Category Archives: Converged infrastructure

52: GreyBeards talk software defined storage with Kiran Sreenivasamurthy, VP Product Management, Maxta

This month we talk with an old friend from Storage Field Day 7 (videos), Kiran Sreenivasamurthy, VP of Product Management for Maxta. Maxta has a software defined storage solution which currently works on VMware vSphere, Red Hat Virtualization and KVM to supply shared, scale out storage and HCI solutions for enterprises across the world.

Maxta is similar to VMware’s vSAN software defined storage whose licenses can be transferred from one server to another, as you upgrade your data center over time. As software defined storage, Maxta runs on any standard Intel X86 hardware. Indeed, Maxta has one customer running two Super Micro servers and one Cisco server in the same cluster.

Maxta advantages

One item that makes Maxta unique is all of its storage properties are assignable at a VM granularity. That is,  replication, deduplication, compression and even blocksize can all be enabled/set at the VMDK-VM level.  This could be useful for environments supporting diverse applications, such as having a 64K block size for Microsoft Exchange and 4K block size for web servers.

Another advantage is their multi-hypervisor support. Maxta’s support for RH Virtualization, VMware and KVM offers the unique ability to migrate storage and even powered off VMs, from one hypervisor to another. Maxta’s file system is the same for both VMware and KVM clusters.

Maxta clusters

Their software must be licensed on all servers in a vSphere or KVM cluster with access to Maxta storage. The minimum Maxta cluster size is 3 nodes for 2-way replication and 5 nodes for 3-way replication.  Most Maxta systems run on 8 to 12 server node clusters. But Maxta has installations with 20 to 24 nodes in customer deployments.

Maxta supports SSD only as well as SSD-disk hybrid storage. And SSDs can be NVMe as well as SATA SSD storage. In hybrid configurations, Maxta SSDs are used as read and write back caches for disk storage.

Maxta supports compute only nodes, compute-storage nodes and witness only nodes (node with 1 storage device). In addition, besides heterogeneous server support, Maxta clusters can have nodes with different storage capacities. Maxta will optimize VM data placement to balance IO activity across heterogeneous nodes.

Maxta provides a vCenter plugin so VMware admins can manage and monitor their storage inside vSphere environment. Maxta also offers a Cloud Connect MX which is a cloud based system allowing for management of all your Maxta clusters through out an enterprise, wherever they reside.

Even HCI, through partners

For customers wanting an HCI solution, Maxta partners can supply pre-tested, HCI appliances or can configure Maxta software with servers at customer data centers. Maxta has done well OEMing their solution, and one significant success has been their OEM deal with Lenovo in China and East Asia, where they sell HCI appliances with Maxta software.

Maxta has also found success with managed service providers (that want to deploy the software on their own hardware), and SME & ROBO environments. Also Maxta seems to be doing very well in Latin America as well as previously mentioned China.

The podcast runs ~42 minutes. Kiran is knowledgeable individual and has worked with some of the leading storage companies of the last two decades.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Kiran Sreenivasamurthy, VP Product Management, Maxta

Kiran Sreenivasamurthy is the Vice President of Product Management for Maxta Inc. He has developed and managed storage hardware and software products for more than 20 years with leading storage companies and startups including HP 3PAR, NetApp and Mendocino Software.

Kiran Manages all aspects of Maxta’s hyperconvergence product portfolio from inception through revenue.

51: GreyBeards talk hyper convergence with Lee Caswell, VP Product, Storage & Availability BU, VMware

Sponsored by:

VMware

In this episode we talk with Lee Caswell (@LeeCaswell), Vice President of Product, Storage and Availability Business Unit, VMware.  This is the second time Lee’s been on our show, the previous one back in April of last year when he was with his prior employer. Lee’s been at VMware for a little over a year now and has helped lead some significant changes in their HCI offering, vSAN.

VMware vSAN/HCI business

Many customers struggle to modernize their data centers with funding being the primary issue. This is very similar to what happened in the early 2000s as customers started virtualizing servers and consolidating storage. But today, there’s a new option, server based/software defined storage like VMware’s vSAN, which can be deployed for little expense and grown incrementally as needed. VMware’s vSAN customer base is currently growing by 150% CAGR, and VMware is adding over 100 new vSAN customers a week.

Many companies say they offer HCI, but few have adopted the software-only business model this entails. The transition from a hardware-software, appliance-based business model to a software-only business model is difficult and means a move from a high revenue-lower margin business to a lower revenue-higher margin business. VMware, from its very beginnings, has built a sustainable software-only business model that extends to vSAN today.

