Category Archives: Software defined storage

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.

48: Greybeards talk object storage with Enrico Signoretti, Head of Product Strategy, OpenIO

In this episode we talk with Enrico Signoretti, Head of Product Strategy for OpenIO, a software defined, object storage startup out of Europe. Enrico is an old friend, having been a member of many Storage Field Day events (SFD) in the past which both Howard and I attended and we wanted to hear what he was up to nowadays.

OpenIO open source SDS

It turns out that OpenIO is an open source object storage project that’s been around since 2008 and has recently (2015) been re-launched as a new storage startup. The open source, community version is still available and OpenIO has links to downloads to try it out. There’s even one for a Raspberry PI (Raspbian 8, I believe) on their website.

As everyone should recall object storage is meant for multi-PB data storage environments. Objects are assigned an ID and are stored in containers or buckets. Object storage has a flat hierarchy unlike file systems that have a multi-tiered hierarchy.

Currently, OpenIO is in a number of customer sites running 15-20PB storage environments. OpenIO supports AWS S3 compatible protocol and OpenStack Swift object storage API.

OpenIO is based on open source but customer service and usability are built into the product they license to end customers  on a usable capacity basis. Minimum license is for 100TB and can go into the multiPB range. There doesn’t appear to be any charge for enhancements of additional features or additional cluster nodes.

The original code was developed for a big email service provider and supported a massive user community. So it was originally developed for small objects, with fast access and many cluster nodes. Nowadays, it can also support very large objects as well.

OpenIO functionality

Each disk device in the OpenIO cluster is a dedicated service. By setting it up this way,  load balancing across the cluster can be at the disk level. Load balancing in OpenIO, is also a dynamic operation. That is, every time a object is created all node’s current capacity is used to determine the node with the least used capacity, which is then allocated to hold that object. This way there’s no static allocation of object IDs to nodes.

Data protection in OpenIO supports erasure coding as well as mirroring (replication{. This can be set by policy and can vary depending on object size. For example, if an object is say under 100MB it can be replicated 3 times but if it’s over 100MB it uses erasure coding.

OpenIO supports hybrid tiering today. This means that an object can move from OpenIO residency to public cloud (AWS S3 or BackBlaze B2) residency over time if the customer wishes. In a future release they will support replication to public cloud as well as tiering.  Many larger customers don’t use tiering because of the expense. Enrico says S3 is cheap as long as you don’t access the data.

OpenIO provides compression of objects. Although many object storage customers already compress and encrypt their data so may not use this. For those customers who don’t, compression can often double the amount of effective storage.

Metadata is just another service in the OpenIO cluster. This means it can be assigned to a number of nodes or all nodes on a configuration basis. OpenIO keeps their metadata on SSDs, which are replicated for data protection rather than in memory. This allows OpenIO to have a light weight footprint. They call their solution “serverless” but what I take from that is that it doesn’t use a lot of server resources to run.

OpenIO offers a number of adjunct services besides pure object storage such as video transcoding or streaming that can be invoked automatically on objects.

They also offer stretched clusters where an OpenIO cluster exists across multiple locations. Objects can have dispersal-like erasure coding for multi-site environments so that if one site goes down you still have access to the data. But Enrico said you have to have a minimum of 3 sites for this.

Enrico mentioned one media & entertainment customer stored only one version of a video in the object storage but when requested in another format automatically transcoded it in realtime. They kept this newly transcoded version in a CDN for future availability, until it aged out.

There seems to be a lot of policy and procedural flexibility available with OpenIO but that may just be an artifact of running in Linux.

They currently support RedHat, Ubuntu and CentOS. They also have a Docker container in Beta test for persistent objects, which is expected to ship later this year.

OpenIO hardware requirements

OpenIO has minimal hardware requirements for cluster nodes. The only thing I saw on their website was the need for at least 2GB of RAM on each node.  And metadata services seem to require SSDs on multiple nodes.

As discussed above, OpenIO has a uniquely light weight footprint (which is why it can run on Raspberry PI) and only seems to need about 500MB of DRAM and 1 core to run effectively.

OpenIO supports heterogeneous nodes. That is nodes can have different numbers and types of disks/SSDs on them, different processor, memory configurations and OSs. We talked about the possibility of having a node go down or disks going down and operating without them for a month, at the end of which admins could go through and fix them/replacing them as needed. Enrico also mentioned it was very easy to add and decommission nodes.

OpenIO supports a nano-node, which is just an (ARM) CPU, ram and a disk drive. Sort of like Seagate Kinetic and other vendor Open Ethernet drive solutions. These drives have a lightweight processor with small memory running Linux accessing an attached disk drive.

Also, OpenIO nodes can offer different services. Some cluster nodes can offer metadata and object storage services and others only object storage services. This seems configurable on a server basis. There’s probably some minimum number of metadata and object services required in a cluster. Enrico mentioned three nodes as a minimum cluster.

The podcast runs ~42 minutes but Enrico is a very knowledgeable, industry expert and a great friend from multiple SFD/TFD events. Howard and I had fun talking with him again. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Enrico Signoretti, Head of Product Strategy at OpenIO.

