Storage systems are undergoing important changes. New systems are becoming available that are both sophisticated and make storage “simple.” Simple is mainly a euphemism for automating many complicated tasks that administrators had to deal with before, but there’s a lot more to this than just automation of tasks.
There are modern architectures where the underlying device abstraction or virtualization has been changed to enable advanced features such as:
• allocating capacity only on write operations (thin provisioning)
• distribution of data across devices to maximize the number of possible I/O operations (wide striping)
• applying device protection algorithms such as RAID or Forward Error Correction at the abstracted level
• and other advanced capabilities
I wrote about some of these architectural changes here.
Other updates have changed the way storage is configured. For advanced systems, element managers are made simpler by automating underlying actions. And, the tuning that was a cross between tribal knowledge and super specialist training is built into these systems.
Another ongoing change is the elimination of electro-mechanical devices for storage. The current trend is toward NAND flash used in solid-state drives (SSDs). These devices provide less power consumption, greater performance, and potentially longer lifespans than disk technology. Currently undergoing a rapid price decline, flash and the solid-state technology to follow will become the foundation of modern storage devices.
To use an automobile analogy, storage systems have moved from a relatively primitive state to a modern system that makes it seem simple. Automobiles that used to require a crank start, manual adjustment of the spark advance, and points changes every 10,000 miles are inconceivable to most of today’s drivers. How many car owners today know what a manual choke is?
Storage systems are making that same type of modernization transition. We’re at an inflection point for storage as we move to a modern generation of systems.
(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).
The round brings Nirvanix’s total funding to $70 million. CEO Scott Genereux said the company is expanding its “Cloud Competency Center” in Boulder under its new VP of cloud storage engineering Dave Barr, who previously led engineering for LeftHand Storage iSCSI SANs at Hewlett-Packard. Nirvanix is also keeping its San Diego engineering team.
“Over the next six to 12 months you can expect to see our engineering team deliver innovation aimed at addressing petabyte-scale clouds,” Genereux said. He said NIrvanix will also likely increase its data centers from eight to at least 10, with additions in Europe, Asia and perhaps South America.
Nirvanix is trying to establish itself as the leading enterprise cloud storage provider, with the help of an OEM deal with IBM Global Services signed last October. Nirvanix is managing a 9 PB digital repository cloud at USC, and Genereux said the provider will soon announce another customer with even more data in the cloud. He said Nirvanix has signed 30 customers already through IBM.
“Customers are frustrated with the same old story, buy a box, hope you have enough capacity and manage it the same way and do a tech refresh in three years,” he said. “It’s a circle that box vendors have formed for them.”
Genereux said Nirvanix competes more with the “box vendors” than with other cloud services. He said EMC is the most frequent competitor, but most of the data Nirvanix moves to the cloud is coming off NetApp storage. “EMC might be losing against us when we’re bidding, but NetApp is losing the footprint,” he said.
Genereax said he hopes Nirvanix can reach profitability without another funding round. “We’re marching towards an IPO,” he said. “Our business strategy is based on taking the company to the public markets over the next few years.”
Khosla Ventures led the funding round, with previous investors Valhalla Partners, Intel Capital, Mission Ventures and Windward Ventures participating. Khosla general partner David Weiden joins the Nirvanix board.
Move over SAN, WAN, LAN and MAN. EMC is pushing the notion of a CAN – cache area network – with its upcoming Project Thunder product.
During the Solid State Storage Symposium last week in San Jose, Calif., Brian Sorby, an EMC business development director, provided more details on the Thunder product for analysts and bloggers. EMC first disclosed Thunder when it officially launched its VFCache – formerly Project Lightning – in February. VFCache is a PCIe flash card that goes inside a server. Thunder will expand that by using PCIe flash in an appliance.
Sorby said Thunder would consist of a high-speed front end (InfiniBand or 40-gigabit Ethernet), a lightweight operating system and VFCache cards inside a 2U or 4U appliance.
