Fall SNWUSA wrap-up

Attended SNWUSA this week in San Jose,  It’s hard to see the show gradually change when you attend each one but it does seem that the end-user content and attendance is increasing proportionally.  This should bode well for future SNWs. Although, there was always a good number of end users at the show but the bulk of the attendees in the past were from storage vendors.

Another large storage vendor dropped their sponsorship.  HDS no longer sponsors the show and the last large vendor still standing at the show is HP.  Some of this is cyclical, perhaps the large vendors will come back for the spring show, next year in Orlando, Fl.  But EMC, NetApp and IBM seemed to have pretty much dropped sponsorship for the last couple of shows at least.

SSD startup of the show

Skyhawk hardware (c) 2012 Skyera, all rights reserved (from their website)
Skyhawk hardware (c) 2012 Skyera, all rights reserved (from their website)

The best, new SSD startup had to be Skyera. A 48TB raw flash dual controller system supporting iSCSI block protocol and using real commercial grade MLC.  The team at Skyera seem to be all ex-SandForce executives and technical people.

Skyera’s team have designed a 1U box called the Skyhawk, with  a phalanx of NAND chips, there own controller(s) and other logic as well. They support software compression and deduplication as well as a special designed RAID logic that claims to reduce extraneous write’s to something just over 1 for  RAID 6, dual drive failure equivalent protection.

Skyera’s underlying belief is that just as consumer HDAs took over from the big monster 14″ and 11″ disk drives in the 90’s sooner or later commercial NAND will take over from eMLC and SLC.  And if one elects to stay with the eMLC and SLC technology you are destined to be one to two technology nodes behind. That is, commercial MLC (in USB sticks, SD cards etc) is currently manufactured with 19nm technology.  The EMLC and SLC NAND technology is back at 24 or 25nm technology.  But 80-90% of the NAND market is being driven by commercial MLC NAND.  Skyera came out this past August.

Coming in second place was Arkologic an all flash NAS box using SSD drives from multiple vendors. In their case a fully populated rack holds about 192TB (raw?) with an active-passive controller configuration.  The main concern I have with this product is that all their metadata is held in UPS backed DRAM (??) and they have up to 128GB of DRAM in the controller.

Arkologic’s main differentiation is supporting QOS on a file system basis and having some connection with a NIC vendor that can provide end to end QOS.  The other thing they have is a new RAID-AS which is special designed for Flash.

I just hope their USP is pretty hefty and they don’t sell it someplace where power is very flaky, because when that UPS gives out, kiss your data goodbye as your metadata is held nowhere else – at least that’s what they told me.

Cloud storage startup of the show

There was more cloud stuff going on at the show. Talked to at least three or four cloud gateway providers.  But the cloud startup of the show had to be Egnyte.  They supply storage services that span cloud storage and on premises  storage with an in band or out-of-band solution and provide file synchronization services for file sharing across multiple locations.  They have some hooks into NetApp and other major storage vendor products that allows them to be out-of-band for these environments but would need to be inband for other storage systems.  Seems an interesting solution that if succesful may help accelerate the adoption of cloud storage in the enterprise, as it makes transparent whether storage you access is local or in the cloud. How they deal with the response time differences is another question.

Different idea startup of the show

The new technology showplace had a bunch of vendors some I had never heard of before but one that caught my eye was Actifio. They were at VMworld but I never got time to stop by.  They seem to be taking another shot at storage virtualization. Only in this case rather than focusing on non-disruptive file migration they are taking on the task of doing a better job of point in time copies for iSCSI and FC attached storage.

I assume they are in the middle of the data path in order to do this and they seem to be using copy-on-write technology for point-in-time snapshots.  Not sure where this fits, but I suspect SME and maybe up to mid-range.

Most enterprise vendors have solved these problems a long time ago but at the low end, it’s a little more variable.  I wish them luck but although most customers use snapshots if their storage has it, those that don’t, seem unable to understand what they are missing.  And then there’s the matter of being in the data path?!

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If there was a hybrid startup at the show I must have missed them. Did talk with Nimble Storage and they seem to be firing on all cylinders.  Maybe someday we can do a deep dive on their technology.  Tintri was there as well in the new technology showcase and we talked with them earlier this year at Storage Tech Field Day.

