Introducing startup PernixData – Out of stealth!

There are many startups out there that do something with storage these days. To be honest, many of them do the same thing and at times I wonder why on earth everyone focuses on the same segment and tries to attack it with the same product / feature set. One of the golden rules for any startup should be that you have a unique solution that will sell itself. Yes I realize that it is difficult, but if you want to succeed you will need to stand out.

About a year ago Satyam Vaghani (former VMware principal engineer who was responsible for VMFS, VAAI, VVOLs etc.) and Poojan Kumar (former VMware Data products lead and ex-Oracle Exadata founder) decided to start a company – PernixData. PernixData was conceptualized based on their experiences working on the intersection of virtualization, flash based storage and data. Today PernixData is revealed to the world. For those who don’t know, Pernix means “agile”. But what is PernixData about?

How many of you haven’t experienced storage performance problems? It probably is, in fact, the number one bottleneck in most virtualized environments. Convincing your manager (director / VP) that you need a new ultra-fast (and expensive) storage device is not easy; far from it. On top of that, data will always hit the network first before being acknowledged and every read will go over your storage network. How cool would it be if there was a seamless software solution that solves all your storage performance problems without you requiring to rip and replace your existing storage assets?

Server-side flash overcomes problems associated with network based storage and server-side caching solutions provide some respite. Yet, server-side caching solutions usually neither satisfy enterprise class requirements for availability nor transparently support clustered hypervisor features such as VMware vMotion. In addition, while they accelerate reads they fail to do much for writes. Customers are then stuck between either overhauling their entire storage infrastructure or going with caching solutions that work for limited use cases. PernixData is about to release a cool new product – a flash virtualization platform – that bridges this gap. By picking up where hypervisors left off, PernixData is planning to become the VMware of server flash and is aiming to do to server flash what VMware did to CPU and memory. So, what is this flash virtualization platform and why would you need it?

PernixData’s flash virtualization platform virtualizes all flash resources across all server nodes in a vCenter Server cluster into a single high-performance, enterprise class data tier. The great thing is that this happens in a transparent way. PernixData sits completely within the hypervisor and in the data-path of your virtual machine. Note that there are no requirements to install anything in the guest (virtual machine). PernixData is not a virtual appliance because virtual appliances introduce performance overhead and would need to be managed with all costs and complexity associated.

PernixData is also flash technology agnostic. It can leverage SSD or PCIe flash (or both) within the platform. The nice thing is that PernixData uses a scale-out architecture. As you add hosts with flash they can be dynamically added to the platform. On top of that, PernixData does both read and write acceleration while providing full data protection and is fully compatible with VM mobility solutions like vMotion, Storage vMotion, HA, DRS and Storage DRS.

Even more exciting PernixData will support both Write-through and Write-back modes. The cool part is that PernixData also ensures IO is replicated for high availability purposes. You don’t want to run your VM in Write-back mode when you cannot guaranteed data is highly available right?! I guess that is one of the unique selling points of the solution. A distributed, scale out, flash virtualization platform which is not only flash agnostic but also non-disruptive for your virtual workloads.

I would imagine this is many times cheaper than buying a new storage array. Even without knowing what the cost of PernixData will be, or which flash device (PCIe or SSD) you would decide to use… I bet when it comes to overall costs of the solution (product + implementation costs) it will be many many times cheaper.

As I started off with, the golden rule for any startup should be that they have a unique solution that sells itself. I am confident that PernixData FVP has just that by being a disruptive technology that solves a big problem in virtualized environments  in a scale-out and transparent manner while leveraging your existing storage investments.

If you want to be kept up to date, make sure to follow Satyam, Poojan , Charlie and PernixData on twitter. If you are interested in joining the PernixData FVP Beta, make sure to sign up!

Make sure to also read Frank’s article on PernixData.

<update>

I recommend watching the Storage Field Day videos for more details from Satyam Vaghani himself, note the playlist this is 4 videos!

</update>

Vote for the top virtualization Blogs / 2012 looking back!

