Storage Soup

August 31, 2012  7:58 PM

More storage notes from VMworld

Rich Castagna Rich Castagna Profile: Rich Castagna

While the VMworld conference might have been a little light on major storage product news, the sheer number of storage vendors showing off their wares meant there were still plenty of interesting product developments even in the absence of blockbuster announcements.

VirtualSharp, a two-year old disaster recovery software company, lowered the price of an entry-level version of its core product, ReliableDR, to zero. The new free edition is available for download from the company’s website. The freebie app has no time limit, so it won’t self destruct in the middle of a recovery or migration. There are, however, some limitations: it can support up to 10 virtual machines (VMs) and an RPO of 48 hours. Of course, the full version of the product has no such limitations and can replicate data using VMware Changed Block Tracking (CBT) or tap into your storage array’s replication features. Pricing for the product starts at $300 per VM for a perpetual license.

Acronis has made its mark in the SMB data protection market and has been steadily augmenting its data protection products to appeal to a wider and bigger audience. They currently support backup for mixed physical and virtual environments, which is a key concern for many companies that want to avoid using multiple backup tools. Coming soon will be expanded cloud backup services, and extending current endpoint data protection to mobile devices while adding file synching capabilities.

Veeam CEO Ratmir Timashev says the virtual machine backup company will continue to focus on data protection for virtual servers and eschew physical server backup—at least for now. Timashev says the company, which has grown to $180 million in revenues with about 50,000 customers, is focused on building out its VM backup app with additional snapshot capabilities with Veeam Explorer for SAN Snapshots, a new feature the company recently rolled out in conjunction with Hewlett-Packard.

Best known for providing storage for video surveillance systems, Pivot3 Inc. is branching out and taking a shot at virtual desktop implementations with their vSTAC VDI P Cubed appliance. Each vSTAC appliance combines compute and storage with two six-core Intel Xeon processors, up to 348 GB of RAM and a storage configuration that includes 50 GB of SLC flash that functions as a write cache supporting from 12 TB to 36 TB of SATA or SAS spinning disks. vSTAC appliances, as their name implies, can be ganged up, with up to eight units that can support over 1,000 virtual desktops. Arriving fully configured, vSTACs look like a quick route to virtual desktops for small to mid-sized companies. Right now, Pivot3’s vSTAC supports VMware View, but other VDI platforms may be added later.

Belgian company CloudFounders showed off their CloudFrames private cloud software and its CloudBox appliance. The appliance is billed as an “all-in-one private cloud” for SMBs; when three of these units are stacked up, they’re able to withstand the loss of one to provide high availability. The boxes use a small amount of flash for caching along with 14 TB of hard disk and include replication, snapshotting and deduplication. This is the third generation of the product, and the company says that they already have 1,500 customers.

August 31, 2012  3:49 PM

Those annoying backups could be a big data resource

Rich Castagna Rich Castagna Profile: Rich Castagna

A lot of storage managers wish backup would go away — or at least become a much less visible process that’s built into apps or storage systems, does its thing automatically, and requires little or no management. But two backup vendors, with very different products and equally divergent approaches to backing up enterprise data, may demonstrate how dreaded backups can turn out to be key components in a practical approach to big data analytics.

CommVault Systems Inc. is a well-established backup software company and Actifio Inc. is a three-year-old startup. Both vendors aim to consolidate the many copies of production data that most companies create for backup, disaster recovery (DR), analysis, testing and other purposes, to help cut down on the amount of physical storage required to accommodate all those copies and the confusion that’s inevitable when there are so many copies of data floating around an environment.

For Actifio, this consolidation is its core proposition. Its Protection and Availability Storage (PAS) platform makes a single copy of production available to other applications or disciplines for typical backup restores, DR operations or any other activity that requires a copy of the production data. But rather than spawning multiple physical copies, Actifio’s appliance presents virtual copies to the requesting applications and then manages the data accordingly.