He said that while VFCache lets end users accelerate LUNs on their SANs, it is limited because “putting these cards into every server in an enterprise is a tedious process.” That’s where Thunder comes in.
“Thunder is a perfect complement to blade servers and rack servers that can’t be messed with,” Sorby said. “It’s a cache area network to bring this above a storage area network to today’s 21st century storage bottleneck elimination. Our new term or new vision is to bring SSDs out of the array, and also to bring the SSDS out of having to buy an entirely different type of product just to get access to it, also to alleviate the problem of having to put a PCIe card in every server in your environment to take advantage of some high I/O feature. This is establishing our cache area network. It’s the next logical step, and the direction EMC is pointed in today.”
EMC is certain to provide more details of Project Thunder at EMC World later this month, and may even officially launch the product.
Last week two major storage vendors made significant system announcements. Hitachi Data Systems rolled out its Hitachi Unified Storage (HUS) that has block and file support and is aimed at the mid-tier market. NetApp unveiled Dynamic Disk Pooling for the E-Series platforms. Dynamic Disk Pooling is a new storage pooling implementation enabling faster drive rebuilds than with traditional RAID.
I found it interesting that neither of these launches were coordinated with major storage events. This was a bit unexpected because most major storage announcements come just prior to storage events -– either industry-wide events or the vendors’ own shows — so the vendors have the opportunity to speak in depth with the assembled press, analysts and customers about their new products. In these cases, HDS and NetApp decided not to use any of the recent storage events or wait until the next storage event.
This raises the question of what would be considered a major storage event now.
VMworld, which occurs each August, is probably the biggest show for announcing new storage products from multiple vendors. VMworld is filled with IT professionals involved with server virtualization. And these pros usually realize that storage systems can make a large difference in the number of virtual machines supported per physical server and ultimately determine the success of server virtualization.
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show held this month in Las Vegas has become another storage showcase event. There were more than 20 storage product announcements at this year’s NAB. But the storage systems at NAB have different usage characteristics than traditional IT.
There are also many storage announcements at the Supercomputing conference, with the next (SC12) scheduled for November. Super computing systems are focused on the high performance computing market.
Both NAB and SC have large numbers of attendees representing many different interest areas in their industry. NAB drew more than 100,000 attendees this year. VMworld is increasing yearly in attendance with the focus more from traditional IT than as a specialty vertical. Years ago the major announcement venues for storage were Comdex and CeBit.
Over the next two months, Symantec, EMC, Hewlett-Packard and Dell will all host their own conferences and launch products there instead of at industry-wide shows.
This means there is no longer a handful of major shows that we can look to for storage product news anymore. They can come from the remaining industry storage shows such as Storage Decisions or Storage Networking World (SNW), more targeted shows such as NAB, Supercomputing , vendor-sponsored shows, or independent of shows. You can’t stay up to speed by going to one or two shows a year anymore. Reading the coverage from SearchStorage and the other TechTarget storage sites is probably the best way to keep up with storage announcements.
(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).
It’s been a slow news year for data deduplication. The data reduction technology has yet to make its big splash for primary storage and is taken for granted for backup. But things picked up this week as EMC Data Domain, FalconStor, Hitachi Data Systems and Permabit all either expanded their dedupe products or talked about their plans.
Permabit aims dedupe software at flash arrays
With the adoption rate of dedupe for primary storage slower than anticipated, Permabit this week unveiled Albireo for Flash Technologies, which is really a flashy way of saying it supports solid-state storage with its Albireo Software Development Kit (SDK) and Virtual Data Optimizer (VDO) for Linux.
Permabit does not sell Albireo software directly, but makes its SDK and VDO available for OEM partners.
Permabit founder and CTO Jered Floyd says primary dedupe adoption is slow because the large established storage vendors resist the notion of cutting into disk sales by shrinking data. (The large vendors dispute this, and all have or are working on some type of dedupe for primary data). Floyd maintains the benefits and needs for primary dedupe for flash are greater than for disk arrays, and the startups selling flash systems are more open to incorporating dedupe.