The software business model means that VMware can partner easily with a wide variety of server OEM partners to supply vSAN ReadyNodes that are pre-certified and jointly supported in the field. There are currently 14 server partners for vSAN ReadyNodes. In addition, VMware has co-designed the VxRail HCI Appliance with Dell EMC, which adds integrated life-cycle management as well as Dell EMC data protection software licenses.

As a result, customers can adopt vSAN as a build or a buy option for on-prem use and can also leverage vSAN in the cloud from a variety of cloud providers, including AWS very soon. It’s the software-only business model that sets the stage for this common data management across the hybrid cloud.

VMware vSAN software defined storage (SDS)

The advent of Intel Xeon processors and plentiful, relatively cheap SSD storage has made vSAN an easy storage solution for most virtualized data centers today. SSDs removed any performance concerns that customers had with hybrid HCI configurations. And with Intel’s latest Xeon Scalable processors, there’s more than enough power to handle both application compute and storage compute workloads.

From Lee’s perspective, there’s still a place for traditional SAN storage, but he sees it more for cold storage that is scaled independently from servers or for bare metal/non-virtualized storage environments. But for everyone else using virtualized data centers, they really need to give vSAN a look.

Storage vendors shifting sales

It used to be that major storage vendor sales teams would lead with hardware appliance storage solutions and then move to HCI when pushed. The problem was that a typical SAN storage sale takes 9 months to complete and then 3 years of limited additional sales.

To address this, some vendors have taken the approach where they lead with HCI and only move to legacy storage when it’s a better fit. With VMware vSAN, it’s a quicker sales cycle than legacy storage because HCI costs less up front and there’s no need to buy the final storage configuration with the first purchase. VMware vSAN HCI can grow as the customer applications needs dictate, generating additional incremental sales over time.

VMware vSAN in AWS

Recently, VMware has announced VMware Cloud in AWS.What this means is that you can have vSAN storage operating in an AWS cloud just like you would on-prem. In this case, workloads could migrate from cloud to on-prem and back again with almost no changes. How the data gets from on-prem to cloud is another question.

Also the pricing model for VMware Cloud in AWS moves to a consumption based model, where you pay for just what you use on a monthly basis. This way VMware Cloud in AWS and vSAN is billed monthly, consistent with other AWS offerings.

VMware vs. Microsoft on cloud

There’s a subtle difference in how Microsoft and VMware are adopting cloud. VMware came from an infrastructure platform and is now implementing their infrastructure on cloud. Microsoft started as a development platform and is taking their cloud development platform/stack and bringing it to on-prem.

It’s really two different philosophies in action. We now see VMware doing more for the development community with vSphere Integrated Containers (VIC), Docker Containers, Kubernetes, and Pivotal Cloud foundry. Meanwhile Microsoft is looking to implement the Azure stack for on-prem environments, and they are focusing more on infrastructure. In the end, enterprises will have terrific choices as the software defined data center frees up customers dollars and management time.

The podcast runs ~25 minutes. Lee is a very knowledgeable individual and although he doesn’t qualify as a Greybeard (just yet), he has been in and around the data center and flash storage environments throughout most of his career. From his diverse history, Lee has developed a very business like perspective on data center and storage technologies and it’s always a pleasure talking with him.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Lee Caswell, V.P. of Product, Storage & Availability Business Unit, VMware

Lee Caswell leads the VMware storage marketing team driving vSAN products, partnerships, and integrations. Lee joined VMware in 2016 and has extensive experience in executive leadership within the storage, flash and virtualization markets.

Prior to VMware, Lee was vice president of Marketing at NetApp and vice president of Solution Marketing at Fusion-IO (now SanDisk). Lee was a founding member of Pivot3, a company widely considered to be the founder of hyper-converged systems, where he served as the CEO and CMO. Earlier in his career, Lee held marketing leadership positions at Adaptec, and SEEQ Technology, a pioneer in non-volatile memory. He started his career at General Electric in Corporate Consulting.

Lee holds a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Carleton College and a master of business administration degree from Dartmouth College. Lee is a New York native and has lived in northern California for many years. He and his wife live in Palo Alto and have two children. In his spare time Lee enjoys cycling, playing guitar, and hiking the local hills.

49: Greybeards talk open convergence with Brian Biles, CEO and Co-founder of Datrium

Sponsored By:

In this episode we talk with Brian Biles, CEO and Co-founder of Datrium. We last talked with Brian and Datrium in May of 2016 and at that time we called it deconstructed storage. These days, Datrium offers a converged infrastructure (C/I) solution, which they call “open convergence”.

