Storage Soup

September 18, 2013  10:48 AM

Solving ‘big storage’ problems requires new approaches

Randy Kerns Randy Kerns Profile: Randy Kerns

Dealing with information in IT operations includes delivering the resources to store and retrieve information as well as all the management and security requirements. Continued capacity demand creates challenges in adding more storage systems, adapting the data protection process for additional capacity, and ensuring that performance scales in parallel with capacity to meet application and system demands.

This continuum of managing storage gets disrupted when a big storage problem is introduced into IT. Big in this case means a large amount of unplanned capacity is introduced into IT. The large amount of data can come from new projects or acquisitions or from non-traditional data (not usually stored in IT) used for analytics. The capacity demand seen for these types of requirements may dwarf the existing storage systems and processes in IT currently.

Extending current environments usually doesn’t work for these large capacity situations. Public clouds or private clouds can add capacity more quickly, but adding capacity alone doesn’t solve the problem. The ability to move data and manage it  is also required.

The type of information growing fastest is unstructured data in the form of files.  The massive number of files presents another problem. Storing the potentially billions of files into file systems may not be possible or may result in slow access using the hierarchical index structures. Using next-generation object storage with a flat address space may be the answer. Most cloud storage offerings use object storage with RESTful access protocols such as Amazon S3. Object storage systems deployed within IT either independently or as part of private clouds uses protocols for objects or use gateway devices or file system interfaces to map file access to objects. So we see object storage used to solve the big storage or massive amount of data problem.

Object storage systems or software vary greatly in capability and support for access protocols. But solving the big storage problem really isn’t about object storage.  It’s about the problem and the approaches.  Object storage is a technology to use as part of the solution.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).

September 17, 2013  2:56 PM

Nirvanix prepares to close, tells customers to stop using its cloud

Sonia Lelii Sonia Lelii Profile: Sonia Lelii

The speculation about troubled cloud storage vendor Nirvanix was true: today the company took steps to begin closing its doors.

Nirvanix did not comment on its future, but advised customers to stop replicating data to the Nirvaix cloud and to move their data off the company’s systems in the next couple of weeks.

Nirvanix sent a notification to customers late this afternoon with suggestions to follow for data migration, because it plans to disable  uploads to the cloud on Sept. 23. The e-mail to customers read: “We are notifying you as soon as possible after making this decision so that you can make alternative plans for storage service. Nirvanix will have resources available to continue to provide service between now and Oct. 15  for you to download your data free of charge.”

“It’s been crazy,” said Chris Pyle, chief executive of Champion Solutions Group, a Nirvanix partner who received a call from Nirvanix at 9 a.m. today. “It’s a complete surprise. Yes, it’s disheartening.”

Continued »

September 13, 2013  4:05 PM

Oracle optimizes its storage to optimize its databases

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Oracle launched two new ZFS-based storage appliances this week, gave them a new name and released benchmarks that the vendor claims show it is the fastest file storage system on the market.

The new Oracle ZFS Storage Appliances have two models — the ZS3-2 and ZS3-4. The systems are the next generation of what Oracle previously called the Sun Storage ZFS 7000 Series. Like the 7000 series, the ZS3-2 and ZS3-4 are optimized for Oracle software applications with the goal of running database queries and analytics faster.

Both new systems are available in single or dual-cluster configurations with up to 12.8 TB of read flash cache. The ZS3-2 has four eight-core Intel Xeon processors, 512 GB of DRAM cache, and scales to 768 TB with eight disk shelves. The ZS3-4 has eight 10-core Xeon processors, 2 TB of read flash cache and scales to 3.5 PB with 36 shelves.

Jason Schaffer, Oracle’s senior director of storage product management, claims the big enhancements are in the software designed to simplify deployment and improve performance of Oracle databases. These enhancements include Oracle Intelligent Storage Protocol (OISP) that automates Oracle Database tuning and administration. OISP allows Oracle Database 12c to communicate metadata to the storage system to optimize performance. The ZS3 appliances also have new heat map and Automatic Data Optimization (ADO) capabilities to apply different compression levels depending on where the data is in its lifecycle. It also uses Hybrid Columnar Compression (HCC) to significantly compress Oracle Database data.