The big news at the show was Microsoft purchasing StorSimple a cloud storage gateway/cache.  Apparently StorSimple did a majority of their business with Microsoft’s Azure cloud storage and it seemed to make sense to everyone.

The SNIA suite was hopping as usual and the venue seemed to work well.  Although I would say the exhibit floor and lab area was a bit to big. But everything else seemed to work out fine.

On Wednesday, the CIO from Dish talked about what it took to completely transform their IT environment from a management and leadership perspective.  Seemed like an awful big risk but they were able to pull it off.

All in all, SNW is still a great show to learn about storage technology at least from an end-user perspective.  I just wish some more large vendors would return once again, but alas that seems to be a dream for now.

Initial impressions on Spring SNW/Santa Clara

I heard storage beers last nite was quite the party, sorry I couldn’t make it but I did end up at the HDS customer reception which was standing room only and provided all the food and drink I could consume.

Saw quite a lot of old friends too numerous to mention here but they know who they are.

As for technology on display there was some pretty impressive stuff.

Verident card (c) 2011 Silverton Consulting, Inc.
Verident card (c) 2011 Silverton Consulting, Inc.

Lots of great technology on display there.

Virident tachIOn SSD

One product that caught my eye was from Virident, their tachIOn SSD. I called it a storage subsystem on a board.  I had never talked with them before but they have been around for a while using NOR storage but now are focused on NAND.

Their product is a fully RAIDed storage device using flash aware RAID 5 parity locations, their own wear leveling and other SSD control software and logic with replaceable NAND modules.

Playing with this device I felt like I was swapping drives of the future. Each NAND module stack has a separate controller and supports high parallelism.  Talking with Shridar Subramanian, VP of marketing, he said the product is capable of over 200K IOPS running a fully 70% read:30% write workload at full capacity.

They have a Capacitor backed DRAM buffer which is capable of uploading the memory buffer to NAND after a power failure. It plugs into a PCIe slot and uses less than 25W of power, in capacities of 300-800GB.  It requires a software driver, they currently only support Linux and VMware (a Linux varient) but Windows and other O/Ss are on the way

Other SSDs/NAND storage

Their story was a familair refrain throughout the floor, lots of SSD/NAND technology coming out, in various formfactors.  I saw one system using SSDs from Viking Modular Systems that fit into a DRAM DIMM slot and supported a number of SSDs behind a SAS like controller. Also requiring a SW driver.

(c) 2011 Silverton Consulting, Inc.
(c) 2011 Silverton Consulting, Inc.

Of course TMS, Fusion-IO, Micron, Pliant and others were touting their latest SSD/Nand based technology showing off their latest solutions and technology.   For some reason lots of SSD’s at this show.

Naturally, all the other storage vendors were there Dell, HDS, HP, EMC, NetApp and IBM. IBM was showing off Watson, their new AI engine that won at Jeopardy.

And then there was cloud, …

Cloud was a hot topic as well. Saw one guy in the corner I have talked about before StorSimple which is a cloud gateway provider.  They said they are starting to see some traction in the enterprise. Apparently enterprise are starting to adopt cloud – who knew?

Throw in a few storage caching devices, …

Then of course there was the data caching products which ranged from the relaunched DataRAM XcelASAN to Marvel’s new DragonFLY card.  DragonFLY provides a cache on a PCI-E card which DataRAM is a FC caching appliance, all pretty interesting.

… and what’s organic storage?

And finally, Scality came out of the shadows with what they are calling an organic object storage device.  The product reminded me of Bycast (now with NetApp) and Archivas (now with HDS) in that they had a RAIN architecture, with mirrored data in an object store interface.  I asked them what makes them different and Jerome Lecat, CEO said they are relentlessly focused on performance and claims they can retrieve an object in under 40msec.  My kind of product.  I think they deserve a deeper dive sometime later.

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Probably missed a other  vendors but these are my initial impressions.  For some reason I felt right at home swapping NAND drive modules,…

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Cirtas surfaces

Cirtas system (from www.Cirtas.com)
Cirtas system (from www.Cirtas.com)

Yesterday, Cirtas came out of stealth mode and into the lime-light with their new Bluejet cloud storage controller hardware system.  Cirtas joins a number of other products offering cloud storage to the enterprise by supplying a more standard interface which we have discussed before (see Cloud storage gateways surface).