CommVault’s Simpana suite of data protection and management apps may resemble a more traditional backup app, but it actually leverages a common platform for backup, archiving, replication, endpoint protection and other data management operations. Besides acting like a Swiss Army knife for data protection, Simpana consolidates the data it manages from its various components as a single entity called the ContentStore. Data in the ContentStore can be indexed and searched, and policies can be applied to define retentions.

Because both of these products are used primarily to protect the most recently created or modified data across the enterprise, their repositories may very well be the most complete collection of corporate data available. And because the data was deposited by a backup, archive or other data-aware application, it’s not just faceless data — it carries some attributes in its metadata that provide context to give the raw data meaning. It wouldn’t be all that tough to add even more context by tapping into Active Directory, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) or other directory services; in some cases, the originating applications may be able to provide additional metadata.

Rather than just amassing and managing collections of dumb backup data, you can create a useful pool of information that enables and enhances access by dint of its origins and how it’s been managed. It’s almost a ready-made big data resource; and if it’s searchable, as with CommVault’s ContentStore, gleaning the most appropriate datasets for analysis from the pool could end up a relatively easy part of the big data process.

CommVault and Actifio are good examples of how a platform and consolidation approach to data protection can yield additional benefits and make copied data a more valuable resource — and other vendors are on the same path with product roadmaps. Data protection has always been a laborious and often complex process, but those efforts and the associated expense may offer a bigger payoff after all.

August 31, 2012  8:36 AM

VMworld 2012 storage notes

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

New VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger found himself attending at least one VMworld event that he would have needed a disguise to get into a year ago.

Gelsinger was a special guest at a NetApp party for customers, press and analysts Tuesday night at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Gelsinger, who moved from EMC COO into the VMware job this week, looked around at NetApp CEO Tom Georgens and said, “this is the last place I thought I’d be a couple of months ago.”

It’s no secret that EMC and NetApp are heated rivals. But Gelsinger and Georgens are now so close that they apparently have the same speech writer. During the NetApp even, both repeatedly referred to the other as “my new best friend” and each remarked several times that now they could take each other’s pictures down from their dartboards.

At VMware, Gelsinger is trying to be a lot of people’s best friend. He and other VMware execs repeatedly pointed out at VMworld 2012 how they love all their partners. But Gelsinger also found out it’s hard to be everybody’s friend all the time.

During a CEO roundtable on stage with EMC’s Joe Tucci, Georgens, Michael Dell and former VMware CEO Paul Maritz, Gelsinger tried to describe how his customers need multiple vendors. “One might call Dell to buy servers, and go see Joe for storage – or my new best friend here [Georgens],” Gelsinger said.

But that comment slighted another of Gelsinger’s new friends. “Hey, we can sell them storage too,” Dell reminded Gelsinger. …

Overhead on Solutions Floor:

The CEO of a storage startup approached a friend of his who recently founded a company. “What is your new company doing?” the storage CEO asked.

“I can’t tell you yet,” said the friend, “but it will be software-defined something.”

Everything in IT will be software-defined something by then, if the current buzzword continues unchecked. VMware’s $1.26 billion acquisition of Nicira in July made software-defined networking (SDN) big, and the concept is spreading throughout the data center, including storage. VMware hosted a technical session on software-defined storage at the show and at least a dozen storage vendors have referred to the term in describing their products.

Don’t expect any definitive definition yet, though. VMware lumps future storage technologies such as Virtual SANs, virtual flash and virtual volumes – all designed to make it easier to run storage with virtual machines – under the software-defined storage banner. But others are already expanding the term to fit their own technologies. So if you thought cloud storage was tough to pin down, wait until you see software-defined storage. …

Product news: Cloud storage service provider Nirvanix and gateway vendor TwinStrata released a cloud storage starter kit that combines 50 TB of Nirvanix cloud storage with a TwinStrata CloudArray for a $48,000 annual subscription. The kit is designed to help enterprises quickly set up a cloud for backup/disaster recovery. …

