Category Archives: Rackspace

Solid?

The next all-Flash product in my review list is SolidFire. Immediately, the niche that SolidFire is trying to carve out is obvious. It’s not for regular commercial customers. It is meant for Cloud Service Providers, because the features and the technology that they have innovated are quite cloud-intended.

Are they solid (pun intended)? Well, if they have managed to secure a Series B funding of USD$25 million (total of USD$37 million overall) from VCs such as NEA and Valhalla, and also angel investors such as Frank Slootman (ex-Data Domain CEO) and Greg Papadopoulus(ex-Sun Microsystems CTO), then obviously there is something more than meets the eye.

The one thing I got while looking up SolidFire is there is probably a lot of technology and innovation behind their  Nodes and their Element OS. They hold their cards very, very close to their chest, and I couldn’t not get much good technology related information from their website or in Google. But here’s a look of how the SolidFire is like:

The SolidFire only has one product model, and that is the 1U SF3010. The SF3010 has 10 x 2.5″ 300GB SSDs giving it a raw total of 3TB per 1U. The minimum configuration is 3 nodes, and it scales to 100 nodes. The reason for starting with 3 nodes is of course, for redundancy. Each SF3010 node has 8GB NVRAM and 72GB RAM and sports 2 x 10GbE ports for iSCSI connectivity, especially when the core engineering talents were from LeftHand Networks. LeftHand Networks product is now HP P4000. There is no Fibre Channel or NAS front end to the applications.

Each node runs 2 x Intel Xeon 2.4GHz 6-core CPUs. The 1U height is important to the cloud provider, as the price of floor space is an important consideration.

Aside from the SF3010 storage nodes, the other important ingredient is their SolidFire Element OS.

Cloud storage needs to be available. The SolidFire Helix Self-Healing data protection is a feature that is capable of handling multiple concurrent failures across all levels of their storage. Data blocks are replicated randomly but intelligently across all storage nodes to ensure that the failure or disruption of access to a particular data block is circumvented with another copy of the data block somewhere else within the cluster. The idea is not new, but effective because solutions such as EMC Centera and IBM XIV employ this idea in their data availability. But still, the ability for self-healing ensures a very highly available storage where data is always available.

To address the efficiency of storage, having 3TB raw in the SF3010 is definitely not sufficient. Therefore, the Element OS always have thin provision, real-time compression and in-line deduplication turned on. These features cannot be turned off and operate at a fine-grained 4K blocks. Also important is the intelligence to reclaim of zeroed blocks, no-reservation,  and no data movement in these innovations. This means that there will be no I/O impact, as claimed by SolidFire.

But the one feature that differentiates SolidFire when targeting storage for Cloud Service Providers is their guaranteed volume level Quality of Service (QOS). This is important and SolidFire has positioned their QOS settings into an advantage. As best practice, Cloud Service Providers should always leverage the QOS functionality to improve their storage utilization

The QOS has:

  • Minimum IOPS – Lower IOPS means lower performance priority (makes good sense)
  • Maximum IOPS
  • Burst IOPS – for those performance spikes moments
  • Maximum and Burst MB/sec
The combination of QOS and storage capacity efficiency gives SolidFire the edge when cloud providers can scale both performance and capacity in a more balanced manner, something that is not so simple with traditional storage vendors that relies on lots of spindles to achieve IOPS performance sacrificing capacity in the process. But then again, with SSDs, the IOPS are plenty (for now). SolidFire does not boast performance numbers of millions of IOPS or having throughput into the tens of Gigabytes like Violin, Virident or Kaminario, but what they want to be recognized as the cloud storage as it should be in a cloud service provider environment.
SolidFire calls this Performance Virtualization. Just as we would get to carve our storage volumes from a capacity pool, SolidFire allows different performance profiles to be carved out from the performance pool. This gives SolidFire the ability to mix storage capacity and storage performance in a seemingly independent manner, customizing the type of storage bundling required of cloud storage.
In fact, SolidFire only claims 50,000 IOPS per storage node (including the IOPS means for replicating data blocks). Together with their native multi-tenancy capability, the 50,000 or so IOPS will align well with many virtualized applications, rather than focusing on a 10x performance improvement on a single applications. Their approach is more about a more balanced and spread-out I/O architecture for cloud service providers and the applications that they service.
Their management is also targeted to the cloud. It has a REST API that integrates easily into OpenStack, Citrix CloudStack and VMware vCloud Director. This seamless and easy integration, is more relevant because the CSPs already have their own management tools. That is why SolidFire API is a REST-ready, integration ready to do just that.
The power of the SolidFire API is probably overlooked by storage professionals trained in the traditional manner. But what SolidFire API has done is to provide the full (I mean FULL) capability of the management and provisioning of the SolidFire storage. Fronting the API with REST means that it is real easy to integrate with existing CSP management interface.

