Switch vendor Brocade is doubling down on its efforts to prepare for the emergence of solid state drives (SSDs) and flash in storage arrays.
Brocade earlier this year instituted a Solid State Ready program for flash and hybrid array vendors to test their systems with Brocade’s Fibre Channel switching. This week it expanded that program to include testing of Ethernet for NAS and iSCSI SANs. Fujitsu America Inc., Hitachi Data Systems, Hewlett-Packard, NetApp, Nimble Storage, Pure Storage, Saratoga Speed, SolidFire, Skyera, Tegile Systems and Violin Memory are part of the Ready program.
Brocade executives have pointed to SSDs as a driver of 16 Gbps FC SANs because SSDs are used in high performance use cases.
Jack Rondoni, Brocade’s VP of storage networking, said Solid State Ready will help vendors prepare for changes that SSDs will bring.
“People are thinking about their storage architecture differently” because of SSDs,” Rondoni said. “I believe it will be as disruptive as server virtualization.
“We’re doing more than others – short of buying a company, which we won’t do – to help transition to SSD technology.”
That was a poke at Brocade’s switch competitor Cisco for its 2013 acquisition of flash array vendor Whiptail.
Rondoni said Brocade added Ethernet to the Solid State Ready program because, while SSD “deployments have been clean for Fibre Channel, they can get dicey with Ethernet.”
“FCoE to a storage array is a dead technology,” Rondoni said. “It has value in a top of rack switch to the server, but not to storage.”
Nutanix Inc. bolstered its status as one of the hottest converged infrastructure companies with today’s announcement of a $140 million funding round – its largest to date – and a valuation claim of more than $2 billion.
The Series E infusion boosted the San Jose, California-based startup’s total to $312 million since its initial Series A funding round of $13.3 million in July 2010. Nutanix claimed investors valued the company at about $1 billion in January with the closing of its $101 million Series D financing. The value nearly doubled with the latest funding round, which was led by Boston-based Fidelity and Wellington, according to a source familiar with the financing.
Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey blogged that the nearly five-year-old company “raised an IPO-like amount, at an IPO-like valuation, in a private round with institutional investors who typically buy at IPO time” but elected not to go public – yet.
“When you’re a public company, sometimes you have a lot of near-term pressures to deliver a certain number for a quarter, and everything gets scrutinized much more, including all the investment decisions that the company makes,” said Howard Ting, senior vice president of marketing at Nutanix.
Ting said making investments as a private company will allow the team to prepare a “really special” initial public offering (IPO), which he said “is not that far off,” probably in the next calendar year.
“We could decide to push that off,” said Ting. “With this funding, we actually have a lot of flexibility.”
Nutanix plans to use the latest round of funding to invest in sales, research and development, customer support and marketing of its software-driven converged infrastructure products, which are often referred to as “hyper-converged” for their tight integration of virtualization, compute and storage resources in a single box.
Ting said the Series E funding process was in the works for months, and when the closing happened on Tuesday, it made sense to make the announcement today in connection with the biggest conference in the virtualization and data center industry, VMworld.
VMware made a big splash at the conference on Monday with the launch of EVO:RAIL, which combines its compute, networking and storage resources into a hyper-converged infrastructure appliance. Hardware partners that have signed on to build the appliances – which will include VMware’s Virtual SAN (VSAN), vSphere and vCenter Log Insight – include Dell, EMC, Fujitsu, and Super Micro. None expect to ship products until close to year’s end.
The fourth quarter also happens to be the time frame when the XC Web-scale Converged Appliance, which combines Nutanix software and Dell hardware, is expected to become generally available. Nutanix announced the OEM agreement with Dell in June.
“You’re seeing a situation where especially these bigger companies are cooperating and competing with each other and going to market in ways that could be viewed as direct or at least indirect competitors. I think it’s just a natural evolution of the market,” said Jayson Noland, a managing director at Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.
A Baird Equity Research report released last Friday listed Nutanix as the market leader in the hyper-converged market, with approximately 50% share, and VSAN as the most notable competitor given VMware’s market reach.
“There’s a lot of changes going on, and there’s going to be some large legacy IT companies that make this transition, and there’s going to be others that don’t. There are going to be small and new and shiny companies that never make it out of the gate, and there are going to be others that are wildly disruptive,” said Noland. “With a valuation like [$2 billion] and a $140 million capital raise, I would say investors are betting that Nutanix is going to be one of the big winners.”