Symantec Corp. said faster recovery of virtual machines in VMware will be a big focus of NetBackup 7.6, due out in November. Planned features include the ability to instantly power on any protected virtual machine from a disk backup target and NetBackup Accelerator for VMware, an extension of its Accelerator for physical machines added in version 7.5. Symantec is also planning to add application failover for VMware to Veritas Cluster Server later this year. Symantec said the failover feature will enable physical to virtual failover and work with Vmware’s vMotion, Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) and vCenter Site Recovery Manager. …

FalconStor upgraded its RecoverTrac disaster recovery automation technology that runs in its Continuous Data Protector (CDP) and Network Storage Server (NSS) products. The major addition in RecoverTrac 2.5 is the ability to failover and failback between any combination of physical and virtual servers as well as between dissimilar hardware. … Emulex Corp. made its OnCommand Vision 3.0 performance management software available, with support for direct-attached storage (DAS), iSCSI SANs, and logical volumes. … Continuity Software added CloudGuard to its DR software suite. CloudGuard automatically detects problems that could cause downtime to private clouds by collecting data from vCenter, storage, virtual machines and applications. It generates a trouble ticket for areas of risk and recommends solutions to prevent failures.

August 30, 2012  7:09 AM

Solid state requires storage re-design

Randy Kerns Randy Kerns Profile: Randy Kerns

IBM’s acquisition of Texas Memory Systems is the latest salvo in the battle of heavyweights as companies position themselves to offer primary storage based on solid-state technology.

It’s important for IT professionals to understand that solid-state technology is used in storage for more than just specialty devices. IBM acquired more than flash storage systems from Texas Memory. The acquisition includes a storage controller designed to turn solid-state drives (SSDs) into the primary storage medium instead of solid-state masquerading as a spinning disk drive. This major acquisition follows the earlier acquisition of XtremIO by EMC.

The main focus of these deals should not be on what existing products IBM and EMC gain from their acquisition targets. They go beyond any shiny toys that Texas Memory and XtremIO bring.

The flash technology is the key. The design of a storage controller that can use solid-state most effectively as primary storage is different than a design based on the use of electro-mechanical based disk drives. Information is accessed in a different way if the controller really uses memory access instead of merely mapping access to software for low-level device protocols. There are also differences in amount of work done by the controllers, such as the number and sizes of queues for operations in progress.

Solid state storage systems can be either all-flash or they can include SSDs for tiering or caching of traditional spinning disk based systems. Some new solid- state technology systems are designed for solid state as primary storage while using spinning disk as less expensive storage for less active data. This may change over time as data reduction capabilities in solid-state increase and flash becomes less expensive.

The most important vendor acquisitions are strategic deals that bring a significant change in product direction, and advance the technology sold to IT customers. For solid state, these deals bring large vendors new designs that maximize the capabilities of flash. The success of these transactions will be measured by how fast these technologies can be effectively brought to market.

Vendors who continue to sell systems designed for spinning disk will be at a disadvantage in an increasingly flash dominated world. That’s why solid-state technology acquisitions and development will set the stage for the next generation of storage systems.

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

August 24, 2012  9:46 AM

VMworld spawns storage announcements

Randy Kerns Randy Kerns Profile: Randy Kerns

There has been a noticeable increase in the number of storage product launches in the past few weeks and that will continue during VMworld 2012, which begins Sunday in San Francisco.

VMworld has become a major storage event because of the impact server virtualization can have on operational environments. Storage can be the limiting factor for server virtualization projects, both on the server and desktop. To remedy the bottlenecks created with storage when multiple virtual machines are running on a physical server, storage systems need to be optimized for virtualized environments.

In the case of VMware, storage systems that effectively implement VMware vStorage APIs for Array Integration (VAAI) can provide significant performance gains. Storage systems can improve performance for the virtualized environment through technologies such as tiering, solid state technology, wide striping, and space-efficient snapshots. The net effect of increasing performance is to increase the number of virtual machines per physical server.

This provides a huge opportunity for storage vendors to solve customer problems in server virtualization projects. Increasing virtual machine density, which is the number of VMs per physical server, has a major impact the economic value of server virtualization projects. New storage solutions that enable this increase provide immediate value and a quick return on investment.