“We believe dedupe will be a basic required feature for any flash platform,” he said. “Permabit makes it so these companies building new flash platforms can easily and rapidly integrate dedupe.
Does dedupe have to be different for data on flash than hard disk? Floyd said there are benefits and challenges for dedupe on flash that goes beyond dedupe on hard drives. He said dedupe can not only significantly lower the cost per gigabyte of flash but also help improve latency and reliability and avoid wear by reducing the number of writes on a system. Floyd claims Albireo can meet the high demands of flash by handling more than 250,000 IOPS on a single core processor.
Permabit CEO Tom Cook said “a handful” of flash vendors are involved in the early access program for Albireo and he has commitments form a few. He expects to announce deals in the second half of the year.
It will be interesting to see who signs up for Albireo. All-flash startups such as Nimbus Data, Greenbytes, Pure Storage, SolidFire, and XtremIO have dedupe or are promising it for when they begin shipping. Does that mean the market for Albireo is smaller than Permabit anticipates?
“It would be a mistake to assume we’re not working with vendors who have announced dedupe but have not yet delivered,” Floyd said. “Not having dedupe in a flash storage system is going to be a huge liability.”
HDS prepares primary dedupe appliance
Hitachi Data Systems is planning primary data reduction for its newly released Hitachi Unified Storage, as well as a deduplication appliance, according to Fred Oh, HDS’ senior product marketing manager for NAS. He said data reduction for the file portion of the HUS will be available this year and the appliance is expected in the summer. Oh wouldn’t say if HDS is using technology from Permabit, which had an OEM deal with NAS vendor BlueArc before HDS acquired BlueArc.
FalconStor provides inline dedupe option
FalconStor added inline dedupe to its virtual tape library (VTL) product, FalconStor VTL 7.5. FalconStor now supports inline, concurrent and post-processing dedupe as well as its Turbo dedupe option for post-processing.
In the early days of dedupe, the inline versus post-process issue was hotly debated. Inline requires less disk capacity on the back end because it reduces data before moving it to the backup target. Post-processing dedupes at the target, so it requires more capacity but is usually the faster method. Faster processors have alleviated inline dedupe speed concerns, and some of the early post-processing advocates have added an inline option or switched from post-processing to inline.
FalconStor claims its dedupe options are the most flexible.
“We added inline dedupe as a fourth choice,” said Darrell Riddle, FalconStor senior director of product marketing. “We see it as a good fit for smaller systems or systems that need more power up front.”
For a four-node VTL cluster, FalconStor claims its inline dedupe can handle more than 28 TB per hour and post-processing dedupe can back up more than 40 TB per hour.
FalconStor’s concurrent dedupe runs post-process, but does not wait until all backups are completed before deduping on the back end. Riddle said FalconStor VTL customers can also turn off dedupe if they have little or no compressable data.
FalconStor VTL 7.5 software costs from $2,500 to $4,500 per terabyte under management, depending on the configuration.
EMC gives Oracle RMAN a DD Boost
Just because Google Drive is aimed at SMBs and consumers doesn’t mean the cloud storage service will have no impact on enterprises.
Google Drive will almost certainly add to the consumerization of IT that Randy Kerns recently wrote about because it will expand the number of users functioning as their own storage administrators. And the attention it has already sparked will make it more likely that most businesses will at least consider using the cloud for some of its file storage and data protection.
“On the face of it, this topic does not appear to concern the corporate IT manager or CIO, but chances are employees will start using this service to do more than share family photos and recipes,” Ovum principal analyst Richard Edwards wrote in an e-mail about Google Drive’s impact on the enterprise. “Corporate email systems are notorious for their measly storage quotas and message attachment size limitations, and so the sharing and distribution of large corporate files, such as PowerPoint presentations, engineering drawings, and creative content are an obvious use case for Google Drive.”