Nutanix claims to have more than 800 customers, including 29 that have purchased more than $1 million in aggregate products and services. The list includes Airbus, Honda, ConocoPhillips, Toyota and the U.S. Navy.
Arun Chandrasekaran, a research director at Gartner Inc., said the new funding round and overall invested capital will help Nutanix to dispel some of the end-user concerns on vendor viability. He added that he expects more rapid global expansion on the heels of the funding and the OEM deal with Dell.
Pandey claimed his company’s ambition “is much bigger than what you know and see of this company today, hastily classified by so-called experts as a hyper-converged hardware vendor. We surprised those industry pundits by doing the Dell OEM deal, and all the ‘software-defined’ hypocrites were left scratching their heads on how to respond.”
The Nutanix CEO noted the increasingly heated competition in the market space, claiming in his blog post that the company is at war. “And to deal with the shenanigans of big companies, we don’t just need the technology muscle, but also some world-class sales, marketing, distribution, and packaging muscle,” Pandey wrote.
SAN FRANCISCO — VMware opened VMworld 2014 today by launching the product that had been known for months by its code names Projects Marvin and Mystic.
While EVO: RAIL won’t exactly rattle the Bay Area like the 6.0 earthquake that hit yesterday morning, it does shed light on a product that VMware kept a tight lid on since it began shipping its Virtual SAN (VSAN) storage software last March.
EVO: RAIL is a bundle of VSAN, vSphere, and vCenter Log Insight that VMware is selling to hardware vendor partners, allowing them to create hyper-converged appliances combining compute, storage and networking. The appliances will support a specific set of hardware specs, and the software gives them all a common look and feel.
VMware said Dell, EMC, Fujitsu, Inspur, Net One Systems Co. and SuperMicro have signed on as EVO parnters, but no products are expected to be generally available until late 2014. Those products will be competitive to hyper-converged appliances sold by Nutanix, Simplivity and a few others, although VSAN still lacks data deduplication, replication and other data management features that others have.
The appliances give VSAN customers another option for running the software, and the first that includes it pre-bundled on hardware. They can also install it on their own hardware or on pre-tested hardware Ready Nodes.
“I feel over time the hyper-converged model will rule the day,” said Mornay Van Der Walt, VMware’s VP of research and development.
And if you’re wondering about VMware parent company EMC’s’ take on EVO: RAIL, look here.
Hewlett-Packard, struggling to find a successful storage platform outside of its 3PAR arrays, is making its StoreVirtual Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) more cloud-friendly.
HP today said it will sell StorVirtual VSA – a virtual appliance based on LeftHand iSCSI SAN technology – as an integrated option for the HP Helion OpenStack and Helion OpenStack Community Edition.
HP has also added a full set of RESTful APIs, an OpenStack Cinder interface and Linux KVM hypervisor support for StoreVirtual, which already supported VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V.
HP also said it will add space reclamation and multipathing to StoreVirtual but did not give a timeframe. Space reclamation automatically frees unused space when users delete VMs and files, and multipathing is designed to increase throughput and reduce latency.
Craig Nunes, HP storage VP of marketing, said StoreVirtual is used mostly in remote and branch offices, and by small companies and service providers “shifting from hardware to software strategies.”
Smaller all-flash array, virtual backup appliance too
HP is also adding a smaller capacity version of its entry level 3PAR all-flash array, the StoreServ7200. The All-Flash Starter Kit starts at $35,000 for eight 480 commercial MLC solid-state drives. The Starter Kit version of the two-node StoreServ 7200 will be available in late September. HP also has a four-node all-flash 3PAR StoreServ 7450 array.
On the backup front, HP is adding a 4 TB StoreOnce VSA and Hyper-V support to go with its previous VMware support. StoreOnce VSA, a virtual appliance version of HP’s StoreOnce deduplication disk backup targets, launched in 2013 with 10 TB licenses. The 4 TB version costs $1,400.
HP storage declines continue
HP storage revenue continued its long pattern of decline last quarter, coming in a $796 million – down four percent from last year. During the company’s earnings call Wednesday, CEO Meg Whitman said HP’s traditional storage – mainly its mid-range EVA and high-end XP arrays – declined 14 percent. The category that HP calls converged storage – mostly 3PAR, StoreVirtual and StoreOnce – grew nine percent over last year with 3PAR growing more than 10 percent.
