UPDATED FOR 2014: Today’s storage industry is as stubbornly media-centric as it has always been: SAN, NAS, DAS; disk, cloud, tape. This centricity forces IT to deal with storage infrastructure on media-centric terms. But the storage infrastructure should really serve data to customers, not media; it’s the data that yields business value, while the media should be an internal IT architectural choice.
Storage media focused solutions only support business indirectly by providing optimized storage infrastructure for data. Intelligent data services on the other hand provide direct business value by optimizing data utility, availability, and management. The shift from traditional thinking here is really about seeking to provide logically ideal data storage for the people who own and use the data first, while freeing up underlying storage infrastructure designs to be optimized for efficiencies as desired. Ideal data storage would be global in access and scalability, secure and resilient, and inherently support data-driven management and applications.
Done well, this data centric approach would yield significant competitive advantage by leveraging an enterprise’s valuable intellectual property: its vast and growing amounts of unstructured data. If this can be done by building on the company’s existing data storage and best practices, the business can quickly increase profitability, achieve faster time-to-market, and gain tremendous agility for innovation and competitiveness.
Tarmin, with its GridBank Data Management Platform, is a leading proponent of the data centric approach. It is firmly focused on managing data for global accessibility, protection and strategic value. In this product profile, we’ll explore how a data centric approach drives business value. We’ll then examine how GridBank was architected expressly around the concept that data storage should be a means for extracting business value from that data, not as a dead-end data dump.
Storage performance has long been the bane of the enterprise infrastructure. Fortunately, in the past couple of years, solid-state technologies have allowed new comers as well as established storage vendors to start shaping up clever, cost effective, and highly efficient storage solutions that unlock greater storage performance. It is our opinion that the most innovative of these solutions are the ones that require no real alteration in the storage infrastructure, nor a change in data management and protection practices.
This is entirely possible with server-side caching solutions today. Server-side caching solutions typically use either PCIe solid-state NAND Flash or SAS/SATA SSDs installed in the server alongside a hardware or software IO handler component that mirrors commonly utilized data blocks onto the local high speed solid-state storage. Then the IO handler redirects server requests for data blocks to those local copies that are served up with lower latency (microseconds instead of milliseconds) and greater bandwidth than the original backend storage. Since data is simply cached, instead of moved, the solution is transparent to the infrastructure. Data remains consolidated on the same enterprise infrastructure, and all of the original data management practices – such as snapshots and backup – still work. Moreover, server-side caches can actually offload IO from the backend storage system, and can allow a single storage system to effectively serve many more clients. Clearly there’s tremendous potential value in a solution that can be transparently inserted into the infrastructure and address storage performance problems.
Storage has long been a major source of operational and architectural challenges for IT practitioners, but today these challenges are most felt in the virtual infrastructure. The challenges are sprung from the physicality of storage – while the virtual infrastructure has made IT entirely more agile and adaptable than ever before, storage still depends upon digital bits that are permanently stored on a physical device somewhere within the data center.
For practitioners who have experienced the pain caused by this – configuration hurdles, painful data migrations, and even disasters – the idea of software-defined storage likely sounds somewhat ludicrous. But the term also holds tremendous potential to change the way IT is done by tackling this one last vestige of the traditional, inflexible IT infrastructure.
The reality is that software-defined storage isn’t that far away. In the virtual infrastructure, a number of vendors have long offered Virtual Storage Appliances (VSAs) that can make storage remarkably close to software-defined. These solutions allow administrators to easily and rapidly deploy storage controllers within the virtual infrastructure, and equip either networked storage pools or the direct-attached storage within a server with enterprise-class storage features that are consistent and easily managed by the virtual administrator, irrespective of where the virtual infrastructure is (in the cloud, or on premise). Such solutions can make comprehensive storage functionality available in places where it could never be had before, allow for higher utilization of stranded pools of storage (such as local disk in the server), and enable a homogeneous management approach even across many distributed locations.
The 2012-2013 calendar years have brought an increasing amount of attention and energy in the VSA marketplace. While the longest established, major vendor VSA solution in the marketplace has been HP’s StoreVirtual VSA, in 2013 an equally major vendor – VMware – introduced a similar, software-based, scale-out storage solution for the virtual infrastructure – VSAN. While VMware’s VSAN does not directly carry a VSA moniker, and in fact stands separate from VMware’s own vSphere Storage Appliance, VSAN has an architecture very similar to the latest generation of HP’s own StoreVirtual VSA. Both of these products are scale-out storage software solutions that are deployed in the virtual infrastructure and contain solid-state caching/tiering capabilities that enhance performance and make them enterprise-ready for production workloads. VMware’s 2013 announcement finally meant HP is no longer the sole major vendor (Fortune 500) with a primary storage VSA approach. This only adds validation to other vendors who have long offered VSA-based solutions, vendors like FalconStor, Nexenta, and StorMagic.
We’ve turned to a high level assessment of five market leaders who are today offering VSA or software storage in the virtual infrastructure. We’ve assessed these solutions here with an eye toward how they fit as primary storage for the virtual infrastructure. In this landscape, we’ve profiled the key characteristics and capabilities critical to storage systems fulfilling this role. At the end of our assessment, clearly each solution has a place in the market, but not all VSA solutions are ready for primary storage. Those that are, may stand to reinvent the practice of storage in customer data centers.
Storage challenges in the virtual infrastructure are tremendous. Virtualization consolidates more IO than ever before, and then obscures the sources of that IO so that end-to-end visibility and understanding become next to impossible. As the storage practitioner labors on with business-as-usual, deploying yet more storage and fighting fires attempting to keep up with demands, the business is losing the battle around trying to do more with less.
The problem is that inserting the virtual infrastructure in the middle of the application-to-storage connection, and then massively expanding the virtual infrastructure, introduces a tremendous amount of complexity. A seemingly endless stream of storage vendors are circling this problem today with an apparent answer – storage systems that deliver more performance. But more “bang for the buck” is too often just an attempt to cover up the lack of an answer for complexity-induced management inefficiency – ranging across activities like provisioning, peering into utilization, troubleshooting performance problems, and planning for the future.
With an answer to this problem, one vendor has been sailing to wide spread adoption, and leaving a number of fundamentally changed enterprises in their wake. That vendor is Tintri, and they’ve focused on changing the way storage is integrated and used, instead of just tweaking storage performance. Tintri integrates more deeply with the virtual infrastructure than any other product we’ve seen, and creates distinct advantages in both storage capabilities and on-going management.
Taneja Group recently had the opportunity to put Tintri’s VMstore array through a hands-on exercise, to see for ourselves whether there’s mileage to be had from a virtualization-specific storage solution. Without doubt, there is clear merit to Tintri’s approach. A virtualization specific storage system can reinvent a broad range of storage management interactions – by being VM-aware – and fundamentally alter the complexity of the virtual infrastructure for the better. In our view, these changes stand to have massive impact on the TCO of virtualization initiatives (some of which are identified in the table of highlights below) but the story doesn’t end there. At the same time they’ve fundamentally changed management, Tintri has also innovated around storage technology that enables Tintri VMstore to serve up storage beneath even the most extreme virtual infrastructures.