Edwards said Ovum recommends what he calls “business-grade” cloud collaboration services such as Box and Huddle because of their superior feature management and administration capabilities. Google Drive is seen as a prime competitor to these services as well as other popular file sharing clouds from Citrix, Dropbox, Egnyte, Nomadix, SpiderOak, SugarSync and Syncplicity.
Andres Roldriguez, CEO of cloud NAS vendor Nasuni, said Google Drive can go beyond the file sharing services already on the market because it controls the application stack and a mobile operating system. And while he doesn’t see Google Drive as a competitor to enterprise storage vendors, he does warn that enterprise vendors need to address data on mobile devices in a hurry.
“File storage and synchronization engines are changing storage as we know it,” Rodriguez wrote in an email. “Any large storage vendor that isn’t thinking about how to extend its current data center offerings to mobile is going to be unpleasantly surprised in the next 24 months as more workers shift to accessing data from tablets and smart phones. The pressure on IT is already intense. The control points for much corporate storage today are the Domain Controller (DC) and the CIFS protocol. No one wants to re-architect access control because of mobile users. What we need to figure out is how to extend the access control model we have today to include the new platforms.”
Ranajit Nevatia, VP of marketing for Nasuni rival Panzura, says Google Drive is a long way from becoming an enterprise service because adding features such as global namespace, file locking and enterprise encryption is “damn hard.” He said there is a big difference between file sharing and project sharing, which is what enterprise storage must support.
“Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, iDrive, these are becoming a dime a dozen now,” Nevatia said. “Everybody’s coming up with file sharing with free amounts of storage associated with them. When you look at the target market and use cases they’re going after, it’s not overlapping with what we’re doing. It will put pressure on consumer level file sharing services, but it’s not meant for large enterprises. Our customers collaborate on projects like architectural engineer design or handle large amounts of research data. We’re not talking about two gigabytes or five gigabytes. We’re talking terabytes of data.”
Tom Gelson, Imation’s director of business development and its cloud strategist, said he has mixed reactions about Google’s entry into cloud storage. Imation’s data protection appliances are used by cloud providers and Gelson said the vendor plans on launching its own cloud service. And as an SMB vendor, that would make it a Google competitor. But Gelson agrees with Nevatia about the need for security in the cloud.
“Google rubber stamps cloud backup, because everybody knows Google,” he said. “It’s exciting, but we’re all concerned. Imation is focused on SMBs and if you talk to an SMB IT director, the biggest concern is security. That’s Imation’s biggest focus. We want to make sure data is secure once it sits on the cloud.”
Gelson pointed out Imation acquired three security companies in 2011-– Encryptx, MXI and Iron Key. He said Imation encrypts data in flight to the cloud, and also encrypts data on its RDX removable hard drive media.
Ethan Oberman, CEO of online file sharing company SpiderOak, brings up another potential sore spot for Google – privacy. Oberman wonders if Google will try to integrate Google Drive with Google Plus and if it will record users’ activities.
“Google has definitely been one of the more innovative companies since its inception, so the market will have high expectations for how Google Drive might change the way we work within the cloud,” said Oberman wrote in an e-mail statement. “There is obviously a very fine line between harvesting consumer data across Google platforms for a ‘richer experience’ versus the potential reality that every step we take on Google’s turf is recorded and analyzed. How Google addresses the 800-pound gorilla knocking on the door – privacy – will define how the company is widely perceived by the public. Google Drive will be a key part of this test.”
Startup Symform has a peer-to-peer cloud storage and backup model that seems a bit whacky at first – its cloud consists of disk space from users’ PCs, servers and NAS devices. But Symform’s execs say they have the security and data distribution figured out, and today they picked up more funding to expand their engineering and sales teams.
Symform is calling it an $11 million B round, but only $8 million is in hand. CEO Matthew Schiltz said he expects the other $3 million to come from a strategic partner. He said he’s still talking to possible partners, but expects the deal to include a business development deal as well as funding. When Schiltz was CEO of DocuSign, he secured a business development/strategic funding deal with Salesforce.com.