With Cirtas, the interface to the backend cloud storage is supplied as iSCSI, similar to StorSimple‘s product we reviewed previously (see More cloud storage gateways …).  However, StorSimple is focused on Microsoft environments only and select applications, namely Sharepoint, Exchange and Microsoft file services.  Cirtas seems aimed at the more general purpose application environment that uses iSCSI storage protocols.  The only other iSCSI cloud storage gateway providers appear to be TwinStrata and Panzura but the information on Panzura’s website is sketchy.

In addition, Cirtas, StorSimple (and Panzura) provide hardware appliances whereas most of the other cloud storage gateways (NasuniGladinet, TwinStrata) only come as software  packages.  Although Gladinet appears to be targeted at the home office environment.

Cirtas’s Bluejet controller includes onboard RAM cache, SSD flash drives and SAS drives (5TB total) that is used to provide higher performing cloud storage access.  Bluejet also supports space efficient snapshots, data encryption, thin provisioning, data deduplication, and data compression. The Cirtas team comes out of the WAN optimization space so they have incorporated some of these data saving technologies into their product to reduce bandwidth requirement and cloud storage demand.

Cirtas currently supports Amazon S3 and IronMountain cloud storage but more are on the way.  They also recently completed their Series A round of funding which included NEA and Amazon.

Cirtas says they can support local storage performance but have no benchmarks to prove this out.  With iSCSI there aren’t many benchmark options but one could use iSCSI to support Microsoft Exchange and submit something on the Exchange Solution Review Program (ESRP) which might show off this capability.

Nonetheless, cloud storage can be considerably cheaper than primary storage ($/GB basis) and no doubt even with the ~$70K Cirtas Bluejet cloud storage controller, Cirtas supports a significant cost advantage.   With the appliance purchase, you get a basic storage key which allows you to store up to 20TB of data on (through) the appliance, if you have more data to store, additional storage keys can be purchased separately.  This 20TB license does not include the cloud storage costs for storing data on the cloud nor the bandwidth costs to upload and/or access the data on the cloud.

Seems like interest in cloud storage gateways/controllers is heating up, with the addition of Cirtas I count at least 4 that target the enterprise space and when Panzura releases a product that will add another.

Anything I missed?

More cloud storage gateways come out

Strange Clouds by michaelroper (cc) (from Flickr)
Strange Clouds by michaelroper (cc) (from Flickr)

Multiple cloud storage gateways either have been announced or are coming out in the next quarter or so. We have talked before about Nasuni’s file cloud storage gateway appliance, but now that more are out one can have a better appreciation of the cloud gateway space.

StorSimple

Last week I was talking with StorSimple that just introduced their cloud storage gateway which provides a iSCSI block protocol interface to cloud storage with an onsite data caching.  Their appliance offers a cloud storage cache residing on disk and/or optional flash storage (SSDs) and provides iSCSI storage speeds for highly active working set data residing on the cache or cloud storage speeds for non-working set data.

Data is deduplicated to minimize storage space requirements.  In addition data sent to the cloud is compressed and encrypted. Both deduplication and compression can reduce WAN bandwidth requirements considerably.    Their appliance also offers snapshots and “cloud clones”.  Cloud clones are complete offsite (cloud) copies of a LUN which can then be maintained in synch with the gateway LUNs by copying daily change logs and applying the logs.

StorSimple works with Microsoft’s Azure, AT&T, EMC Atmos, Iron Mountan and Amazon’s S3 cloud storage providers.   A single appliance can support multiple cloud storage providers segregated on a LUN basis.  Although how cross-LUN deduplication works across multiple cloud storage providers was not discussed.

Their product can be purchased as a hardware appliance with a few 100GB of NAND/Flash storage up to a 150TB of SATA storage.  It also can be purchased as a virtual appliance at lower cost but also much lower performance.

Cirtas

In addition to StorSimple, I have talked with Cirtas which has yet to completely emerge from stealth but what’s apparent from their website is that the Cirtas appliance provides “storage protocols” to server systems, and can store data directly on storage subsystems or on cloud storage.

Storage protocols could mean any block storage protocol which could be FC and/or iSCSI but alternatively, it might mean file protocols I can’t be certain.  Having access to independent, standalone storage arrays may mean that  clients can use their own storage as a ‘cloud data cache’.  Unclear how Cirtas talks to their onsite backend storage but presumably this is FC and/or iSCSI as well.  And somehow some of this data is stored out on the cloud.