Datrium C/I

Datrium’s C/I  solution stores persistent data off server onto data nodes and uses onboard flash for a local, host read-write IO cache. They also use host CPU resources to perform some other services such as compression, local deduplication and data services.

In contrast to hyper converged infrastructure solutions available on the market today, customer data is never split across host nodes. That is data residing on a host have only been created and accessed by that host.

Datrium uses on host SSD storage/flash as a fast access layer for data accessed by the host. As data is (re-)written, it’s compressed and locally deduplicated before being persisted (written) down to a data node.

A data node is a relatively light weight dual controller/HA storage solution with 12 high capacity disk drives. Data node storage is global to all hosts running Datrium storage services in the cluster. Besides acting as a permanent repository for data written by the cluster of hosts, it also performs global deduplication of data across all hosts.

The nice thing about their approach to CI is it’s easily scaleable — if you need more IO performance just add more hosts or more SSDs/flash to servers already connected in the cluster. And if a host fails it doesn’t impact cluster IO or data access for any other host.

Datrium originally came out supporting VMware virtualization and acts as an NFS datastore for VMDKs.

Recent enhancements

In July, Datrium released new support for RedHat and KVM virtualization alongside VMware vSphere. They also added Docker persistent volume support to Datrium. Now you can have mixed hypervisors KVM, VMware and Docker container environments, all accessing the same persistent storage.

KVM offered an opportunity to grow the user base and support Redhat enterprise accounts  Redhat is a popular software development environment in non-traditional data centers. Also, much of the public cloud is KVM based, which provides a great way to someday support Datrium storage services in public cloud environments.

One challenge with Docker support is that there are just a whole lot more Docker volumes then VMDKs in vSphere. So Datrium added sophisticated volume directory search capabilities and naming convention options for storage policy management. Customers can define a naming convention for application/container volumes and use these to define group storage policies, which will then apply to any volume that matches the naming convention. This is a lot easier than having to do policy management at a volume level with 100s, 1000s to 10,000s distinct volume IDs.

Docker is being used today to develop most cloud based applications. And many development organizations have adopted Docker containers for their development and application deployment environments. Many shops do development under Docker and production on vSphere. So now these shops can use Datrium to access development as well as production data.

More recently, Datrium also scaled the number of data nodes available in a cluster. Previously you could only have one data node using 12 drives or about 29TB raw storage of protected capacity which when deduped and compressed gave you an effective capacity of ~100TB. But with this latest release, Datrium now supports up to 10 data nodes in a cluster for a total of 1PB of effective capacity for your storage needs.

The podcast runs ~25 minutes. Brian is very knowledgeable about the storage industry, has been successful at many other data storage companies and is always a great guest to have on our show. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Brian Biles, Datrium CEO & Co-founder

Prior to Datrium, Brian was Founder and VP of Product Mgmt. at EMC Backup Recovery Systems Division. Prior to that he was Founder, VP of Product Mgmt. and Business Development for Data Domain (acquired by EMC in 2009).

46: Greybeards discuss Dell EMC World2017 happenings on vBrownBag

In this episode Howard and I were both at Dell EMC World2017 this past month and Alastair Cooke (@DemitasseNZ) asked us to do a talk at the show for the vBrownBag group (Youtube video here). The GreyBeards asked for a copy of the audio for this podcast.

Sorry about the background noise, but we recorded live at the show, with a huge teleprompter in the background that was re-broadcasting keynotes/interviews from the show.

At the show

Howard was at Dell EMC World2017 on a media pass and I was at the show on an industry analyst pass. There were parts of the show that he saw, that I didn’t and vice versa, but all keynotes and major industry outreach were available to both of us.

As always the Dell EMC team put on a great show, and kudos have to go to their AR and PR teams for having both of us there and creating a great event. There were lots of news at the show and both of us were impressed by how well Dell EMC have come together, in such a short time.

In addition, there were a number of Dell partners at the show. Howard met  Datadobi on the show floor who have a file migration tool that walks a filesystem tree and migrates files as well as reports on files it can’t. And we both saw Datrium (who we talked with last year).

Servers and other news

We both liked Dell’s new 14th generation server. But Howard objected to the lack of technical specs on it. Apparently, Intel won’t let specs be published until they announce their new CPU chipsets, sometime later this year. On the other hand, there were a few server specs discussed. For example, I was impressed the new servers would support many more NVMe cards. Howard liked the new server support for NV-DIMMs, mainly for the potential latency reduction that could provide software defined storage.