So it’s clear why you see so many new storage products and updates around VMworld. Vendors want to get their message out and VMworld is a great opportunity to feature their products and show how they improve virtualization. The products announced not only address virtualization needs, but vendors also use the attention being paid to highlight other capabilities. With the product announcements, the vendors are also competing to show who best addresses the virtualization problems.

So, you can expect the deluge of storage products that address virtualization to continue at least for another week.

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

August 24, 2012  8:25 AM

Flash Memory Summit shows SSD decisions require research

Rich Castagna Rich Castagna Profile: Rich Castagna

Storage pros are used to having to stick their heads under the hood to figure out the intricacies of storage techs, but they may not be so comfortable having to delve even deeper into the inner workings of their gear. But at this stage of its development and adoption, solid-state storage really demands that kind of scrutiny and due diligence before investing in the still pricey medium.

All of that was apparent at the 2012 edition of the Flash Memory Summit which concluded its run in Silicon Valley’s Santa Clara Convention Center this week. The conference/trade show had tilted toward industry insiders and flash memory engineers in previous years, but for at least the last two shows, it has also begun to cater to end users. While the effort to widen the audience seems to be working, it’s still a nerdy conference with a fair share of technical sessions. The same can be said of the vendors exhibiting at the Summit. Many are well removed from end users, selling their wares to other flash developers in the solid-state food chain.

But even those flash business-to-flash business offerings can also provide insight for enterprise buyers. For instance, we met with a trio of Maxwell Technologies representatives—Jens Keiser, Dave Wright and Ray Ragonese. Maxwell was showing off the latest iterations of its ultracapacitors that are likely to find their way into a variety of solid-state implementations. Why should you care about an ultracapacitor? Easy—it’s the tiny bit of engineering on a board that can store electrical power and then feed it to NAND flash chips when the system’s power cuts out. That means an ultracapacitor-equipped flash device might be able to ensure cache consistency more effectively and thus make write caching in flash more feasible.

Similarly, Kam Eshghi of Integrated Devices Technology—more familiarly known as IDT—described how their new standards based flash controller for PCIe implementations could potentially lower the cost of PCIe solid-state devices. And he also presented IDT’s reference design for 2.5-inch form factor PCIe flash device. This form-factor would make it possible to have solid-state drives that use the PCIe bus but are externally accessible so that their front loading and hot swappable.

At HGST’s booth, the storage company announced that it was adding 12 Gb SAS to its line of 2.5 solid-state drives. They currently sell SLC and MLC flash drives, and they report that they’re seeing growing interest from integrators to produce slimmed down drives that stand only 7mm tall—a little less than half the current height. The smaller profile would also make it possible to stack two of these devices in a space that currently accommodates only one to create denser flash arrays.

Permabit’s contingent spearheaded by president and CEO Tom Cook pointed out how their “portable” dedupe technology—Albireo—is ideal for solid-state storage. It’s a convincing argument considering how so many system vendors are trying to squeeze value out of the expensive components in all-flash and hybrid storage arrays. Cook told us that their technology will show up in a number of products that will roll out in 2013.

Learning about the underpinnings of flash storage is still crucial to not only understanding the technology but for making good buying and implementation decisions. And this is likely to continue for some time as flash and its supporting technologies continue to develop at a rapid pace.

August 23, 2012  2:17 PM

Forget acquisitions, HDS will build its own flash storage

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Every storage vendor has a solid-state strategy, and today Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) revealed plans for putting flash in its storage controllers, arrays, appliances and on PCIe cards.

HDS allows up to 256 solid state drives (SSDs) with a maximum capacity of 800 GB per drive in its high-end Virtual Storage Platform (VSP). The next step is a flash acceleration feature for the VSP. Implemented through a firmware upgrade, HDS claims the acceleration feature will enable VSP systems to achieve more than 1,000,000 random read IOPS and significantly reduce latency when using SSDs in a hybrid design.

The flash accelerator feature is available for VSP customers as a firmware download.

