Startup intro: Coho Data

Today a new startup is revealed named Coho Data, formerly known as Coho Data was founded by Andrew Warfield, Keir Fraser and Ramana Jonnala. For those who care, they are backed by Andreessen Horowitz. Probably most known for the work they did at Citrix on Xenserver. What is it they introduced / revealed this week?

Coho Data introduces a new scale-out hybrid storage solution (NFS for VM workloads). With hybrid meaning a mix of SATA and SSD. This for obvious reasons, SATA bringing you capacity and flash providing you raw performance. Let me point out that Coho is not a hyperconverged solution, it is a full storage system.

What does it look like? It is a 2U box which holds 2 “MicroArrays” which each MicroArray having 2 processors, 2 x 10GbE NIC port and 2 PCIe INTEL 910 cards. Each 2u block provides you 39TB of capacity and ~180K IOPS (Random 80/20 read/write, 4K block size). Starting at $2.50 per GB, pre-dedupe & compression (which they of course offer). Couple of things I liked looking at their architecture, first and probably foremost the “scale-out” architecture, scale to infinity is what they say in a linear fashion. On top of that, it comes with an OpenFlow-enabled 10GbE switch to allow for ease of management and again scalability.

If you look closely at how they architected their hardware, they created these highspeed IO lanes: 10GbE NIC <–> CPU <–> PCIe Flash Unit. Each highway has its dedicated CPU, NIC Port, ad on top of that they PCIe Flash, allowing for optimal performance, efficiency and fine grained control. Nice touch if you ask me.

Another thing I really liked was their UI. You can really see they put a lot of thought in the user experience aspect by keeping things simple and presenting data in an easy understandable way. I wish every vendor did that. I mean, if you look at the screenshot below how simple does that look? Dead simple right!? I’ve seen some of the other screens, like for instance for creating a snapshot schedule… again same simplicity. Apparently, and I have not tested this but I will believe them on their word, they brought that simplicity all the way down to the “install / configure” part of things. Getting Coho Data up and running literally only takes 15 minutes.

What I also liked very much about the Coho Data solution is that Software-defined Networking (SDN) and Software-defined Storage (SDS) are tightly coupled. In other words, Soho configures the network for you… As just said, it takes 15 minutes to setup. Try creating the zoning / masking scheme for a storage system and a set of LUNs these days, even that takes more time then 15 – 20 minutes. There aren’t too many vendors combining SDN and SDS in a smart fashion today.

When they briefed me they gave me a short demo and Andy explained the scale-out architecture, during the demo it happened various times that I could draw a parallel between the VMware virtualization platform and their solution which made is easy for me to understand and relate to their solution. For instance, Soho Data offers what I would call DRS for Software-Defined Storage. If for whatever reasons defined policies are violated then Coho Data will balance the workload appropriately across the cluster. Just like DRS (and Storage DRS) does, Coho Data will do a risk/benefit analysis before initiating the move. I guess the logical question would be, well why would I want Coho to do this when VMware can also do this with Storage DRS? Well keep in mind that Storage DRS works “across datastores”, but as Coho presents a single datastore you need something that allows you to balance within.

I guess the question then remains what do they lack today? Well today as a 1.0 platform Coho doesn’t offer replication to outside of their own cluster. But considering they have snapshotting in place I suspect their architecture already caters for it, and it something they should be able to release fairly quickly. Another thing which is lacking today is a vSphere Web Client plugin, but then again if you look at their current UI and the simplicity of it I do wonder if there is any point in having one.

All in all, I have been impressed by these newcomers in the SDS space and I can’t wait to play around with their gear at some point!

VC Ops included in the VMware Horizon Suite 5.3

I was reading up on the announcements published today during VMworld. When talking about VDI/EUC with customers, and I am not an EUC guy so try to avoid this when I can, a couple of things always stood… First one was storage problems and the second one was monitoring. I think the announcements done today are a game-changer in that space, and I am sure that you will appreciate this:

New VMware Virtual SAN for Horizon View beta will deliver significantly lower upfront capital expense (CAPEX) and total cost of ownership (TCO) for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). The bundling of VMware vCenter Operations Manager for View in Horizon Suite, available at no additional cost, offers advanced VDI performance and operations management for large-scale virtual desktop production monitoring, advanced problem warning, faster time to resolution and complete infrastructure coverage.

How about that? I definitely think this a great step forward, and am happy to see that especially VC Ops is being included with the Horizon Suite. I can definitely recommend implementing it to those who own the Horizon Suite, and those who do not own the Suite yet, it might be time to invest. Please note that VSAN is still in Beta and is not been included from a licensing perspective but has been tested with the Horizon Suite. Use it in your test environments – play with it etc… but do not run your production workloads on it yet.  (Read Andre’s article for more details on the Horizon Suite.)

** EDIT, there was a lot of confusion yesterday about VSAN being bundled or not. Apparently the press release was only supposed to say that you can use VSAN with the Horizon Suite. There is no support, no bundling, no technology preview. **

Pretty pictures Friday, the VSAN edition…

I’ve been working on a whole bunch of VSAN diagrams… I’ve shared a couple already via twitter and in the various blog articles, but I liked the following two very much and figured I would share it with you as well. Hoping they make sense to everyone. Also, if there are any other VSAN concepts you like to see visualized let me know and I will see what I can do.

First one shows how VSAN mirrors writes to two active mirror copies. Writes need to be acknowledged by all active copies, but note they are acknowledged as soon as they his the flash buffer! De-staging from buffer to HDD is a completely independent process, even between the two hosts this happens independently from each other.