That led us on a tangent discussion about whether there is a place for non-software defined storage anymore.  Howard mentioned the downside of HCI/software defined storage on upgrading server (DIMM, PCIe card) hardware.

However, appliance hardware seems to be getting easier to upgrade. The new Unity AFA storage can be upgraded, non-disruptively from the low end to high end appliance by just swapping out controller hardware canisters.

Howard was also interested in Dell EMC’s new CloudFlex purchasing model for HCI solutions. This supplies an almost cloud-like purchasing option for customers. Where for a one year commitment,  you pay as you go (no money down, just monthly payments) rather than an up front capital purchase. After the year’s commitment expires you can send the hardware back to Dell EMC and stop paying.

We talked about Tier 0 storage. EMC DSSD was an early attempt to provide Tier 0 but came with lots of special purpose hardware. When commodity hardware and software emerged last year with NVMe SSD speed, DSSD was no longer viable at the premium pricing needed for all that hardware and was shut down. Howard and I discussed how doing special hardware requires one to be much faster (10-100X) than commodity hardware solutions to succeed and the gap has to be continued.

The other big storage news was the new VMAX 950F AFA and its performance numbers. Dell EMC said the new VMAX could do 6.7M IOPS of RRH (random read hit) and had a 350µsec response time. Howard noted that Dell EMC didn’t say at what IO load they achieved the 350µsec response time. I told him it almost didn’t matter, even if it was a single IO at that response time, it was significant.

The podcast runs about 40 minutes. It’s just Howard and I talking about what we saw/heard at the show and the occasional, tangental topic.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.


Howard Marks, DeepStorage

Howard Marks is the Founder and Chief Scientist of howardmarksDeepStorage, a prominent blogger at Deep Storage Blog and can be found on twitter @DeepStorageNet.

Ray Lucchesi, Silverton Consulting

Ray Lucchesi is the President and Founder of Silverton Consulting, a prominent blogger at RayOnStorage Blog, and can be found on twitter @RayLucchesi.

43: GreyBeards talk Tier 0 again with Yaniv Romem CTO/Founder & Josh Goldenhar VP Products of Excelero

In this episode, we talk with another next gen, Tier 0 storage provider. This time our guests are Yaniv Romem CTO/Founder  & Josh Goldenhar (@eeschwa) VP Products from Excelero, another new storage startup out of Israel.  Both Howard and I talked with Excelero at SFD12 (videos here) earlier last month in San Jose. I was very impressed with their raw performance and wrote a popular RayOnStorage blog post on their system (see my 4M IO/sec@227µsec 4KB Read… post) from our discussions during SFD12.

As we have discussed previously, Tier 0, next generation flash arrays provide very high performing storage at very low latencies with modest to non-existent advanced storage services. They are intended to replace server, direct access SSD storage with a more shared, scaleable storage solution.

In our last podcast (with E8 Storage) they sold a hardware Tier 0 appliance. As a different alternative, Excelero is a software defined, Tier 0 solution intended to be used on any commodity or off the shelf server hardware with high end networking and (low to high end) NVMe SSDs.

Indeed, what impressed me most with their 4M IO/sec, was that target storage system had almost 0 CPU utilization. (Read the post to learn how they did this). Excelero mentioned that they were able to generate high (11M random 4KB) IO/sec on  Intel Core 7, desktop-class CPU. Their one need in a storage server is plenty of PCIe lanes. They don’t even need to have dual socket storage servers, single socket CPU’s work just fine as long as the PCIe lanes are there.

Excelero software

Their intent is to bring Tier 0 capabilities out to all big storage environments. By providing a software only solution it could be easily OEMed by cluster file system vendors or HPC system vendors and generate amazing IO performance needed by their clients.

That’s also one of the reasons that they went with high end Ethernet networking rather than just Infiniband, which would have limited their market to mostly HPC environments. Excelero’s client software uses RoCE/RDMA hardware to perform IO operations with the storage server.

The other thing having little to no target storage server CPU utilization per IO operation gives them is the ability to scale up to 1000 of hosts or storage servers without reaching any storage system bottlenecks.  Another concern eliminated by minimal target server CPU utilization is that you can’t have a noisy neighbor problem, because there’s no target CPU processing to be shared.  Yet another advantage with Excelero is that bandwidth is only  limited by storage server PCIe lanes and networking.  A final advantage of their approach is that they can support any of the current and upcoming storage class memory devices supporting NVMe (e.g., Intel Optane SSDs).

