VMworld 2018 – Achieving a GDPR-Ready Architecture Leveraging VMware vSAN (HCI3452BU)

Over the last few years I’ve gotten to know the folks at HyTrust pretty well. They are a great VMware partner and provide a critical piece to the vSAN and VM encryption puzzle for VMware customers. VMware doesn’t have an encryption Key Management Server solution so we rely on 3rd party vendors like HyTrust. They have a solution that provides highly available KMS servers which is essential to maintaining data availability. You can get more details here:

HyTrust KeyControl with VSAN and VMware vSphere VM Encryption

For this session, Dave Siles, VP, Business Development / Alliances, opened up discussing the details around GDPR and factors to consider when architecting solutions to meet the requirements. If you don’t know Dave, he’s as smart and technical as they come. He could spend hours discussing all the details but for this session he did a great job breaking it down to its simplest form. I then discussed VMware technology that aligns with GDPR requirements including Workspace One, NSX, vSphere, vSAN, and the vReailze Suite. I spent the majority of time discussing VM encryption and vSAN encryption for Data at Rest Encryption. Dave then shared some of the details about HyTrust products to meed specific needs and we then fielded questions from the audience.

If you want to check out the session, go to:

Achieving a GDPR-Ready Architecture Leveraging VMware vSAN (HCI3452BU)

vSAN and Data-At-Rest Encryption – Rebooted (i.e. Part 2)


Encryption is here, now shipping with vSphere 6.5.

I first wrote about vSAN and Encryption here:

Virtual SAN and Data-At-Rest Encryption – https://livevirtually.net/2015/10/21/virtual-san-and-data-at-rest-encryption/

At the time, I knew what was coming but couldn’t say. Also, the vSAN team had plans that changed. So, let’s set the record straight.


  • Does not support Self Encrypting Drives (SEDs) with encryption enabled.
  • Does not support controller based encryption.
  • Supports 3rd party software based encryption solutions like HyTrust DataControl and Dell EMC Cloud Link.
  • Supports the VMware VM Encryption released with vSphere 6.5
  • Will support its own VMware vSAN Encryption in a future release.

At VMworld 2016 in Barcelona VMware announced vSphere 6.5 and with it, VM Encryption. In the past, VMware relied on 3rd party encryption solutions, but now, VMware has its own. For more details, check out:

What’s new in vSphere 6.5: Security – https://blogs.vmware.com/vsphere/2016/10/whats-new-in-vsphere-6-5-security.html

In this, Mike Foley briefly highlights a few advantages of VM Encryption. Stay tuned for more from him on this topic.

In addition to what Mike highlighted, VM encryption is implemented using VAIO Filters, can be enabled per VM object (vmdk), will encrypt VM data no matter what storage solution is implemented (e.g. object, file, block using vendors like VMware vSAN, Dell Technologies, NetApp, IBM, HDS, etc.), and satisfies data-in-flight and data-at-rest encryption. The solution does not require SED’s so it works with all the commodity HDD, SSD, PCIe, and NVMe devices and integrates with several third party Key Management solutions. Since VM Encryption is set via policy, that policy could extended across to public clouds like Cloud Foundation on IBM SoftLayer, VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware vCloud Air or to any vCloud Air Network partner. This is great because your VM’s could live in the cloud but you will own and control the encryption keys. And you can use different keys for different VM’s.

At VMworld 2016 in Las Vegas VMware announced the upcoming vSAN Beta. For more details see:

Virtual SAN Beta – Register Today! – https://blogs.vmware.com/virtualblocks/2016/09/07/virtual-san-beta-register-today/

This vSAN Beta includes vSAN encryption targeted for a future release of vSphere. vSAN Encryption will satisfy data-at-rest encryption. You might ask why vSAN Encryption would be necessary if vSphere has VM Encryption? I will say that you should always look to use VM Encryption first. The one downside to VM Encryption is that since the VM’s data is encrypted as soon as it leaves the VM and hits the ESXi kernel, each block is unique, so no matter what storage system that data goes to (e.g. VMware vSAN, Dell Technologies, NetApp, IBM, HDS, etc.) that block can’t be deduped or compressed. The benefit of vSAN encryption will be that the encryption will be done at the vSAN level. Data will be send to the vSAN cache and encrypted at that tier. When it is later destaged, it will be decrypted, deduped, compressed, and encrypted when its written to the capacity tier. This satisfies the data-at-rest encryption requirements but not data-in-flight. It does allow you to take advantage of the vSAN dedupe and compression data services and it’s one key for the entire vSAN datastore.

It should be noted that both solutions will require a 3rd party Key Management Server (KMS) and the same one can be used for both VM Encryption and vSAN Encryption. The KMS must support the Key Management Interoperability Protocol (KMIP) 1.1 standard. There are many that do and VMware has tested a lot of them. We’ll soon be publishing a list, but for now, check with your KMS vendor or your VMware SE for details.