“We will be doing something similar this year,” he said of his plans for Symform.
Symform president and founder Praerit Garg describes his company’s Global Cloud Storage Network as “a giant RAID system over the Internet. It’s a distributed, decentralized cloud that’s more secure and reliable than a data center. People contribute part of their disks and we aggregate storage across these disks over the internet.”
Garg said the data is encrypted before it leaves customers’ computers. The encrypted data is striped over 96 disks – “we call it RAID 96” – and 32 of the fragments are redundant. That means data can be reconstructed even if 32 fragments are lost.
“We encrypt data, chop it up and geo-spread it,” Schiltz said. “We have our own cloud-controlled brain that manages the peer-to-peer network. We don’t have to build a massive data center to store massive amounts of data.”
Symform software comes preconfigured on QNAP NAS devices, and Schiltz said the startup has about 500 resellers for its cloud. QNAP customers pay $20 per month per bay for the Symform cloud if they contribute space from their device.
Customers who download Symform software on their computers get 10 GB of free cloud storage to begin with. They get another GB free for every GB they give up on their hard drive, up to 200 GB. Beyond 200 GB, Symform charges a subscription fee starting at $3.50 per month for an end-user license and $50 per month for a server license.
Symform also has a partnership with SMB backup software vendor StorageCraft for a Business Continuity Suite service that offers rapid data recovery.
Besides its venture funding – new investor WestRiver Capital led the B round with participation from previous investors OVP and and Longworth Venture Partners – Symform also launched an advisory board. That board consists of Quantum CEO Jon Gacek, DocuSign VP of Engineering Grant Peterson, and Dimitris Achilopta, professor of computer science at the University of Cal-Santa Cruz.
Symantec today said its sales for last quarter came in below expectations, impacted in part by customers waiting for its Backup Exec refresh. But while its storage management and backup products slumped, CEO Enrique Salem said he expects Symantec’s NetBackup and Backup Exec appliances to help return business to normal.
“While we experienced a pause ahead of our Backup Exec product refresh, we continued to see momentum in our backup appliances,” Salem said during a call to address the earnings shortfall.
Symantec CFO James Beers the vendor anticipates reporting approximately $1.68 billion in revenue when it officially reports earnings May 2. Its original forecast for the quarter was between $1.72 billion and $1.73 billion. Symantec’s revenue was $1.67 billion for the same quarter last year.
Although overall revenue rose slightly from last year, the storage and server management group declined approximately 5% with an approximate 8% drop storage management and approximate 3% decline in backup and archiving.
Symantec recently upgraded both major backup applications, and now sells all of its backup products on integrated appliances. Salem said he expected “meaningful acceleration” of the appliance business over the next year.
“I expect that with the refresh of NetBackup and Backup Exec, that will return to more normal business,” Salem said. “We have the ability to sell software, the media server and deduplication in one device, and that’s something none of our competitors do.”
Earnings reports over the next few weeks should show if Symantec’s problems were limited to the vendor or industry-wide. Last week, EMC said its backup revenue grew. CommVault, FalconStor and Quantum are expected to report in the first or second week of May.
Last week, EMC CEO Joe Tucci repeated the storage giant’s commitment to all types of flash. During the company’s earnings report, Tucci pointed to products such as EMC’s recently launched PCIe-based solid state VFCache card, 100% flash arrays and hybrid systems consisting of flash and spinning disk. He proclaimed “this category of storage will undoubtedly make up the vast majority for years to come.”
Now it appears that EMC may add one of those product types by acquiring all-flash storage array startup XtremIO. Israeli business newspaper Globes today reports that EMC is discussing a buyout of the Tel Aviv-based startup for $400 million to $450 million.
