The VMware vSphere storage architecture consists of layers of abstraction that hide the differences and manage the complexity among physical storage subsystems.

To the applications and guest operating systems inside each virtual machine, the storage subsystem appears as a virtual SCSI controller connected to one or more virtual SCSI disks. These controllers are the only types of SCSI controllers that a virtual machine can see and access. These controllers include BusLogic Parallel, LSI Logic Parallel, LSI Logic SAS, and VMware Paravirtual.

The virtual SCSI disks are provisioned from datastore elements in the datacenter. A datastore is like a storage appliance that delivers storage space for virtual machines across multiple physical hosts. Multiple datastores can be aggregated into a single logical, load-balanced pool called a datastore cluster.

The datastore abstraction is a model that assigns storage space to virtual machines while insulating the guest from the complexity of the underlying physical storage technology. The guest virtual machine is not exposed to Fibre Channel SAN, iSCSI SAN, direct attached storage, and NAS.

Each datastore is a physical VMFS volume on a storage device. NAS datastores are an NFS volume with VMFS characteristics. Datastores can span multiple physical storage subsystems. A single VMFS volume can contain one or more LUNs from a local SCSI disk array on a physical host, a Fibre Channel SAN disk farm, or iSCSI SAN disk farm. New LUNs added to any of the physical storage subsystems are detected and made available to all existing or new datastores. Storage capacity on a previously created datastore can be extended without powering down physical hosts or storage subsystems. If any of the LUNs within a VMFS volume fails or becomes unavailable, only virtual machines that use that LUN are affected. An exception is the LUN that has the first extent of the spanned volume. All other virtual machines with virtual disks residing in other LUNs continue to function as normal.

Each virtual machine is stored as a set of files in a directory in the datastore. The disk storage associated with each virtual guest is a set of files within the guest’s directory. You can operate on the guest disk storage as an ordinary file. The disk storage can be copied, moved, or backed up. New virtual disks can be added to a virtual machine without powering it down. In that case, a virtual disk file  (.vmdk) is created in VMFS to provide new storage for the added virtual disk or an existing virtual disk file is associated with a virtual machine.

VMFS is a clustered file system that leverages shared storage to allow multiple physical hosts to read and write to the same storage simultaneously. VMFS provides on-disk locking to ensure that the same virtual machine is not powered on by multiple servers at the same time. If a physical host fails, the on-disk lock for each virtual machine is released so that virtual machines can be restarted on other physical hosts.

VMFS also features failure consistency and recovery mechanisms, such as distributed journaling, a failure-consistent virtual machine I/O path, and virtual machine state snapshots. These mechanisms can aid quick identification of the cause and recovery from virtual machine, physical host, and storage subsystem failures.

VMFS also supports raw device mapping (RDM). RDM provides a mechanism for a virtual machine to have direct access to a LUN on the physical storage subsystem (Fibre Channel or iSCSI only). RDM supports two typical types of applications:

SAN snapshot or other layered applications that run in the virtual machines. RDM better enables scalable backup offloading systems using features inherent to the SAN.

Microsoft Clustering Services (MSCS) spanning physical hosts and using virtual-to-virtual clusters as well as physical-to-virtual clusters. Cluster data and quorum disks must be configured as RDMs rather than files on a shared VMFS.


Supported Storage Adapters:

Storage adapters provide connectivity for your ESXi host to a specific storage unit or network.

ESXi supports different classes of adapters, including SCSI, iSCSI, RAID, Fibre Channel, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), and Ethernet. ESXi accesses the adapters directly through device drivers in the VMkernel.

View Storage Adapters Information:

Use the vSphere Client to display storage adapters that your host uses and to review their information.


1: In Inventory, select Hosts and Clusters.

2: Select a host and click the Configuration tab.

3: In Hardware, select Storage Adapters.

4:To view details for a specific adapter, select the adapter from the Storage Adapters list.

5: To list all storage devices the adapter can access, click Devices.

6: To list all paths the adapter uses, click Paths

Types of Physical Storage:

The ESXi storage management process starts with storage space that your storage administrator preallocates on different storage systems.

ESXi supports the following types of storage:

Local Storage : Stores virtual machine files on internal or directly connected external storage disks.

Networked Storage: Stores virtual machine files on external storage disks or arrays attached to your host through a direct connection or through a high-speed network.

Local Storage:

Local storage can be internal hard disks located inside your ESXi host, or it can be external storage systems located outside and connected to the host directly through protocols such as SAS or SATA.

Local storage does not require a storage network to communicate with your host. You need a cable connected to the storage unit and, when required, a compatible HBA in your host.

ESXi supports a variety of internal or external local storage devices, including SCSI, IDE, SATA, USB, and SAS storage systems. Regardless of the type of storage you use, your host hides a physical storage layer from virtual machines.

Networked Storage:

Networked storage consists of external storage systems that your ESXi host uses to store virtual machine files remotely. Typically, the host accesses these systems over a high-speed storage network.

Networked storage devices are shared. Datastores on networked storage devices can be accessed by multiple hosts concurrently. ESXi supports the following networked storage technologies.


Accessing the same storage through different transport protocols, such as iSCSI and Fibre Channel, at the same time is not supported.

Fibre Channel (FC):

Stores virtual machine files remotely on an FC storage area network (SAN). FC SAN is a specialized high-speed network that connects your hosts to high-performance storage devices. The network uses Fibre Channel protocol to transport SCSI traffic from virtual machines to the FC SAN devices.

Fibre Channel Storage

In this configuration, a host connects to a SAN fabric, which consists of Fibre Channel switches and storage arrays, using a Fibre Channel adapter. LUNs from a storage array become available to the host. You can access the LUNs and create datastores for your storage needs. The datastores use the VMFS format.

Internet SCSI (iSCSI):

Stores virtual machine files on remote iSCSI storage devices. iSCSI packages SCSI storage traffic into the TCP/IP protocol so that it can travel through standard TCP/IP networks instead of the specialized FC network. With an iSCSI connection, your host serves as the initiator that communicates with a target, located in remote iSCSI storage systems.

ESXi offers the following types of iSCSI connections:

Hardware iSCSI: Your host connects to storage through a third-party adapter capable of offloading the iSCSI and network processing. Hardware adapters can be dependent and independent.

Software iSCSI :Your host uses a software-based iSCSI initiator in the VMkernel to connect to storage. With this type of iSCSI connection, your host needs only a standard network adapter for network connectivity.

You must configure iSCSI initiators for the host to access and display iSCSI storage devices.

iSCSI Storage depicts different types of iSCSI initiators.

iSCSI Storage

In the left example, the host uses the hardware iSCSI adapter to connect to the iSCSI storage system.

In the right example, the host uses a software iSCSI adapter and an Ethernet NIC to connect to the iSCSI storage.

iSCSI storage devices from the storage system become available to the host. You can access the storage devices and create VMFS datastores for your storage needs.

Network-attached Storage (NAS)

Stores virtual machine files on remote file servers accessed over a standard TCP/IP network. The NFS client built into ESXi uses Network File System (NFS) protocol version 3 to communicate with the NAS/NFS servers. For network connectivity, the host requires a standard network adapter.

NFS Storage

Shared Serial Attached SCSI (SAS)

Stores virtual machines on direct-attached SAS storage systems that offer shared access to multiple hosts. This type of access permits multiple hosts to access the same VMFS datastore on a LUN.

By Ravi Verma

Ravi Verma is currently employed with a Startup company based out from Bangalore, India. And is currently focusing on cloud centric technologies like Software defined infrastructure, Integration, Automation and Operations with on-premises data center and Cloud provider services like GCP and AWS.

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