use separated charts.

vSAN upgrade to 7.0 U1 – format change

When you upgrade your cluster to 7.0 U1 you get a new disk format version 13.0. And like always, if it is an upgrade from recent vSAN versions like 6.7, no data evacuation is required, it is metadata change only.

I was sure my update will be quick as previous ones but not this time ;-). I was surprised by a new activity in the Resyncing Objects dashboard called “Format change”.

It turns out that for 7.0 U1 objects that are greater than 255GB have to be rewritten to a new format. My cluster had many of such objects (like VMs with VMDKs of 1 TB ) so it took some time to change their format.

There is also a new Skyline Health test that shows how many objects need a new format:

Why the format change is needed? It is a kind of internal optimisation to allow vSAN to change policies or rebuild with less than 25-30% free space required. So slack space can be smaller from now on which leaves more capacity for workloads.