While EMC can offer its traditional arrays with all solid-state drives (SSDs) in place of hard drives, XtremIO is part of a rapidly growing group of startups that engineered their systems from the ground up to take advantage of flash. The XtremIO Flash Array is still in customer trials. The vendor positions it as a way to lift I/O constraints for applications such as Oracle or SQL databases, ERP systems, and virtual desktop infrastructures or other heavily virtualized environments.
One of XtremIO’s founders, Shuki Bruck, also founded file virtualization vendor Rainfinity and sold it to EMC in 2005.
An EMC-XtremIO acquisition could start off a feeding frenzy for traditional storage vendors looking to accelerate their ability to take all-flash arrays to market. Globes reported NetApp executives have also visited Israel to talk to XtremIO (Wall Street rumors also say NetApp is looking at buying Fusion-io). Other all-flash vendors that might make acquisition targets include Violin Memory, Nimbus Data, SolidFire, Texas Memory Systems, Kaminario, GreenBytes, Pure Storage and Whiptail.
EMC executives today said the price increase for hard drives put into place late last year will continue for most of this year. They also confirmed expectations that a new high-end Symmetrix VMAX storage system and the “Project Thunder” flash caching appliance are coming soon.
Despite a seven percent revenue growth to $3.7 billion for information storage products last quarter, EMC CFO Dave Goulden said during the vendor’s earnings call that it struggled to meet demand for high-capacity hard drives. Goulden said the drive shortage caused by Thailand floods last year is improving, but EMC will keep its 5 percent to 15 percent price increases at least into late 2012.
“There were and still are constraints in nearline drives,” he said. “We got the drives we needed to make our numbers, but nearline drives came in late and we had to do some balancing to meet supply and demand. There will be constraints in certain classes of drives the entire year.”
Goulden said he doesn’t think the drive shortage cost EMC any customers because “everbyody’s in the same boat when it comes to drive availability.”
His comments were in line with Seagate’s claims during its earnings call earlier in the week that the shortage has eased for some drive types, but high-capacity nearline drives are still restricted.
Despite its revenue growth last quarter, EMC’s high-end storage declined 10 percent from last year. EMC execs said that was largely due to an unusually strong first quarter in 2011, but EMC CEO Joe Tucci agreed with an analyst who asked if it might also be caused by customers waiting for a VMAX product refresh.
Pointing out the current VMAX platform launched three years ago, Tucci said, “our customers are expecting a new high-end product. We don’t want to ruin our announcement, but customers expecting that will not be disappointed. It’s coming soon.”
Tucci also said more details on Project Thunder will be disclosed at EMC World next month, and it will go into beta over the next few months. EMC COO Pat Gelsinger added that he considers the Project Thunder shared storage appliance more lucrative then the VFCache “Project Lightning” host-based PCIe flash card launched earlier this year, because Project Thunder is more in line with EMC’s storage background.
“A Thunder-like appliance is an easier product for the EMC sales force,” he said. “There is a lot of interest for the Thunder appliance in many use cases. We’ve accelerated our internal activities for VFCache, Thunder, the use of MLC [multi-level cache], and hybrid arrays. A large majority of the industry will be hybrid arrays for the long term.”
Tucci added that EMC is committed to all types of flash – including solid-state drives (SSDs) in storage arrays, 100 percent flash arrays, and hybrid arrays – as well as Fibre Channel and SATA hard drives. “For sure, information storage is not a one-size-fits-all world,” he said.
Tucci also addressed another favorite EMC topic, the cloud. He said private clouds will be the most popular type of cloud for a long time, but “we believe the world [eventually] is going to be hybrid. Customers are working on virtualizing and private cloudizing tier one applications in significant numbers. That’s where the action is. But when customers get to peak times they’ll push some apps out to the public cloud so they don’t have to buy capacity for peak times.”
Other tidbits from the EMC call:
• Isilon revenue nearly doubled from last year, with the help of a 28 PB purchase from a web company.
• VNX unified storage systems has brought EMC nearly 6,000 new customers since it launched in early 2011.
• Revenue from midrange products (VNX, Data Domain, Avamar, Isilon) grew 26% year over year.