In his role as head of product strategy, Enrico is responsible for the planning design and execution of OpenIO product strategy. With the support of his team, he develops product roadmaps from the planning stages to development to ensure their market fit.

Enrico promotes OpenIO products and represent the company and its products at several industry events, conferences and association meetings across different geographies. He actively participates in the company’s sales effort with key accounts as well as by exploring opportunities for developing new partnerships and innovative channel activities.

Prior to joining OpenIO, Enrico worked as an independent IT analyst, blogger and advisor for six years, serving clients among primary storage vendors, startups and end users in Europe and the US.

Enrico is constantly keeping an eye on how the market evolves and continuously looking for new ideas and innovative solutions.

Enrico is also a great sailor and an unsuccessful fisherman.

47: Greybeards talk Storage as a Service with Lazarus Vekiarides, CTO & Co-Founder ClearSky Data

Sponsored By:

In this episode, we talk with ClearSky Data’s Lazarus Vekiarides, CTO and Co-founder,  who we have talked with before (see our podcast from October 2015). ClearSky Data provides a storage-as-a-service offering that uses an on-premises appliance plus point of presence (PoP) storage in the local metro area to hold customer data and offloads this data to cloud storage. In addition to the on-premises storage-as-a-service they offer access to customer data from an in-cloud virtual appliance. ClearSky provides the whole storage service, including gigabit metro Ethernet connections from the customer to the POP for simple capacity based charge every month.

How does it work

Their Edge (on premises) appliance supports 24 SSDs and can scale up to 4 appliances. Soon a single appliance will be able to hold up to 32TB of data.  It’s intended to hold a data center’s entire working set for one week of activity. So essentially it’s a big caching appliance for the local data center

For ClearSky Data the lone source of truth for customer data lies in the PoP. The PoP is connected to metro wide fibre that is available in a number of large metropolitan areas. Laz says they have measured sub 500 µsec round trip response time between their PoP equipment and Edge appliance. The PoP provides the backing store for the Edge appliance. Data written to the edge appliance(s) are written through to the PoP storage. This data and it’s metadata (<1% of LUN size) is flushed to cloud storage which holds the data indefinitely.

DR through the PoP

If customers have multiple data centers within the same metro area (100Km) then they can have a single “logical” array that accesses the same data, say a cluster file system across the two data centers. The PoP will take care of copying the metadata to the secondary edge device and will invalidate any data sitting in the secondary device which is no longer valid. In this way customers can have a Recovery Point Objective (RPO)=0 seconds. That is any data written to the primary data center is automatically available to the secondary data center as long as the PoP survives.

But even if you wanted to fail over to a different metro area the PoP data is offloaded to the cloud continuously so while you wouldn’t attain an RPO=0 seconds, it could be awfully short, on the order of a couple of seconds.

Recent enhancements

ClearSky Data has recently enhanced their storage as a service to provide policy management over snapshots. That is you can establish policies as to how often to take LUN snapshots and how long to retain them in the cloud.

Also, ClearSky Data has added VMware functionality via plugins that allow their storage to know which VMs are writing data or are being backed up to their appliance. And this is included in the metadata written for a LUN which is offloaded to the cloud. Someday soon when you can have vSphere running bare metal in a public cloud service, you will be able to run the Cloud Edge (cloud software version of their Edge appliance) and restore the data from your data center directly to the cloud and have an iSCSI LUN available to EC2 running VMware providing complete Cloud DR for a data center.

We talked a bit about our favorite topic, NVMe storage and Laz sees a potential for it to help their Edge appliances but at the moment fault-tolerence/high availability is not there. And as they are primary storage for data centers HA is a critical capability.

Pricing and availability

Their product is priced as a service in $0.nn/GB/Month and if you do a 36 month cost analysis they feel they would come out cheaper than hybrid storage. They currently have PoP’s in Boston, NyNy, Northern Virginia, Dallas, and California. Laz says they believe there’s 15 major metropolitan areas across the USA they have targeted for service.  What nothing in Europe or Asia? We would imagine this is merely a question of the number of customers, amount of data and metro infrastructure.

The podcast runs ~24 minutes. Laz has been in the storage industry across a number of companies and has been with a few startups as well. Laz is very knowledgeable about storage, cloud, and metro networking, a good friend and is always a pleasure to talk with.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Lazarus Vekiarides, CTO & Co-Founder ClearSky Data

For over 20 years Laz Vekiarides has served in key technical and leadership roles delivering breakthrough technologies to market. Most recently, he served as the Executive Director of Software Engineering for Dell’s EqualLogic Storage Engineering group, where he led the development of numerous storage innovations and established the EqualLogic product line as a leader in host OS and hypervisor integration.

Laz joined Dell from EqualLogic, which was acquired in early 2008, where he was a member of the core leadership team – playing a key role in the company’s early success as a Senior Engineering Manager and Architect for the PS Series SAN arrays and host tools. Prior to EqualLogic, Laz held senior engineering and management positions at several companies including 3COM and Banyan Systems.

An occasional blogger, Laz frequently speaks at industry conferences, particularly in the areas of virtualization and data storage. He holds several storage technology patents, as well as a BSEE from Northeastern University, and an MSCS from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

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.