The storage services they offer include RAID 0, 1 and 10 and a client side logical volume manager which supports multi-pathing. Logical volumes can span up to 128 storage servers, but can be accessed by almost any number of hosts. And there doesn’t appear to be a specific limit on the number of logical volumes you can have.

 

They support two different protocols across the 40GbE/100GbE networks. Standard NVMe over Fabric or RDDA (Excelero patented, proprietary Remote Direct Disk Array access). RDDA is what mainly provides the almost non-existent target storage server CPU utilization. But even with standard NVMe over Fabric they support low target CPU utilization. One proviso, with NVMe over Fabric, they do add shared volume functionality to support RAID device locking and additional fault tolerance capabilities.

On Excelero’s roadmap is thin provisioning, snapshots, compression and deduplication. However, they did mention that adding advanced storage functionality like this will impede performance. Currently, their distributed volume locking and configuration metadata is not normally accessed during an IO but when you add thin provisioning, snapshots and data reduction, this metadata needs to become more sophisticated and will necessitate some amount of access during and after an IO operation.

Excelero’s client software runs in Linux kernel mode client and they don’t currently support VMware or Hyper-V. But they do support KVM as a hypervisor and would be willing to support the others, if APIs were published or made available.

They also have an internal OpenStack Cinder driver but it’s not part of their OpenStack’s release yet. They’re waiting for snapshot to be available before they push this into the main code base. Ditto for Docker Engine but this is more of a beta capability today.

Excelero customer experience

One customer (NASA Ames/Moffat Field) deployed a single 2TB NVMe SSD across 128 hosts and had a single 256TB logical volume shared and accessed by all 128 hosts.

Another customer configured Excelero behind a clustered file system and was able to generate 30M randomized IO/sec at 200µsec latencies but more important, 140GB/sec of bandwidth. It turns out high bandwidth is important to many big data applications that have to roll lots of data into their analytics clusters, processing it and output results, and then do it all over again. Bandwidth limitations can impact the success of these types of applications.

By being software only they can be used in a standalone storage server or as a hyper-converged solution where applications and storage can be co-resident on the same server. As noted above, they currently support Linux O/Ss for their storage and client software and support any X86 Intel processor, any RDMA capable NIC, and any NVMe SSD.

Excelero GTM

Excelero is focused on the top 200 customers, which includes the hyper-scale providers like FaceBook, Google, Microsoft and others. But hyper-scale customers have huge software teams and really a single or few, very large/complex applications which they can create/optimize a Tier 0 storage for themselves.

It’s really the customers just below the hyper-scalar class, that have similar needs for high low latency IO/sec or high IO bandwidth (or both) but have 100s to 1000s of applications and they can’t afford to optimize them all for Tier 0 flash. If they solve sharing Tier 0 flash storage in a more general way, say as a block storage device. They can solve it for any application. And if the customer insists, they could put a clustered file system or even an object storage (who would want this) on top of this shared Tier 0 flash storage system.

These customers may currently be using NVMe SSDs within their servers as a DAS device. But with Excelero these resources can be shared across the data center. They think of themselves as a top of rack NVMe storage system.

On their website they have listed a few of their current customers and their pretty large and impressive.

NVMe competition

Aside from E8 Storage, there are few other competitors in Tier 0 storage. One recently announced a move to an NVMe flash storage solution and another killed their shipping solution. We talked about what all this means to them and their market at the end of the podcast. Suffice it to say, they’re not worried.

The podcast runs ~50 minutes. Josh and Yaniv were very knowledgeable about Tier 0, storage market dynamics and were a delight to talk with.   Listen to the podcast to learn more.


Yaniv Romem CTO and Founder, Excelero

Yaniv Romem has been a technology evangelist at disruptive startups for the better part of 20 years. His passions are in the domains of high performance distributed computing, storage, databases and networking.
Yaniv has been a founder at several startups such as Excelero, Xeround and Picatel in these domains. He has served in CTO and VP Engineering roles for the most part.


Josh Goldenhar, Vice President Products, Excelero

Josh has been responsible for product strategy and vision at leading storage companies for over two decades. His experience puts him in a unique position to understand the needs of our customers.
Prior to joining Excelero, Josh was responsible for product strategy and management at EMC (XtremIO) and DataDirect Networks. Previous to that, his experience and passion was in large scale, systems architecture and administration with companies such as Cisco Systems. He’s been a technology leader in Linux, Unix and other OS’s for over 20 years. Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology/Cognitive Science from the University of California, San Diego.