Oracle claims the ZS3-4 set benchmark “new world records” with its 450,702 SPECsfs operations per second throughput score for a dual-node NAS system, and its SPC-2 $22.53 price performance and aggregate throughput of 17,244 MB per second.

“Oracle applications will see a tremendous advantage of moving to ZS3 over competitive systems,” Schaffer said. “It’s designed to insure that any Oracle software running behind ZS3 will be the fastest and most efficient.”

In a report on the ZS3 series, SSG-Now founding analyst Deni Connor wrote that the automated database-to-storage tuning, heat map-drive tiering and HCC “separate ZFS storage from the rest of the competition in Oracle environments … Running an Oracle Database without these features enabled is like flying a plane without all the engines turned on – you’re still flying but you’re not getting the maximum output and velocity that’s available to you.”
You say you’re not running Oracle database apps? Never mind, then.

September 13, 2013  7:27 AM

Quantum prepares next rev of StorNext software

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Quantum this week took the wraps off its latest StorNext data management file system, adding performance, scalability and flexibility.

StorNext 5 represents a substantial re-write of the software that will be available standalone or on integrated appliances. Quantum claims the new metadata controller appliance performs up to 10 times faster and scales five times as high as the previous version. It also added NAS and HTTP/REST cloud-based network support to go along with the previous SAN support. The software was also optimized to run with solid-state drives (SSDs), InfiniBand networking and multi-core processors.

“This is a rebuilding from the ground up,” said Janet LaFleur, Quantum’s senior product marketing manager for StorNext.

Performance improvements focus on better cache management and CPU utilization, which help support more users and files. Quantum said small file performance has been drastically improved, making StorNext 5 a better fit for applications that require fast file creation and deletions such as financial analytics and high performance computing (HPC).

The new version supports up to five billion files shared in one StorNext File System (up from 1 billion in the previous version) and metadata into the petabytes.

StorNext 5 will be available on appliances in December, and as software-only in 2014. StoreNext M440 and M660 appliance customers will get the StorNext 5 upgrade with their support contracts. However, the new StorNext 5 appliances will be given a new name, which Quantum has yet to reveal.

LaFleur said the hardware in the appliances will be updated for speed, but “this is primarily a software change. You wouldn’t see this level of improvement if it were only new hardware.”

StorNext, along with the DXi disk backup platform, is a key piece of Quantum’s strategy to expand from its legacy standing as a tape vendor. While DXi sales have been uneven, Quantum reported 55 new customers and 13 percent year-over-year growth of StorNext revenue last quarter, including a 60 percent increase in appliances.

September 13, 2013  1:11 AM

Dell goes from public to private, hopes to re-energize its strategy

Sonia Lelii Sonia Lelii Profile: Sonia Lelii

Dell Inc. is reverting into a private company, while it tries to relaunch its strategy of becoming a stronger enterprise player.

On Thursday, CEO Michael Dell and CFO Brian Gladden said shareholders finally approved multi-billion dollar deal that gives Michael Dell control of the company he founded back in 1984. Shareholders have agreed to a sell the company to the CEO and private equity firm Silver Lake Partners for $25 billion, giving Michael Dell 75 percent ownership of the firm.

During a Thursday conference call, Michael Dell said they plan to “go back to our roots.”  However, the strategy that Dell and Gladden offered seemed to be more of the same, with plans to invest in customers’ end-to-end IT needs, increase software revenues and expand the partnership program. The company has made a slew of acquisitions in the last several years, particularly in storage , as it tried to become more of an enterprise-level company.  Executives did not offer much about technology details, other than saying they have the products needed to to be recognized as more than a PC company.

“We have done a broad reset of our strategy over the last four years,” said Gladden. “We are recognized as having a full portfolio of enterprise solutions. Now its time for execution.”

September 9, 2013  7:42 AM

Western Digital picks up Virident, pockets more flash

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Western Digital continued its flash storage shopping spree today, saying it intends to acquire server-side flash startup Virident Systems for $685 million.