Whitman said the storage market is shifting from high end to midrange systems, and “I believe this plays into a sweep spot for HP.”
Nexenta this week revealed plans for NexentaEdge as part of its strategy to expand beyond its NexentaStor software that runs on commodity hardware and takes advantage of open-source ZFS.
Unlike NexentaStor, the vendor has developed Edge from the ground with its proprietary IP along with “some ZFS DNA,” according to CEO Tarkan Maner. NexentaEdge will run on industry standard x86 servers and support iSCSI block storage, OpenStack Cinder and Swift, and Amazon S3 Object APIs. It will use global deduplication to reduce network bandwidth and cryptographic hashing for data integrity.
Maner points to global deduplication as the major differentiator for Edge. “A problem with object storage is it requires a lot of network bandwith,” he said. “We reduce that bandwidth with deduplication.
Nexenta will preview Edge at VMworld next week, and then begin an open beta program. Maner said he expects the software to become generally available by the end of 2014.
Object storage adoption is picking up steam, but Nexenta will have to make its 1.0 product mature quickly. Its competitors include EMC, Quantum, Cleversafe, Scality, Caringo, Exablox, and Amplidata.
IDC storage analyst Ashish Nadkarni said Nexenta faces stiff competition, but at least it not a newcomer to storage. Nexenta has been in the storage market since 2008.
“It’s a first generation product, and it’s going to get compared to what’s already in the market,” Nadkarni said. “And what is already in the market has been around at least two or three years and is probably ahead from functionality and maturity standpoints. Nexenta will have to play catch up. But on the positive side, they have an existing business and experience with storage customers. Having a lot of storage experience can help them come up to speed quickly.”
Nexenta also upgraded NexentaStor and added a VMware Virtual SAN (VSAN) addition to its NexentaConnect storage acceleration and management software this week. NextenaStor 4.1 now supports all-flash storage systems running on commodity hardware, providing optimization for low latency. NexentaConnect for VSAN adds SMB and file services to VSAN, which only supports block storage.
Maner said Nexenta will also add a Fusion product in 2015 that allows customers to manage and analyze Nexenta and other file, block and object storage systems through a common interface. The first version of NexentaFusion will include multi-tenant monitoring and real-time analytics with version 2.0 adding storage provisioning and orchestration, according to the vendor’s roadmap.
The use of solid state technology in the form of NAND flash for storage systems changes the way we need to evaluate storage. While it brings power, space, and reliability advantages, the main reason for using solid state is performance – it accelerates applications.
Still, storage vendors often characterize their flash systems in ways more fit for spinning disk. The numbers usually quoted for storage systems are:
- IOPS – The number of I/Os per second that a storage system can do.
- Bandwidth – The measure of throughput for sustained data transfer as an MBps or GBps number. Bandwidth measures are important when dealing with a high volume of data. The data transfer rate is dependent on the size of the data transferred (block size) and the overhead processing between each block. Infrastructure options — including the fabric and the network reliability to ensure transfer completions without needed retries — are also considerations.
- Latency – This represents the time required for an I/O operation to complete.
These need to be considered differently with an all-flash storage system. First, IOPS is an aggregate number for a system but does not indicate what benefit an application or workload will achieve from a particular system. As an aggregate number, it can be deceiving based on the size or scale of a system. The maximum number needs to be placed in context of the overall workload supported by the entire storage system.
Latency is the more important measure for solid state. Performance measurements go back to mainframe storage systems, when disk rotational latency and the ability to queue I/Os were individually measured. Response time was the important measure because it included latency and queue time. With a storage system design based on solid state technology, queuing is not the major factor as it is with electro-mechanical devices such as disk drives.
Many people are even mixing the terms response time and latency, and some vendors use them interchangeably. Service time is latency and the data transfer time. Latency with disk drives is seek time plus rotational latency before the data transfer completes. However, vendors do not usually quote service time and use the term latency because it looks better comparatively than the latency of spinning disk. Data transfer is limited by the interface and network connections so that is less of a product advantage to highlight.
Given that vendors quote latency and response time interchangeably without referring to service time, those two values must be used for comparative evaluations. Important factors are how fast an I/O completes, and that it is a predictable amount. High variations in I/O completion create problems in management in addition to the effect on business.
