Home > SAN, VMware > A new crop of storage start-ups has arrived

A new crop of storage start-ups has arrived

About two years ago I was working at EMC and the company had just completed the acquisition of DataDomain, which was one the last “hot” storage-related start-ups around.     There were certainly other storage start-up companies around, but nobody really had a story that screamed “come here, get some shares, and get rich when we get bought”.  A prime example being Xiotech (now Xio).  Xio’s value-prop and future are quite fuzzy from my perspective, but somehow they keep hanging in there.   At the time, everybody wondered who the next hot startup would be, or even if there would be another hot startup.   Compellent was the closest thing one could find, and they were soon snatched up by Dell.

Fortunately for technology, innovation is constant.  New ideas are always being generated, particularly within the realm of data storage.  Anyone who analyzes the balance sheets of EMC, NetApp, and others realizes that data storage is a profitable business, much more so than servers.   I do believe this partly explains why we see so many startups in the data storage arena (because venture capitalists see the $$$), and we also see large conglomerates accustomed to skinny margins like Dell beefing up their storage and services portfolio.

If you follow social media, then you’re already well-aware of Tintri, Whiptail, PureStorage, Violin, Atlantis, Oxygen, Nirvanix, and more.   Today, I’ll give my thoughts on some of the most-discussed startups.

1)      Tintri – my thoughts on Tintri were already published in an earlier post here: https://hoosierstorage.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/tintri-whats-the-big-deal/.   I heard from a handful of Tintri folks after posting that, none too happy with my post.   Some of them are now gone from Tintri.   Ultimately, my thoughts are largely still the same.  It’s my understanding Tintri now has HA controllers, which is a big plus, but I still question the entire market of dedicated VMware storage appliances.    EMC, the parent of VMware, and the largest storage vendor is as focused as I’ve ever seen them in increasing their integration with Microsoft technologies, particularly Hyper-V.    Joe Tucci knows he can’t tie his cart to just one horse, just like he knew he had to let VMware remain independent back in 2006.   Similarly, Veeam has been putting tons of effort into increasing their functionality with Hyper-V.    These companies are both leaders in their respective market segments, think they are doing this in anticipation of receiving no value from it?  Most people buy storage arrays with the intent of using them for at least 5 years.    5 years is a lifetime in the technology world.  There’s no guarantee that VMware will be the dominant hypervisor in 2-3 years.   I certainly hope that they are, and if they continue to out-innovate everyone else they should be.  However, if you buy a dedicated storage appliance for VMware, and in 2 years the world is moving to Hyper-V 4.0, what then?   Microsoft is unlikely to make Hyper-V work with NFS anytime soon.   Would you buy a dedicated storage device for Sharepoint and nothing else?   There still remain use-cases for physical servers and physical servers that need SAN storage.   A dedicated VMware storage box can’t help here.  Why run two storage devices when you can do it all with one?

2)      Whiptail and other dedicated Flash arrays:  Dedicated Flash arrays seems to be generating quite a lot of buzz these days.   They all share a lot of similarities, in most cases the claim is made that by leveraging cheaper consumer-grade MLC flash drives and adding in some fancy magic on top, they can get a much bigger bang for the buck from these drives and make them “enterprise-class”.    They also make crazy claims like “200,000 IOPS”, a number that you simply won’t see in the real world.   Real-world numbers for enterprise-class SLC flash drives are 3500 IOPS per drive.    Anybody who tells you more than that is just blowing smoke.

I know of at least one customer who tested out one of these all-flash appliances.   It was nothing more than a rack-mountable server stuffed with Intel consumer-grade MLC drives (he took a pic and showed me).    He saw a 25% increase in DB performance when compared to the current 50 15K drives that the DB is spread across.   I’m sorry but…..I’m not impressed.    These devices also tend to be single points of failure, unless you buy a second box and connect them together to form a cluster.    I have said it before and I’ll say it again, never buy a SPOF storage solution unless your data is disposable!

As with VMware-dedicated storage appliances, I really have to question the value of the all-flash appliances, except for very niche use cases.   Flash storage for an existing array isn’t that expensive.   The real value in flash is by leveraging small amounts to increase performance where it’s needed, then fulfill capacity requirements by leveraging cheaper high-capacity SATA or NL-SAS drives.   This works and it’s in use today in many environments.  Plus, it’s really not that expensive.   Why buy two devices when you can do it all with one?

3)      Oxygen:  Now we’re getting into some start-ups that I see having good value propositions.   I first became aware of Oxygen about 6-9 months ago, and have been testing the technology out personally.  I also have at least one client that was looking for a secure, Dropbox-like technology for their enterprise that is testing it out.   I posted some previous thoughts on Oxygen here:  https://hoosierstorage.wordpress.com/?s=oxygen

As technologies like Oxygen become more robust, I truly do see this being the next-generation file server within the enterprise.   There is no doubt that we are witnessing a consumerization of IT, with tablets, smartphones, etc.   Users have a need to access their business files on these devices, and if you don’t provide them with the technology to do it, they will find a way using consumer-technologies that you don’t want them to be using.   Oxygen in particular offers a great alternative, providing sync-and share capabilities between your PC and mobile devices, yet retaining the safety and security of keeping data inside the corporate firewall.

4)      Atlantis:  When I first saw the Atlantis ILIO appliance in use, I couldn’t help but be impressed.   Storage performance with VDI is a problem many shops encounter, and when a company can cut that down by 90%, well it definitely turns heads.   Plus, unlike the dedicated physical appliances I mentioned above, Atlantis runs as a vApp, and can leverage your existing SAN environment (or local storage in some cases).   Rather than me do the talking, I would recommend taking a look at this article for a deep-dive on Atlantis: http://myvirtualcloud.net/?p=2604.   I’m currently evaluating Atlantis in my employers demo lab – so far so good.  I’m also working on a model to see just how (or if) it ends up being more cost-effective than a traditional SAN leveraging some SSD’s.

That’s it for now.  Other technologies I hope to be discussing soon include Actifio and Nirvanix.

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Categories: SAN, VMware
  1. March 10, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    Hi Dan – I am with another new storage company, Tegile Systems. Before joining Tegile, I looked at many of the firms you mentioned and came up with the same observations. It is amazing how tech-shallow some of these new players are. I would love to chat with you about our system and get your thoughts. Please drop me a tweet at @robcommins or @Tegile of you’d like to.

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