The deal is expected to close by the end of 2013, and Virident will become part of Western Digital’s HGST subsidiary. Virident is the third flash acquisition for Western Digital/HGST this year.

Western Digital/HGST’s $340 million acquisition of solid-state drive (SSD) manufacturer sTEC is also expected to close by the end of the year and it already closed on caching software startup VeloBit.

Virident launched its first FlashMAX PCIe card in 2011, and added FlashMAX II with double the capacity a year ago. The startup also sells FlashMax Connect software that provides high availability, pooling of storage across servers and caching for its PCI Express (PCIe) cards.

Virident, which had $116 million in funding, has OEM partnerships with Seagate and EMC. Seagate sells Virident PCIe cards as its X8 Accelerator. The future of that deal is uncertain because Western Digital is a Seagate competitor. EMC sells Virident FlashMAX II cards as part of its XtremSF PCIe flash portfolio.

Virident CEO Mike Gustafson will become HGST senior vice president and lead the Virdent team inside Western Digital.

September 6, 2013  10:38 AM

Storage revenues decline again, suggesting a buyer’s market

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Worldwide external disk storage system revenue came in at $5.9 billion for the second straight quarter for the period ending in June, according to IDC. The revenue also declined year-over-year for the second straight quarter, following four years of solid year-over-year growth.

The latest results show revenue down 0.8 percent for networked (SAN and NAS) systems. While declining revenue is bad news for storage vendors, it is good news for buyers. The sales dip came mainly from declining price, not declining demand. IDC research director Eric Sheppard said units sold were up 15% from last year and terabytes shipped increased 26% from last year. That’s below the close to 40% TB growth we used to see a few years ago, but shows that storage capacity needs are still expanding.

The dip in revenue also shows an increased resourcefulness on the part of storage admins, who are truly doing more with less.

“Part of this is efficiency,” Sheppard said. “Users have gotten comfortable with storage efficiency techniques like dedupe, compression and tiering than two years ago. Flash is also a big part of storage efficiency because it increases tiering.”

Sheppard said the public cloud is also playing a part in organizations buying less storage. Larger providers such as Amazon and Google build their own storage and often buy commodity hardware instead of going to large storage vendors. But Sheppard pointed out that many smaller service providers build clouds with gear from the large vendors, and that is becoming a big piece of storage vendors’ revenues.

EMC continues to lead the vendor race. Its market share increased to 31.3% from 30.4% in the previous year and revenue grew 2.1% to $1.86 billion in the second quarter. NetApp made the biggest jump, increasing revenue 8.6% year-over-year to $789 million and moved into second with 13.3% market share.

Sheppard said NetApp’s jump was in large part to customers upgrading to Data Ontap 8.2 and Clustered Data OnTap operating systems and successful partnerships, particularly the FlexPod reference architecture designed with Cisco and other vendors.

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) took the biggest tumble, with revenue down 12.4% to $424 million and 7.1% share. Most of Hitachi’s problems came in Japan and its revenues fell only 2.7% in the rest of the world, Sheppard said.

IBM placed third with $747 million and 12.6% market share, Hewlett-Packard (HP) was fourth at $594 million and 10% share and Dell moved ahead of HDS into fifth with $454 million and 7.6% share. However, IBM external storage revenue dipped three percent from last year, with Dell dropping 3.1 percent and HP 7.5 percent.

The “others” category – consisting mostly of startups – had an aggregate $1.08 billion for 18.2 percent of the market and declined 0.4 percent from 2012.

The NAS market increased 2.5% over last year with EMC (46.3% market share) and NetApp (30.8% share) leading the way. The SAN market declined by 0.6 percent.

September 5, 2013  11:58 AM

Overland still without profits, and without Tandberg

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

The losses keep coming for Overland Storage, which reported its revenue dropped and losses grew last quarter and for the last fiscal year. And there is no tangible progress on its proposed merger with Tandberg Data that Overland CEO Eric Kelly said could stabilize the company.

Overland’s revenue for last quarter dropped to $12.1 million from $15.3 million last year. The company lost $5.4 million, doubling its losses for the same quarter last year.