HDS is also developing a flash memory controller that it will use in appliances, arrays and server cards with product launches expected to begin late this year.

Roberto Basilio, HDS VP of infrastructure platforms product management, said the HDS plan is to develop its own flash technology instead of gaining it through partnerships or acquisitions. That’s a different way than other major storage vendors approach flash, but HDS has never been as acquisitive as the other large storage companies.

“Hitachi is an engineering company,” Basilio said. “We can do it better ourselves. We don’t want to wait for LSI or Micron or Seagate or somebody else to build something. We want to provide the technology on our own.”

The HDS flash memory controller will handle features such as block/page mapping, wear leveling, data compression and performance management, Basilio said.

HDS claims it can drive sustained throughput four times as high as current multi-level cell (MLC) SSDs with five years of endurance for enterprise workloads, inline zero block compression and secure erase functions. The key question is, will people wait for HDS when so many other options are available with more coming nearly day?

August 22, 2012  8:28 AM

Dell storage sales still limping, post-EMC

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Dell storage remains a work in progress, nearly two years since it ended its OEM deal with EMC.

Dell’s storage revenue was lower than expected last quarter, coming in at $435 million. That was down 13.3% from last year and 2% from the previous quarter. Dell executives point out that Dell branded (non-EMC) storage revenue of $416 million was up 6% from last year, but even that figure was down from the previous quarter this year.

Dell executives admit they were disappointed with the storage results, but said the product line and strategy is strong. They blame market conditions as much as any failings on Dell’s part for the company’s failure to do better since breaking up with EMC in October 2011.

“I think we can definitely do more there,” CEO Michael Dell said of storage on the earnings report conference call Tuesday. “Storage was not as strong as we’d like, and there’s definitely room to grow that faster.”

CFO Brian Gladden added that storage revenue was “below where we would have liked it, we believe this is roughly in line with the market.”

Dell did not break down revenue from its individual platforms, lumping revenue from EqualLogic, Compellent, PowerVault and DX Object Storage together.

August 17, 2012  8:20 AM

Brocade CEO says he’ll leave on a happy note

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Brocade CEO Mike Klayko is stepping down after more than seven years in the position, saying the switch maker’s rosy financial position makes this a good time for a transition at the top.

Klayko Thursday revealed he would leave Brocade, pending the company’s successful search for a successor. The announcement coincided with the vendor’s solid earnings report for last quarter.

Klayko joined Brocade in 2003 when he sold Rhapsody Networks to his larger rival, and he replaced Greg Reyes as CEO in a 2005 shakeup that followed an internal audit into the company’s stock options policy. Reyes eventually was convicted and sent to prison for fraudulently backdating stock options.

Brocade’s revenue of $555.3 million last quarter beat the top end of its forecast by $10 million and increased 10% over the previous year. Its storage revenue rose 13% year-over-year to $377.6 million, and its profit was $43 million for the quarter.

Klayko said the good numbers make this an opportune time to step down.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” he said during the earnings call. “I think anytime you’re going to move on in an organization, you move on at a time of strength, not a time of weakness. And I think we’re very strong and we will continue to be strong.”

Klayko said he will stay on until Brocade finds a replacement. After that, he will also give up his position on the board and make a clean break from the company.

“I believe once you decide to make a transition, you make a complete transition,” he said.

Klayko’s tenure at Brocade was framed mainly by two acquisitions he made, followed by a failure to sell off the company after years of trying. Brocade acquired its main Fibre Channel (FC) switch rival McData for $713 million in 2006, giving it the lion’s share of the FC switch market and leaving Cisco as its only rival. Brocade then moved into the Ethernet networking space in 2006 when it spent $2.6 billion for Foundry Networks.

Following those deals, Brocade has remained on top in FC switching but has not had the success it hoped for in the Ethernet space.

Brocade has also been the subject of acquisition rumors over the past few years. Hewlett-Packard (HP) passed on buying Brocade when HP acquired 3Com in 2009, and Dell did the same when it bought Force10 last year. There were also talks to take Brocade private, but that hasn’t happened. It will be interesting to see if Klayko’s departure facilitates a deal with a larger vendor or private equity firms.