For all-flash arrays, latency or response times are the important measures. IOPS needs to be discounted. Because it is an aggregate measure, IOPS will not give you a good understanding of acceleration and the value that brings. How fast the I/O can be completed is the most important factor in the first level consideration for solid state storage.
The Evaluator Group has additional guidance on how to measure solid state storage performance.
(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).
Hyper-converged infrastructure vendor Pivot3 secured another $12 million in funding this week, bringing its total funding to about $100 million in 10 years.
Pivot3, based in Austin, Texas, has been selling hyper-converged systems longer than better known (and better funded) competitors Nutanix and SimpliVity. But Pivot3 customizes its systems to go after targeted markets such as video surveillance and VDI while the others are more data center-centric.
Pivot3’s vSTAC family of hyper-converged systems all run on the same vSTAC 3 operating system but are packaged with applications that support specific verticals.
Pivot3 began selling to the video surveillance market and then added solutions for VMware-based Horizon virtual desktop deployments. CEO Ron Nash said the company has installed hyper-converged infrastructure solutions in more than 1,000 customer locations.
“The underlying technology is hyper-converged,” he said. “We take the same product and package it to solve a business problem for the business users. Most of our customers don’t know that is what they are using, particularly in the video surveillance market since they are not technologists. One of our customers is a bunch of hospitals in the United Kingdom. They use the hyper-converged infrastructure and VDI but the staff knows it as a production enhancer. They see it as a production tool.”
Nash said the new funding will be used to add vertical products, which will involve new partners.
“We’ll have more solutions for vertical markets and that is where the partners come in,” said Nash. “They have additional applications. The strategy for a company this size is to do what it needs to do to go public. We think this company has a broad enough technology that we can be an independent company as some point. We are on that path.”
The funding round was led by new investor S3 Ventures and current investors InterWest Partners and Mesirow Financial.
Despite a drop in revenue from last year, NetApp executives painted a rosy picture of their outlook during their earnings call Wednesday evening. They expressed optimism over the pending FlashRay release, a new version of Clustered Data OnTap and a rise in enterprise and government spending.
On the downside, NetApp is still feeling the sting of decreased revenue from the loss of its OEM deal with IBM, and that problem will get worse until the vendor finds alternative channels for the products that IBM sold.
On the product front, NetApp CEO Tom Georgens said the vendor is on track to launch its long-awaited FlashRay all-flash array this year and there will be shipments to select customers in September. NetApp already sells an EF-Series high-performance flash array, all-SSD versions of its high-end FAS8000 system and hybrid FAS arrays, but FlashRay is its first system designed from the ground up for flash.
“We’ve been saying for quite some time that [FlashRay] is a this-year product, and we’ll actually see customer shipments next month,” Georgens said. “We think flash will live in many incarnations – in hybrid storage, as standalone devices and as a compelling component of all-flash FAS, which is an all-flash node in a broader cluster leveraging all the data management and transparent volume migration that comes with it.”
Georgens also talked about the next release of Clustered Data OnTap. Clustered Data OnTap 8.3 will have OnTap features that did not make it into previous releases of the Cluster mode such as MetroCluster for high availability.
“MetroCluster allows us to compete with recovery times that are superior to all of our competitors,” he said. “It’s a clear differentiator for us.”
Georgens said NetApp experienced an increase in spending from enterprises last quarter, and when is the last time you heard a CEO from a large storage company say that? He said there was an increase in deals over $1 million from last year. That includes a $9 million deal with an energy company involving OnCommand Insight software.
“We saw strength back in the enterprise,” he said. “I won’t say it’s universal but I think probably the biggest indicator of confidence in the future is large transactions and enterprise license agreements, which is a long-term commitment to NetApp.”
Georgens said cloud service providers are also spending – “enterprise is where the money is, cloud service providers are where the growth is” – and he expects federal government spending to be higher at the end of this year without the impact of a shutdown.
Its product revenue last quarter of $1.49 billion declined two from last year, and branded revenue ticked up only one percent. And the mid-point of its guidance for this quarter will be a bit down from the $1.55 billion in revenue from a year ago.
So why isn’t NetApp selling more?
When asked that by an analyst on the earnings call, Georgens said much of NetApp’s recent business is deferred revenue – such as the large OnCommand deal. He said these sales will show up as future revenue.