Overland’s fiscal year ended June 30, and its revenue of $48 million for the year was down from $59.6 million the previous year. Its loss of $19.6 million for the year was up from a loss of $16.2 million the previous year. Overland finished the year with $8.8 million in cash.

Revenue from the SnapServer DX NAS platform increased more than 60% year-over-year to a still-paltry $6.2 million last quarter. Tape revenue dropped 14% year-over-year.

For the full year, tape revenue dropped to $15.4 million from $18.7 million and disk-based revenue fell to $9.6 million to $11 million.

During Overland’s previous earnings call in May, Kelly said he was discussing a merger with Tandberg Data with Cyrus Capital Partners, the company that owns Tandberg. Kelly said at the time that the Tandberg merger “could create a stable foundation for increased revenue and profitability” by combining Tandberg’s RDX removable disk and tape automation with Overland’s tape and disk technologies.

Overland executives never mentioned Tandberg on Wednesday’s earnings call until an analyst asked about the status of the talks.

“Unfortunately, right now we can’t discuss any of the activities that are going on with Tandberg,” Kelly answered. When the analyst asked if that meant the offer was terminated, Kelly said, “I’d love to answer that question. But unfortunately, I can’t address that. But when I can, I definitely will give you an update.”

Overland CFO Kurt Kalbfleisch said the vendor has a timetable to break-even, but won’t disclose it. He did say the company needs between $15 million and $16 million in revenue to get there. “I don’t believe we’re prepared to now give a specific quarter of when we believe that will take place,” he said.

Break-even will require not only a revenue increase, but decreases in spending. Kelly said Overland reduced operating expenses by more than $3.5 million through June and will save more money when the lease expires on its San Diego building.

Overland recently signed a partnership with Sphere 3D that Kelly said will lead to a product that will let customers access business applications from the cloud through mobile devices. Kelly was named chairman of Sphere 3D.

“We plan to deliver those legacy applications from the cloud or from an appliance, enabling access from any mobile device, creating a large new data management market opportunity for Overland,” Kelly said of the products that will come from the Sphere 3D partnership. “We plan to roll out a comprehensive product line over the next 12 months. Our market focus will be on key verticals where storage is obviously growing and mobility is important, such as healthcare, government, financial services and education.”

Whether that all happens soon enough to save Overland remains to be seen. The company will need more successful products a lot sooner than 12 months out to make it.

September 4, 2013  7:35 PM

VMworld Storage Recap Part II: WD, Syncsort, Kingston and Pivot3

Rich Castagna Rich Castagna Profile: Rich Castagna

As noted in a previous Storage Soup post, when data storage companies launch products at industry gatherings like the recent VMworld tech fest, there’s often an interesting back story or related information. Vendors are typically willing to share some insights that provide context for the product lines or a look into product roadmaps and developing technologies.


With its acquisition of Arkeia and its backup software, WD instantly carved out a place for itself in the backup appliance market.  WD Arkeia Network Backup is still available as a software product, as well as bundled on preconfigured appliances. WD introduced two low-end desktop backup appliances with capacities ranging from 4 TB to 16 TB raw to go along with its four rack-mounted backup appliances rolled out earlier this year. Any of these devices could be used in remote/branch offices to do local backups that can be replicated back to a central site, said Bill Evans, general manager of WD’s SMB business unit. Arkeia’s been around for a while, with its roots going all the way back to 1996; the company in its original and WD incarnations, targets mid-sized customers. Its software features Arkeia’s own data deduplication technology that the company calls Progressive Deduplication.


Syncsort has been around since the late sixties when it was founded as a mainframe software company, but a few years ago it remade itself to focus it data protection products exclusively on NetApp systems. That single-mindedness appears to have paid off, as Peter Eicher, senior product specialist, says they now have more than 500 customers as a result of their partnering with NetApp. Syncsort NSB pairs the company’s DPX data protection app with NetApp’s snapshotting capabilities. The result is a data protection platform that can work in physical, virtual and cloud environments. Eicher also noted that Syncsort is in the process of re-architecting the app’s foundation to make it easier to add more advanced features in the future.