Together with the Storage Nodes and the Element OS, the whole package is aimed towards a more significant storage platform for Cloud Service Providers(CSPs). Storage has always been a tricky component in Cloud Computing (despite what all the storage vendors might claim), but SolidFire touts that their solution focuses on what matters most for CSPs.

CSPs would want to maximize their investment without losing their edge in the cloud offerings to their customers. SolidFire lists their benefits in these 3 areas:

  • Performance
  • Efficiency
  • Management

The edge in cloud storage is definitely solid for SolidFire. Their ability to leverage on their position and steering away from other all-Flash vendors’ battlezone could all make sense, as they aim to gain market share in the Cloud Service Provider space. I only wish they can share more about their technology online.

Fortunately, I found a video by SolidFire’s CEO, Dave Wright which gives a great insight about SolidFire’s technology. Have a look (it’s almost 2 hour long):

[2 hours later]: Phew, I just finished the video above and the technology is solid. Just to summarize,

  • No RAID (which is a Godsend for service providers)
  • Aiming for USD5.00 or less per Gigabyte (a good number!)
  • General availability in Q1 2012

Lots of confidence about the superiority of their technology, as portrayed by their CEO, Dave Wright.

Solid? Yes, Solid!

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A cloud economy emerges … somewhat

A few hours ago, Rackspace had just announced the first “productized” Rackspace Private Cloud solution based on OpenStack. According to Openstack.org,

OpenStack OpenStack is a global collaboration of developers and cloud computing 
technologists producing the ubiquitous open source cloud computing platform for 
public and private clouds. The project aims to deliver solutions for all types of 
clouds by being simple to implement, massively scalable, and feature rich. 
The technology consists of a series of interrelated projects delivering various 
components for a cloud infrastructure solution.

Founded by Rackspace Hosting and NASA, OpenStack has grown to be a global software 
community of developers collaborating on a standard and massively scalable open 
source cloud operating system. Our mission is to enable any organization to create 
and offer cloud computing services running on standard hardware. 
Corporations, service providers, VARS, SMBs, researchers, and global data centers 
looking to deploy large-scale cloud deployments for private or public clouds 
leveraging the support and resulting technology of a global open source community.
All of the code for OpenStack is freely available under the Apache 2.0 license. 
Anyone can run it, build on it, or submit changes back to the project. We strongly 
believe that an open development model is the only way to foster badly-needed cloud 
standards, remove the fear of proprietary lock-in for cloud customers, and create a 
large ecosystem that spans cloud providers.

And Openstack just turned 1 year old.

So, what’s this Rackspace private cloud about?

In the existing cloud economy, customers subscribe from a cloud service provider. The customer pays a monthly (usually) subscription fee in a pay-as-you-use-model. And I have courageously predicted that the new cloud economy will drive the middle tier (i.e. IT distributors, resellers and system integrators) in my previous blog out of IT ecosystem. Before I lose the plot, Rackspace is now providing the ability for customers to install an Openstack-ready, Rackspace-approved private cloud architecture in their own datacenter, not in Rackspace Hosting.

This represents a tectonic shift in the cloud economy, putting the control and power back into the customers’ hands. For too long, there were questions about data integrity, security, control, cloud service provider lock-in and so on but with the new Rackspace offering, customers can build their own private cloud ecosystem or they can get professional service from Rackspace cloud systems integrators. Furthermore, once they have built their private cloud, they can either manage it themselves or get Rackspace to manage it for them.

How does Rackspace do it?

From their vast experience in building Openstack clouds, Rackspace Cloud Builders have created a free reference architecture.  Currently OpenStack focuses on two key components: OpenStack Compute, which offers computing power through virtual machine and network management, and OpenStack Object Storage, which is software for redundant, scalable object storage capacity.

In the Openstack architecture, there are 3 major components – Compute, Storage and Images.

 

More information about the Openstack Architecture here. And with 130 partners in the Openstack alliance (which includes Dell, HP, Cisco, Citrix and EMC), customers have plenty to choose from, and lessening the impact of lock-in.

What does this represent to storage professionals like us?

This Rackspace offering is game changing and could perhaps spark an economy for partners to work with Cloud Service Providers. It is definitely addressing some key concerns of customers related to security and freedom to choose, and even change service providers. It seems to be offering the best of both worlds (for now) but Rackspace is not looking at this for immediate gains. But we still do not know how this economic pie will grow and how it will affect the cloud economy. And this does not negate the fact that us storage professionals have to dig deeper and learn more and this not does change the fact that we have to evolve to compete against the best in the world.

Rackspace has come out beating its chest and predicted that the cloud computing API space will boil down these 3 players – Rackspace Openstack, VMware and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Interestingly, Redhat Aeolus (previously known as Deltacloud) was not worthy to mentioned by Rackspace. Some pooh-pooh going on?