VSAN write acknowledgement

The second diagram is all about striping. When the stripe width is defined using the VM Storage Policies then objects will grow in increments of 1MB. In other words: stripe segment 1 will go to esxi-02 and stripe segment 2 will go to esxi-03 and so on.

VSAN stripe increments

Just a little something I figured was nice to share on a Friday, some nice light pre-weekend/VMworld content :)

Startup News Flash part 6

There we are again and just a short one this time, Startup News Flash part 6. VMworld Europe is around the corner so I expect a bit more news next week, I know of at least 1 company revealing what they have been working on… So what happened in the world of flash/startups the last three weeks?


My buddies over at Tintri just announced two new products. The first one being the Tintri VMstore T600 series, with the T620 providing 13.5 TB of usable capacity and the T650 providing 33.5 TB of usable capacity, allowing you to run up to 2000 VMs(T650, the T620 goes up to 500 VMs) on these storage systems. What is unique about Tintri is how they designed their system, FlashFirst and VM-aware as they call it. Allowing for sub-millisecond latencies with over 99% IO coming out of flash, and of course VM-granular quality of service and data management (snapshots, cloning, and replication). Second announcement is all about management: Tintri Global Center. Let me take a quote from their blog, as it says it all: “The first release of Tintri Global Center can administer up to 32 VMstore systems and their resident VMs. Future versions will add additional control beyond monitoring and reporting with features — such as policy based load balancing and REST APIs to facilitate customized automation/scripts involving a combination of features across multiple VMstore systems such as reporting, snapshots, replication, and cloning. ”

Atlantis seems to be going full steam ahead announcing partnership with NetApp and Violin recently. I guess what struck me personally with these announcements is that we are bringing “all flash arrays” (AFAs) and “memory caching” together and it makes you wonder where you benefit from what the most. It is kind of like a supersized menu at McD, after ordering I always wonder if it was too much. But to be honest I have to read the menu in more detail, and maybe even try it out before I draw that conclusion. I do like the concept of AFAs and I love the concept of Atlantis… It appears that Atlantis is bringing in functionality which these solutions are lacking for now, and of course crazy performance. If anyone has experience with the combination, feel free to chime in!

Some older news:

  • Nothing to do with technology but more about validation of technology and a company. Vaughn Stewart, former NetApp executive, announced he joined Pure Storage as their Chief Evangelist. Pure Storage went all out and create an awesome video which you can find in this blog post. Nice move Vaughn, and congrats Pure Storage.
  • The VSAN Beta went live last week and the community forums opened up. If you want to be a part of this, don’t forget to sign up!


Designing your hardware for Virtual SAN

Over the past couple of weeks I have been watching the VMware VSAN Community Forum with close interest and also twitter. One thing that struck me was the type of hardware people used for to test VSAN on. In many cases this is the type of hardware one would use at home, for their desktop. Now I can see why that happens, I mean something new / shiny and cool is released and everyone wants to play around with it, but not everyone has the budget to buy the right components… And as long as that is for “play” only that is fine, but lately I have also noticed that people are looking at building an ultra cheap storage solution for production, but guess what?

Virtual SAN reliability, performance and overall experience is determined by the sum of the parts

You say what? Not shocking right, but something that you will need to keep in mind when designing a hardware / software platform. Simple things can impact your success, first and foremost check the HCL, and think about components like:

  • Disk controller
  • SSD / PCIe Flash
  • Network cards
  • Magnetic Disks

Some thoughts around this, for instance the disk controller. You could leverage a 3Gb/s on-board controller, but when attaching lets say 5 disks to it and a high performance SSD do you think it can still cope or would a 6Gb/s PCIe disk controller be a better option? Or even leverage 12Gb/s that some controllers offer for SAS drives? Not only can this make a difference in terms of number of IOps you can drive, it can also make a difference in terms of latency! On top of that, there will be a difference in reliability…

I guess the next component is the SSD / Flash device, this one is hopefully obvious to each of you. But don’t let these performance tests you see on Tom’s or Anandtech fool you, there is more to an SSD then just sheer IOps. For instance durability, how many writes per day for X years life can your SSD handle? Some of the enterprise grades can handle 10 full writes or more per day for 5 years. You cannot compare that with some of the consumer grade drives out there, which obviously will be cheaper but also will wear out a lot faster! You don’t want to find yourself replacing SSDs every year at random times.

Of course network cards are a consideration when it comes to VSAN. Why? Well because I/O will more than likely hit the network. Personally, I would rule out 1GbE… Or you would need to go for multiple cards and ports per server, but even then I think 10GbE is the better option here. Most 10GbE are of a decent quality, but make sure to check the HCL and any recommendations around configuration.

And last but not least magnetic disks… Quality should always come first here. I guess this goes for all of the components, I mean you are not buying an empty storage array either and fill it up with random components right? Think about what your requirements are. Do you need 10k / 15k RPM, or does 7.2k suffice? SAS vs SATA vs NL-SATA? Also, keep in mind that performance comes at a cost (capacity typically). Another thing to realize, high capacity drives are great for… yes adding capacity indeed, but keep in mind that when IO needs to come from disk, the number of IOps you can drive and your latency will be determined by these disks. So if you are planning on increasing the “stripe width” then it might also be useful to factor this in when deciding which disks you are going to use.

I guess to put it differently, if you are serious about your environment and want to run a production workload then make sure you use quality parts! Reliability, performance and ultimately your experience will be determined by these parts.

<edit> Forgot to mention this, but soon there will be “Virtual SAN” ready nodes… This will make your life a lot easier I would say.