VMware is all about customer choice. So, we offer a number of software based encryption options depending on your requirements.

It’s worth restating that VM Encryption should be the standard for software based encryption for VM’s. After reviewing vSAN Encryption, some may choose it instead to go with vSAN encryption if they want to take advantage of deduplication and compression. Duncan Epping provides a little more detail here:

The difference between VM Encryption in vSphere 6.5 and vSAN encryption – http://www.yellow-bricks.com/2016/11/07/the-difference-between-vm-encryption-in-vsphere-6-5-and-vsan-encryption/


In summary:

  1. Use VM Encryption for Hybrid vSAN clusters
  2. Use VM Encryption on All-Flash if storage efficiency (dedupe/compression) is not critical
  3. Wait for vSAN native software data at rest encryption if you must have dedupe/compression on All-Flash


Virtual SAN and Data-At-Rest Encryption

There are many reasons you might want to encrypt your data at rest.  This post will not discuss those reasons, but simply offer options on how to do it with Virtual SAN.  It should be noted that VMware takes customer feedback seriously and several customers have been asking for encryption to be built-in to VSAN. This is being appropriately considered and that’s about all I can say about that for now. As of Dec 2016, this is available in the latest vSAN Beta.

So what can customers do right now to solve their Data-At-Rest Encryption requirements for data residing on a Virtual SAN datastore? Here are 3 options.

  1. VM Based Encryption
    1. Third Parties
    2. VM Encryption
  2. vSAN Encryption (Coming Soon)
  3. Self Encrypting Drives (SED’s)
  4. Controller Based Key Management + Self Encrypting Drives (SED’s)

NOTE: The vSAN team tested SED’s and determined that they do not provide an acceptable solution. So, the only supported Encryption options are software based through third parties, using VM Encryption, or the upcoming vSAN Encryption. 

VM Based Encryption

The beauty of a VM based encryption solution is it works to protect any VM and its data sitting on any storage. This solution approach will work with VM’s on Virtual SAN but also with VM’s on any other datastore backed by any storage system (e.g. EMC, NetApp, HP, Dell, etc.) via any connectivity (e.g. Fibre Channel, iSCSI, NFS). Here are some options:

VM Based Encryption

At VMworld 2016 in Las Vegas, VMware announced the upcoming vSAN Beta. For more details see:
Virtual SAN Beta – Register Today!

This vSAN Beta includes vSAN encryption targeted for a future release of vSphere. vSAN Encryption will satisfy data-at-rest encryption.

You might ask why vSAN Encryption would be necessary if vSphere has VM Encryption? Check out this
The difference between VM Encryption in vSphere 6.5 and vSAN encryption

Self Encrypting Drives (SED’s)

Self Encrypting Drives (SED’s) are just what they say they are. When blocks are ingested into these drives, the firmware on the drives will encrypt the data and complete the write. When blocks are read back, the firmware decrypts the data and sends it back. This is valuable in the case that if a drive goes missing, the data on it is encrypted. Here are a few details on how they work:

  • The encryption key used in SEDs is called the Media Encryption Key (MEK)
  • Locking and unlocking a drive requires another key, called the Key Encryption Key (KEK)
  • If no KEK is set, the drive is always unlocked and appears not to be encrypting even though it is
  • If a KEK is set, the drive will power up locked until the correct KEK is given to the drive by the user.

When used with Virtual SAN, these drives simply work without Virtual SAN even knowing encryption is going on and all the things that hold true for standard drives would hold true when using these SEDs. Like standard drives, if a host fails, you could pull the SED’s and move to a different host or a new host in the same cluster and the data would be intact. Like standard drives, the SEDs could not be moved and read by hosts in a different cluster.

SED’s have minimal impact to I/O latency since the encryption work is distributed across all the drives. There are SED HDD’s and SED SSD’s offered by different manufacturers and some will be qualified and made available on the VMware Compatibility Guide (VCG) for Virtual SAN.


Controller Based Key Management + Self Encrypting Drives (SED’s)

Some customers want to introduce encryption keys and a centralized way to manage the keys so that they have greater control over the Self Encrypting Drives.

LSI (Avago) has a technology built into their IO controller cards called SafeStore that has built in key generation software that can be used in conjunction with the SEDs.

LSI™ MegaRAID® SafeStore™ Software FAQ


SafeStore essentially locks the drive and it cannot be powered on or moved to a new or another host in the cluster without using the SafeStore key to unlock it first. There would be one LSI SafeStore key for every LSI controller. SafeStore keys can be managed by 3rd party key management software (e.g. RSA, SafeNet, etc.). If a host fails but the drives are still good simply pull the drives out and put them in a new host. On power up they will be locked, so you’ll need to unlock them.

LSI IO Controllers that adhere to the SafeStore standard will be publish on the VMware Compatibility Guide for Virtual SAN.


VMware has a few options for Data-At-Rest encryption with Virtual SAN. Each have their own pros and cons so customers can weigh the odds and make the appropriate decision.