NetApp’s OEM revenue of $109.8 million was down 23 percent from last year, and Georgens said he expects to see 40 percent declines in coming quarters. OEM revenue is now 8.6 percent of NetApp’s overall revenue, down from 11 percent last year and 14.5 percent two years ago.
Branded revenue of $1.36 billion increased one percent – the same as EMC’s product revenue increase last quarter – and Georgens said he a mid-single digit increase in product revenue for the fiscal year (which ends next April.)
Cloud storage controller vendor Nasuni pulled in $10 million in new financing in an extension of its Series C round this week, bringing its total amount of investment raised to $53 million since its founding in 2009. The company plans to use the new funds to expand its engineering, customer support, sales and marketing departments with a goal of expanding from its current employee total of 70 to at least 100 in 2015.
“We are making a run to become an public company. That is our goal,” said Wayne St. Amand, Nasuni’s vice president of global marketing. “We see a shift in the market toward using the cloud for primary storage.”
St. Amand said Nasuni has about 200 customers, and its second-quarter bookings increased 232 percent over last year.
“For the first seven months of this year, we achieved more sales compared to the full year of 2013,” he said.
Nasuni targets the storage-as-a-service market. Its cloud controller resides on a customer’s site and Nasuni’s UniFS Global File System makes data available no matter where it is located along with centralized storage management and automatic data protection. The controller is available on a hardware appliance or as a software virtual appliance that customers can install on any hardwaremers
Nasuni’s customers use the public cloud for tier-2 file data which is accessed on a regular basis, but the vendor recently signed a partnership with Cleversafe to support customers who want a private cloud.
“A private cloud is more economical for some customers who are in the petabyte range,” St. Amand said.
Previous investors Flybridge Capital Partners, North Bridge Venture Partners and Sigma Partners all participated in the new funding. Nasuni has raised $53 million in funding since its inception. The new round is an extension of a $20 million Series C round from October 2012, adding to an $8 million Series A round and a $15 million Series B funding round.
Nimble Storage today completed a product refresh it began in June with its CS700 high-end system. Today it added CS500 and CS300 arrays, which like the CS700 use new versions of Intel processors to speed performance over Nimble’s previous generation of arrays.
The CS500 replaces Nimble’s CS400 and the CS300 will replace the CS200. The vendor claims a 50 percent performance boost for the new arrays over the systems they will replace.
“Think of them as we’ve brought the CS 700 architecture down across the entire platform,” said Dan Leary, Nimble VP of marketing. “These have slightly less CPU cores, and bring costs down to midrange customers. We drive performance more from CPUs than from hard drives or solid-state drives (SSDs).”
The CS700, CS500 and CS300 are all 3u dual controller hybrid flash systems with a maximum of 36 TB or raw capacity inside the box with the ability to scale to 256 TB with expansion shelves. The difference is in the processor and number of CPU cores for performance. The CS700 uses Intel Ivy Bridge while the CS500 and CS300 use Sandy Bridge processors. Nimble calls the CS700 its extreme performance family, the CS500 the high performance family and the CS300 the base performance family. There is also an ultimate performance scale-out cluster option of up to four clustered CS700 systems.
Leary said the CS300 is for departments, SMBs and enterprises running a mix of databases, Microsoft Exchange and VMware but not applications requiring “bleeding edge performance like online transaction processing.”
The CS500 is aimed at applications with more intensive I/O operations and the CS7000 is for applications needing the highest level of performance.
Like the CS700, the new systems work with Nimble’s All-Flash Shelf (AFS) that was introduced with the CS7000 in June. Also like the CS700, the CS500 and CS300 include two Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) ports and the option for two dual 10GigE or two GbE SFP+ connections per controller. Nimble is expected to add Fibre Channel (FC) connectivity by the end of the year. Nimble storage arrays have been iSCSI from its inception.
Leary wouldn’t give specifics on the coming FC, except to say, “We still do have Fibre Channel on the roadmap and these products are broadly compatible with that strategy.”
Nimble has not upgraded its CASL operating system for the new hardware. “CASL was designed to take full advantage of all the CPU it can get,” Leary said.
Leary said Nimble intends to eventually add the ability to upgrade from a CS200 or CS400 to the new models through software upgrades, but that is not available yet.