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)

VMworld 2018 – My 2 Breakout Sessions

I’m looking forward to VMworld 2018 in a few weeks. It’s always a long week but a great time. I look forward to catching up with coworkers, partners, customers, and friends. And, I’ll also have to do a little work. This year I have 2 breakout speaking sessions.

vSAN Technical Customer Panel on vSAN Experiences [HCI1615PU]
Monday, Aug 27, 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

The Panel will consist of 4 vSAN customers: General Motors, United States Senate Federal Credit Union, Rent-A-Center, and Brinks Oakland University. Brinks is a great vSAN customer but is doing an NSX session at the same time as the vSAN session so we are lucky to add Oakland University to the panel. I will moderate the session, ask the customers to describe their company, role, environment, and how they are using vSAN. General Motors will talk about their large VDI deployment. Unites States Federal Credit Union will discuss their use of vSAN in remote offices, VVols, and Storage Policy Based Management (SPBM). Rent-A-Center will discuss vSAN for management clusters, VDI, and the benefit of VxRail. Oakland University will discuss their vSAN stretched cluster, Data at Rest Encryption, and Dedupe/Compression. After each panelist does this, we’ll take questions from the audience.

Here’s a recording of last year’s session to give you an idea: https://youtu.be/x4ioatHqQOI 
On the panel we had Sanofi, Travelers, Sekisui Pharmaceutical, and Herbalife. The year before we had Stanley Black and Decker, Synergent Bank, M&T Bank, and Baystate Health. Both were great sessions and this year looks like it will be too.

Achieving a GDPR-Ready Architecture Leveraging VMware vSAN [HCI3452BU]
Wednesday, Aug 29, 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

When it comes to security in vSAN, most think Data at Rest Encryption and to make this all work you need a key management server. It’s tough to beat HyTrust for this. They offer the software for free and support for a small fee. But that’s not all they do. Check out this session to find out more. Dave Siles and I will discuss GDPR-Ready Architecture and how vSAN encryption can help.

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.