Yes, it is that time of the year again… vSphere-land.com’s voting for the top virtualization blogs has started again. Of course I am hoping to end up somewhere at the top of the list again, but I realize like no one else that this is not a given. The competition once again is huge, there are a couple of new-comers which has published some outstanding work. Personally I am a huge fan of Cormac Hogan’s work and I hope he will make it in to the top 10 this year, I sure as hell voted for him! Of course I expect my friends like Frank Denneman, Alan Renouf, Massimo Referre and William Lam to also hit the top 10.

I am hoping each of you will select the top-10 blogs again based on quality, relevancy, longevity and frequency. (I personally find length of the article irrelevant, content is King!) I always use the yearly voting to look back at what happened the last 12 months. What happened in 2012, what has kept me busy?

For me 2012 started with Partner Exchange. Presented a 2-hr workshop on how to design a Cloud Infrastructure, together with Dave Hill (he is on the list as well, so vote for him :-)) and guests Frank Denneman and Chris Colotti. On top of that Chris Colotti and I presented a DR solution for vCloud Director based environments. This is something that people had been waiting on for a long time. I came up with the process/concept for this and also published a whitepaper on this topic. The same concept can be used for VMware View environments by the way, white paper out soon! I published a whole bunch of other white papers (1, 2) this year as part of my Tech Marketing responsibilities, of which the vMSC Best Practices paper is probably the most read and best received. I managed to get a couple of sessions approved at VMworld and had a blast presenting with my buddy Lee Dilworth. Also being a VMworld “Expert” was once again an awesome experience, I especially enjoyed the group discussions. I also presented as a couple of VMUGs (belgium, ireland, uk) and last but not least, published the vSphere 5.1 Clustering Deepdive… which happened to be the most sold book at VMworld San Francisco.

Along the way I managed to crank out an article or two hundred, and my blog went down during the vSphere 5.1 launch due to the massive amount of traffic. I can tell you that my hosting company was surprised as they thought it was a DDOS attack, but then they figured out it was just a massive amount of people hitting my site on the same day. I guess thanks for that :-)

I did want to list my 10 top articles over the last 12 months in no particular order:

Thanks again to Eric Siebert who spends a MASSIVE amount of time going through the voting, filtering out discrepancies and making sure it all is done in a fair manner! Make sure to bookmark his website, add it to your RSS reader and follow him on twitter. So what are you waiting for, head on over and take the survey!

vSphere HA 5.x restart attempt timing

I wrote about how vSphere HA 5.x restart attempt timing works a long time ago but there appears still to be some confusion about this. I figured I would clarify this a bit more, I don’t think I can make it more simple than this:

  • Initial restart attempt
  • If the initial attempt failed, a restart will be retried after 2 minutes of the previous attempt
  • If the previous attempt failed, a restart will be retried after 4 minutes of the previous attempt
  • If the previous attempt failed, a restart will be retried after 8 minutes of the previous attempt
  • If the previous attempt failed, a restart will be retried after 16 minutes of the previous attempt

After the fifth failed attempt the cycle ends. Well that is, unless a new master host is selected (for whatever reason) between the first and the fifth attempt. In that case, we start counting again. Meaning that if a new master is selected after attempt 3, the new master will start with the “initial restart attempt.

Or as Frank Denneman would say:

vSphere HA 5.x restart attempt timing

VMware to acquire Virsto; Brief look at what they offer today

Most of you have seen the announcement around Virsto by now, for those who haven’t read this blog post: VMware to acquire Virsto. Virsto is a storage company which offers a virtual storage solution. I bumped in to Virsto various times in the past and around VMworld 2012 got reminded about them when Cormac Hogan wrote an excellent article about what they have to offer for VMware customers. (Credits go to Cormac for the detailed info in this post)  When visiting Virsto’s website there is one thing that stands out and that is “software defined storage”. Lets take a look at what Virsto offers and what software defined storage means to them.