Former Brocade employees say Klayko has ruled the company with an iron fist, prompting a lot of turnover, including top executives. The most recent top departures include CFO Richard Deranleau in mid-2011 and VP of worldwide sales Ian Whiting in June.

Klayko, who headed Brocade sales before becoming CEO, has served as the interim sales VP since Whiting left.

“Decisions like these are never easy. It will be difficult to say goodbye,” Klayko said of his resignation. “Brocade has a great team of talented and dedicated professionals and is in a great position, both financially and in terms of our innovation portfolio. I’m therefore comfortable that this is a good time for me to move on.”

August 16, 2012  2:42 PM

IBM selects ‘mature’ flash option, buys Texas Memory Systems

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

IBM’s acquisition of Texas Memory Systems (TMS) today means there is one less independent flash array vendor out there and one more established storage vendor with a concrete solid-state storage strategy.

Industry insiders expect a wave of acquisitions of the smaller solid-state storage systems vendors by larger companies. EMC started the process when it acquired XtremIO for $430 million last May.

IBM did not disclose its price for TMS, but it acquired a broader set of flash technologies than XtremIO brought EMC. XtremIO had one product – an all-flash array – that hadn’t yet shipped. EMC plans to bring the system into the market next year. TMS has several RamSan all-flash arrays plus server-side PCIe solid-state drive (SSD) cards that compete with EMC’s VFCache product. And while EMC viewed the XtremIO system as a project (“Project X” to be precise), IBM picks up a set of TMS products already shipping.

The TMS RamSan portfolio consists of seven rackmount all-flash storage systems, three rackmount RAM systems and two PCIe flash storage cards.

One reason IBM bought TMS is that it isn’t a startup like most of the other solid-state array vendors. TMS has been around for more than 30 years, and has been selling flash storage systems since 2007.

“We looked at anybody that has any name value in the marketplace, and a couple of them went down to the wire,” said Robert Cancilla, VP and business line executive of IBM Systems Storage. “TMS has maturity in the marketplace. It has proven technology, and we got good feedback from their clients.”

TMS has been around since 1978 but remains relatively small with 100 employees. It started with memory systems for seismic processing for the oil and gas industry. TMS was among the first solid-state storage vendors, shipping its first NAND flash system – the RamSan-500 – in 2007. It added its first PCIe flash storage system – the RamSan-20 – in 2009, and last month upgraded its PCIe flash cards to allow them to natively boot server operating systems.

“TMS is the grand-daddy of the SSD industry, both for DRAM and flash-based products,” said analyst Greg Schulz, president of StorageIO Group. “IBM can phase the TMS PCIe flash blades into their server and storage products. At least on paper, IBM has technologies, including real-time compression, NAS, virtualization and dedupe, to wrap around an SSD appliance.”

Cancilla said several TMS customers are using its RamSan arrays behind IBM’s SAN Volume Controller (SVC) virtualization system, and IBM knows the systems work together. “Other vendors’ products have not worked as well with SVC, so we had first-hand knowledge about them,” he said.

Cancilla said IBM will sell RamSan systems in their current form when the deal closes, probably late this year. The long-term strategy is to integrate TMS technology with other IBM storage, servers, software and PureSystems products. Cancilla said IBM’s Netezza data analytics product could benefit from using TMS solid-state technology.

He said IBM will work on integrating Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) software with RamSan systems to provide data management. TMS’s data management is rudimentary because the vendor focuses on high performance.

Cancilla said IBM is most interested in the RamSan flash arrays, but also sees demand for the PCIe flash cards. He said IBM would continue to sell Fusion-io PCIe cards with its System x servers, but said RamSan’s PCIe cards also compete with some of Fusion-io products.

IBM uses solid-state as a cache with its XIV storage platform and offers SSDs in its other storage platforms, but Cancilla said with TMS “we’re not handcuffed by the drive form factor anymore.”

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