Home > NAS, SAN, Virtualization, VMware > Tintri – What’s the big deal?

Tintri – What’s the big deal?

You may have seen several news articles a couple weeks back about the hottest new thing in VMware storage – Tintri. Their marketing department created quite a buzz with most major IT news outlets picking up the story and proclaiming that the Tintri appliance was the future of VMware storage.

Instead of re-hashing what’s been said already, here’s a brief description from CNET:

Tintri VMstore is a hardware appliance that is purpose-built for VMs. It uses virtual machine abstractions–VMs and virtual disks–in place of conventional storage abstractions such as volumes, LUNs, or files. By operating at the virtual machine and disk level, administrators get the same level of insight, control, and automation of CPU, memory, and networking resources as general-purpose shared-storage solutions.

A few more technical details from The Register:

The VMstore T440 is a 4U, rackmount, multi-cored, multi-processor, X86 server with gigabit or 10gigE ports to a VMware server host. It appears as a single datastore instance in the VMware vSphere Client – connecting to vCenter Server. Multiple appliances – nodes – can be connected to one vCenter Server to enable sharing by ESX hosts. Virtual machines (VMs) can be copied or moved between nodes using storage vMotion.

The T440 is a hybrid storage facility with 15 directly-attached 3.5-inch, 7,200rpm, 1TB, SATA disk drives, and 9 x 160GB SATA, 2-bit, multi-level cell (MLC) solid state drives (SSD), delivering 8.5TB of usable capacity across the two storage tiers. There is a RAID6 redundancy scheme with hot spares for both the flash and disk drives.

 

I was a bit skeptical as to how this could be much different from other storage options on the market today. Tintri claims that you don’t manage the storage, everything is managed by VM. The only logical way I could see this happening is if you’re managing files (with every VM being a file) instead of LUN’s. How do you accomplish this? Use a native file system as your datastore instead of creating a VMFS file system on top of a block-based datastore. In other words, NFS.

So, after doing a little research, it appears this box isn’t much more than a simple NAS, with a slick GUI, doing some neat things under the covers with auto-tiering (akin to Compellent’s Data Progression or EMC sub-LUN FAST) and de-duplication. Instead of adding drives to a tray to expand, you expand by adding nodes. This makes for a nice story in that you scale performance as you scale capacity, but in the SMB market where this product is focused, I typically find the performance offered in the base unit with multi-core processors is 10X more than the typical SMB customer needs. In that scenario, scaling by nodes starts to become expensive as you are re-buying the processors each time instead of just buying disks, it takes up more space in the rack, and it increases power/cooling costs over just expanding by adding drives.

Today, it appears the box does not offer dual-controllers, replication, or iSCSI. iSCSI is something most SMB folks can probably go without and rely solely on NFS, which performs very similar to iSCSI at comparable Ethernet speeds and can offer additional functionality. Replication is probably something most SMB’s can also go without. I don’t see too many SMB’s going down the VMware SRM path. Most either don’t need that level of DR, or a solution like Veeam Backup and Replication fits their needs well (host-based SRM is also rumored to be coming later this year from VMware). The dual-controller issue is one I believe no customer should ever compromise on for production data, even SMB customers. I’ve seen enough situations over the years where storage processors, switches, or HBA’s just die or go into a spontaneous reboot, and that’s with products that have been established in the marketplace for some time and are known to be reliable. In this scenario with a single-controller system on Gen1 equipment, you’re risking too much. With consolidated storage you’re putting all your eggs in one basket, and when you do that, it better be a pretty darn good basket. The Register reported that a future release of the product will support dual-controllers, which I would make a priority if I were running Tintri.

Tintri managed to create quite a splash, but of course only time will tell how successful this box is going to be. Evostor launched a similar VMware-centric storage at VMworld a couple years ago but now their official domain name is expired. Tintri will certainly have an uphill battle to fight. When I look at the competition Tintri is going to face, many of their claimed advantages have already been released in recent product refreshes by their competition. The VNXe is probably the box that competes the best. The VNXe GUI is incredibly easy to use and makes no mention of LUNs or RAID groups, just like Tintri. It’s extremely cheap and EMC has deep pockets, which will be tough for Tintri to compete with. VNXe is built on proven technology that’s very mature, while Tintri is Gen 1. It supports NFS with advanced functionality like de-dupe. Tintri has a small advantage here in that EMC’s de-dupe for VM’s is post-process, while Tintri claims to support inline de-dupe (but only for the portion of VM data that resides on SSD drives). This is probably using some of the intellectual property that the ex-Data Domain employees at Tintri provided. The VNXe also supports iSCSI and will support FCoE. The NetApp FAS2020 is also a competitor in this space, supporting many of the same things the VNXe has, although the GUI is nowhere near as simple. Tintri’s big advantages are that it supports SSD today and does sub-LUN auto-tiering. These are two things that EMC put in the VNX but left out of the VNXe. It’s been stated the VNXe was supposed to get Flash drive support later this year, but there’s been no mention of auto-tiering support. Competition is good for end users and my hope is that with competitors putting sub-LUN tiering in their products at the low-end, it will force EMC’s hand to include FAST in the VNXe, because I think it will ultimately need it within 12-18 months to remain competitive in the market. Whether or not the typical SMB even needs auto-tiering with Flash drives is another story, but once the feature is there and customers start getting hyped about it, it’ll need to be there.

Further reading:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/24/tintri_vmware_storage_appliance/

http://www.tintri.com/

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13846_3-20045989-62.html

http://www.yellow-bricks.com/2011/03/24/tintri-virtual-machine-aware-storage/

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Categories: NAS, SAN, Virtualization, VMware
  1. darshin
    May 3, 2011 at 7:40 AM

    Awesome article. A comprehensive explanation of the appliance from tintri with the pros n cons! Cant get any better mate!

    Am going to start following your articles keenly now. Ended up quite accidentally on this blog but now am not leaving it for a while 🙂 🙂

    Keep up the good work

  1. March 5, 2012 at 9:29 AM

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