Lets first start with the architecture. Virsto has developed an appliance and a host level service which together forms an abstraction layer for existing storage devices. In other words, storage devices are connected directly to the Virsto appliance and Virsto aggregates these devices in to a large storage pool. This pool is in its turn served up to your environment as an NFS datastore. Now I can hear you think, what is so special about this?

As Virsto has abstracted storage and raw device are connected to their appliance they control the on-disk format. What does this mean? Devices that are attached to the Virsto appliance are not formatted with VMFS. Rather Virsto has developed their own filesystem which is highly scalable and what makes this solution really interesting. This filesystem is what allows Virsto to offer specific data services, to increase performance and scale and reduce storage capacity consumption.

Lets start with performance, as Virsto sits in between your storage device and your host they can do certain things to your IO. Not only does Virsto increase read performance, but their product also increases write performance. Customers have experienced performance increases between 5x and 10x. For the exact technical details read Cormac’s article. For now let me say that they sequentialise IO in a smart way and de-stage writes to allow for a more contiguous IO flow to your storage device. As you can imagine, this also means that the IO utilisation of your storage device can and probably will go down.

From an efficiency perspective Virsto optimizes your storage capacity by provisioning every single virtual disk as a thin disk. However, this thin disk does not introduce the traditional performance overhead associated with thin disks preventing the waste of precious disk space just to avoid performance penalties. What about functionality like snapshotting and cloning, this must introduce overhead and slow things down is what I can hear you think… Again, Virsto has done an excellent job of reducing overhead and optimizing for scale and performance. Virsto allows for hundreds, if not thousands, of clones of a gold master without sacrificing performance while saving storage capacity. Not surprising Virsto is often used in Virtual Desktop and large Test and Development environments as it has proven to reduce the cost of storage with as much as 70%.

Personally I am excited about what Virsto has to offer and what they have managed to achieve in a relatively short time frame. The solution they have developed, and especially their data services framework promises a lot for the future. Hopefully I will have time on my hands soon to play with their product and provide you with more insights and experience.

SRM vs Stretched Cluster solution /cc @sakacc

I was reading this article by Chad Sakac on vSphere DR / HA, or in other words SRM versus Stretched (vMSC) solutions. I have presented on vSphere Metro Storage Cluster solutions at VMworld together with Lee Dilworth and also wrote a white paper on this topic a while back and various blog posts since. I agree with Chad that there are too many people misinformed about the benefits of both solutions. I have been on calls with customers where indeed people were saying SRM is a legacy solution and the next big thing is “Active / Active”. Funny thing is that in a way I agree when they say SRM has been around for a long time and the world is slowly changing, I do not agree with the term “legacy” though.

I guess it depends on how you look at it, yes SRM has been around for a long time but it also is a proven solution that does what it says it does. It is an orchestration solution for Disaster Recovery solutions. Think about a disaster recovery scenario for a second and then read those two last sentences again. When you are planning for DR, isn’t it nice to use a solution that does what it says it does. Although I am a big believer in “active / active” solutions, there is a time and place for it; in many of the discussions I have been a stretched cluster solution was just not what people were looking for. On top of that Stretched Cluster solutions aren’t always easy to operate. That is I guess what Chad was also referring to in his post. Don’t get me wrong, a stretched cluster is a perfectly viable solution when your organization is mature enough and you are looking for a disaster avoidance and workload mobility solution.

If you are at the point of making a decision around SRM vs Stretched Cluster make sure to think about your requirements / goals first. Hopefully all of you have read this excellent white paper by Ken Werneburg. Ken describes the pros and cons of each of these solutions perfectly, read it carefully and then make your decision based on your business requirement.

So just in short to recap for those who are interested but don’t have time to read the full paper, make time though… really do!

Where does SRM shine:

  • Disaster Recovery
  • Orchestration
  • Testing
  • Reporting
  • Disaster Avoidance (will incur downtime when VMs failover to other site)

Where does a Stretched Cluster solution shine:

  • Workload mobility
  • Cross-site automated load balancing
  • Enhanced downtime avoidance
  • Disaster Avoidance (VMs can be vMotioned, no downtime incurred!)