Well-known for its memory products, Kingston Technologies is also has a full line of solid-state storage products for enterprises, smaller businesses and consumers. At VMworld, Kingston debuted its newest enterprise-class drive, the SSDNow E50, a lower-cost version of their E100 SSD. The E50 is a SATA 3.0-based 2.5-inch drive, offered in 100 GB, 240 GB and 480 GB versions. Cameron Crandall, senior technology manager, said that Kingston found that many customers were using their drives for read caching so they didn’t need the endurance of the higher end E100 product. Kingston originally got into the solid-state market by providing SSDs for desktop and laptop PCs, a business that’s still going strong. They have a number of projects in the works, including developing PCIe-base solid state devices, which they expect to introduce next year; by the end of 2014, they also expect to have a 2.5-ionch PCIe product (based on the NVMe standard). Considering their strong heritage in the DRAM market, they’re also keeping an eye on developments in DIMM-base flash storage.


Extending a business from surveillance systems to VDI appliances may seem like a neat trick, but Pivot3 has managed to pull it off. The company sells preconfigured vSTAC appliances that they say make deploying a virtual desktop environment a snap. The appliances include servers, storage and software—including VMware Horizon Suite for VDI. The newest model, the vSTAC R2S Appliance will ship in October; it can support between 117 and 154 desktops, according to Olivier Thierry, chief marketing officer. Thierry said that, on average, Pivot3 customers are using the appliances to virtualize 500 to 900 desktops, but he noted that vSTAC can scale to up to 12 nodes in a cluster. He also noted that interest in VDI is growing, with companies often opting to go the virtual route when faced with upgrading their Microsoft Windows PCs. Healthcare, state and local government and universities are among the verticals in which Pivot3 has seen the most activity to date.

September 4, 2013  12:10 PM

EMC uncages ViPR, jumps into the Nile for private clouds

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

While EMC’s belated VNX2 launch was no surprise today, the storage vendor did throw in a few unexpected twists. First, it revealed the first version of its ViPR software-defined storage platform would be generally available later this month. And the biggest surprise was it took the wraps off something called Project Nile, which the vendor has not discussed before.

EMC didn’t go that deep into Project Nile, which it described as an elastic private cloud storage platform.

In his EMC Pulse blog today, here is how EMC advanced software division preisdent Amitabh Srivastava described the key elements of Project Nile:


  • Project Nile will be designed to deliver a streamlined and highly automated user experience from purchase thorough deployment and consumption.
  • Project Nile will be engineered to enable “Click and Go” access to block, file and object storage depending on a customer’s workload needs. AND it possesses all the benefits of the Public Cloud by being designed for massive scale, geo-distribution, and elasticity.
  • Project Nile is intended to support multiple standard APIs including Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), OpenStack Swift, HDFS and EMC Atmos. This means that it will help developers more easily move applications between on-premise and Public Cloud environments without the need for costly and time-consuming application rewrites.
  • Finally, Project Nile will be offered at a very aggressive price point, redefining the economics of on-premise Web-scale storage deployments.

Parts of this sound similar to what Srivastava laid out in a ViPR demo he gave at VMworld last week, particularly the click and go access to block, file and object storage.

In a video inserted into his blog, Srivastava  also described Nile as “simplified on-premises Web storage without the constraints of public cloud storage.” So is Nile a version of ViPR designed for private clouds? It’s too early to tell, given what little detail we have on Nile. According to EMC, Nile won’t be generally available until 2014.

ViPR will be available this month. EMC says that is ahead of industry expectations, although those expectations were based on EMC’s public statements. Out of the gate, ViPR will support EMC VNX, VMAX, Isilon Vplex and RecoverPoint, and NetApp arrays.

ViPR breaks management into the control plane (infrastructure) through the ViPR Controller and the data plane through ViPR Data Services. Object storage services will be in the first release, with support for APIs from Amazon S3, OpenStack Swift and EMC Atmos.

“We’re separating the application from physical storage,” is how Srivastava described ViPR at VMworld. “The job of ViPR Controller is to automate, automate, automate. We’re giving customers the choice of what array to use.”

EMC said ViPR will cost around 2 cents per GB per month for customers with the Control Plane and Data Plane.

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