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Howard Marks
Howard Marks
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For Storage News, Go to VMworld

VMware's focus has shifted from virtualizing servers to virtualizing whole data centers--and storage vendors are happy to jump on for the ride.

Despite the fact that it's not primarily a storage event, this year's VMworld was once again the biggest event of the year in the storage industry--which must drive the powers that be at SNIA, which runs Storage Networking World, out of their gourds. In the run up to VMworld I had more briefings with vendors presenting truly innovative storage solutions than I had over the entire first half of the year.

Storage vendors were out in force on the show floor as well, from industry giant and VMware parent EMC to SSD vendors and even a few startups. Everyone has a story to tell and a few of them seemed especially compelling.

In a valiant attempt to both move upmarket into the midrange array segment and establish its own brand, Dot Hill was showing its new AssuredSAN 4000 and AssuredSAN Pro 5000 arrays. Both are modern modular arrays with simplified Web management and a bit more than the usual set of storage virtualization features. While both support SSDs as well as spinning disks, the Pro 5000 also does sub-LUN tiering of data between the two--much like EMC's FAST, but at a more affordable price point.

Despite the fact that Dot Hill has been making disk arrays for 20 years, it's a leading contender for the "biggest storage vendor no one ever heard of" award. Most of its business is providing low-end arrays to other vendors on an OEM basis, including HP's MSA.

Virsto was demoing a new version of its "storage hypervisor" that integrates with EMC's VFCache. Virsto's software uses a log-based file layout to both accelerate VM access to storage and provide a vastly improved snapshot facility. The acceleration comes from directing all writes from the virtual machines to a dedicated log device and asynchronously despoiling the data to back-end storage. The logging process allows Virsto to write data to both the log and back-end storage in a much more sequential fashion reducing the IOPS load on the storage.

While previous versions of Virsto could use solid-state storage for the log, further accelerating writes, they required a shared log device to ensure data integrity in the event of a server failure. The new version can use a small amount--typically 10 Gbytes to 20 Gbytes--of the VFCache SSD for the log device and synchronously mirror the log to another server running Virsto and VFCache. The remaining SSD space is used by the VFCache software to cache reads.

While I didn't expect a lot of cloud storage news to come out of VMworld, Quantum did shake things up a bit by claiming that it could match the penny-per-gigabyte-per-month cost of Amazon's Glacier with its Q-Cloud offering. Comparing Quantum's offering, which leverages the compression in its DXi backup appliances, to Glacier is a bit like comparing apples and kumquats: Quantum's penny-a-gigabyte price assumes 12-to-1 data reduction and a significant amount of stored data, while Glacier will let you store any data you want at that price. On the other hand, Quantum will let you retrieve a file as fast as your Internet connection allows, but poor Glacier users will have to wait three to five hours before they can give the CFO back the spreadsheet he deleted last week, even though he needs it for a meeting with the SEC in 20 minutes.

In the all-SSD arena, Astute Networks was at the show, essentially rebooting the company after some management changes. Its ViSX G4 all-solid-state appliance can deliver 140,000 4K random IOPS from up to 9.6 Tbytes of user-addressable flash. The ViSX G4 is based on Astute's DataPump Engine ASIC, which takes iSCSI traffic from the ViSX G4's 10-Gbps Ethernet ports and decodes it down to base SCSI commands for data in the systems flash. Astute contends that generic Intel processor-based systems can't deliver the performance that a dedicated ASIC can, bucking the trend to standard hardware that most storage vendors have been following for the past few years.

We've reached the point where VMworld may not be the show for just your company's virtualization jockeys anymore. While your storage folks can learn a lot at storage vendor-specific events like EMC World, an occasional trip to the wild side at VMworld will probably broaden their horizons.

Disclaimer: Virsto is and EMC has been a client of DeepStorage LLC.

Howard Marks is founder and chief scientist at Deepstorage LLC, a storage consultancy and independent test lab based in Santa Fe, N.M. and concentrating on storage and data center networking. In more than 25 years of consulting, Marks has designed and implemented storage ... View Full Bio
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