So from our perspective it looks somewhat similar to StorSimple with the exception that it uses external storage subsystems for its cloud data cache for Cirtas vs. internal storage for StorSimple.  Few other details were publicly available as this post went out.

Panzura

Although I have not talked directly with Panzura they seem to offer a unique form of cloud storage gateway, one that is specific to some applications.  For example, the Panzura SharePoint appliance actually “runs” part of the SharePoint application (according to their website) and as such, can better ascertain which data should be local versus stored in the cloud.  It seems to have  both access to cloud storage as well as local independent storage appliances.

In addition to a SharePoint appliance they offer a “”backup/DR” target that apparently supports NDMP, VTL, iSCSI, and NFS/CIFS protocols to store (backup) data on the cloud. In this version they show no local storage behind their appliance by which I assume that backup data is only stored in the cloud.

Finally, they offer a “file sharing” appliance used to share files across multiple sites where files reside both locally and in the cloud.  It appears that cloud copies of shared files are locked/WORM like but I can’t be certain.  Having not talked to Panzura before, much of their product is unclear.

In summary

We now have both a file access and at least one iSCSI block protocol cloud storage gateway, currently available, publicly announced, i.e., Nasuni and StorSimple.  Cirtas, which is in the process of coming out, will support a “storage protocol” access to cloud storage and Panzura offers it all (SharePoint direct, iSCSI, CIFS, NFS, VTL & NDMP cloud storage access protocols).  There are other gateways just focused on backup data, but I reserve the term cloud storage gateways for those that provide some sort of general purpose storage or file protocol access.

However, Since last weeks discussion of eventual consistency, I am becoming a bit more concerned about cloud storage gateways and their capabilities.  This deserves some serious discussion at the cloud storage provider level and but most assuredly, at the gateway level.  We need some sort of generic statement that says they guarantee immediate consistency for data at the gateway level even though most cloud storage providers only support “eventual consistency”.  Barring that, using cloud storage for anything that is updated frequently would be considered unwise.

If anyone knows of another cloud storage gateway I would appreciate a heads up.  In any case, the technology is still young yet and I would say that this isn’t the last gateway to come out but it feels like these provide coverage for just about any file or block protocol one might use to access cloud storage.

Eventual data consistency and cloud storage

cloud map by psyberartist (cc) (from Flickr)
cloud map by psyberartist (cc) (from Flickr)

We were talking with Ursheet Parikh at StorSimple today about their new cloud gateway product (to be covered in a future post) when at the end of the talk he described some IP they have to handle cloud storage’s “eventual consistency“.  Dumbfounded, I asked him to clarify, having never heard this term before.

Apparently, eventual data consistency is what you get when you use most cloud storage providers.  With eventual consistency they will not guarantee that when you read back an object that has been recently updated that you will get the latest copy.

In contrast, “immediate consistency” means that if you update an object the cloud storage provider guarantees the latest version will be supplied for any and all subsequent read backs.  To me all storage up until cloud storage guaranteed immediate consistency otherwise it was considered a data integrity failure.

To explain, cloud storage providers have multiple copies of any object replicated about that must be updated throughout their environment.  As such, they cannot guarantee that you will read back an updated version versus one of the downlevel one(s)- Yikes!

What does this mean for your cloud storage?

First, Microsoft’s Azure cloud storage is the only provider that guarantees immediate consistency but in order to do so has made some restrictions on object size.  But this means all the other cloud storage providers only guarantee eventual consistency.

Second, cloud storage with eventual consistency guarantee should not be used for data that’s updated frequently and then read back.  It’s probably ok for archive or backup storage (that’s not restored for awhile) BUT it’s not ok for “normal” file or block data which is updated frequently and then read back expecting to see the updates.

According to Ursheet, the cloud storage providers have been completely up-front about their consistency level and as such his product, StorSimple, has been specifically designed to accommodate variable levels of consistency.  We would need to ask the other providers how they handle cloud storage consistency-ness to understand whether they have tried to deal with this as well.

However, from my perspective eventual consistency is scary.  It appears that cloud storage has redefined what we mean by storage or at the very least eliminating data integrity.  Moreover, this seriously limits the usability of raw cloud storage to very archive-like, infrequently updated data storage.

And I thought cloud storage was going to take over the data center – not like this…