DataCore Software advances independent storage virtualization

VMware may be expanding into thin provisioning and virtualized storage, but DataCore Software has been at this now for 10 years

As the hypervisor continues to reach commodity, companies like VMware are going to continue to stretch themselves into the application world in order to generate revenue and to further enhance their own core product. One of the areas that VMware is moving into is the virtual storage space and thin provisioning. While perhaps new to the VMware product or feature lineup, this technology is far from new. Like VMware virtualization technology, thin provisioning and virtualized storage goes back to about 10 years for DataCore. Over the last 10 years, DataCore has been developing a shrink-wrapped rich set of functions in software to address the mechanical constraints of disk storage manufacturers. In a manufacturer-independent way, DataCore has provided disk storage with enhanced speed, resiliency, and utility.

[ Listen to learn about new versions of DataCore's SANmelody and SANsymphony products announced at VMworld Europe | Download a free whitepaper discussing storage virtualization and the modern virtualized datacenter ]

Fast-forward, and the company is announcing new versions of its software: SANmelody 3.0 and SANsymphony 7.0. But with VMware now getting into this business, I decided to speak with DataCore's CEO, George Teixeira, to find out what this means to the Florida-based virtualized storage provider.

InfoWorld: What does DataCore think about VMware's new role in trying to enter storage virtualization and thin provisioning. And where DataCore fit, differ, or enhance? And are you doing anything with Citrix XenServer or Hyper-V?

DataCore: The big barrier to virtualization is storage, so it should be no surprise that VMware is trying to do more in this area; however, it is not their primary area of expertise. Thin provisioning is a good thing and is the centerpiece of the vStorage announcement. However, DataCore was doing thin provisioning 10 years ago, and we have continued to evolve and enhance the capabilities, but it is just one component of doing a comprehensive storage virtualization capability. Most shops have a combination of systems that are not virtualized and VMware does nothing for those. In truth, the world contains a mix of physical and virtual systems and storage virtualization that only works for VMs misses the reality of today's environments. Also, virtualization of many servers and the consolidation that comes from it stresses many performance and high-availability aspects of storage. DataCore has been designed to work with both the physical and virtual worlds, provides high-performance caching software (the new releases support Mega Caches) to overcome performance bottlenecks and provides the high-availability (automatic failover and failback) required to enable non-stop storage for business continuity. Whether the applications reside on VMs or on other platforms, DataCore safeguards the storage, makes it faster and more efficient.

DataCore also realizes that the world is not only a mix of physical and virtual worlds but that hypervisors are becoming a commodity, and therefore, the ability to work and support all the major hypervisors and migrate and manage storage for all the brands is essential.

InfoWorld: So tell us, why are DataCore-powered SANs necessary for VMware environments?

DataCore: Virtually everything hinges on storage. Server and desktop consolidation, in particular, place extraordinary demands on it. Too often, disks slow down, interrupt, or endanger these centralized IT operations, not because they are poorly built, but because they are physically constrained. Although VMware virtualization helps you to overcome similar limitations in processors, when it comes to advanced functions such as workload migration, load balancing, fail-over, and disaster recovery, it is completely dependent on highly available (HA), shared storage. You'll be shocked at the high hardware costs and major overhaul generally proposed to put such a storage infrastructure in place.

InfoWorld: Would you go so far as to say that DataCore storage virtualization solutions are essential for VMware environments? And if so, why?

DataCore: DataCore yields the highest availability, fastest performance, and fullest utilization from your storage assets, making it an essential element of your VMware configurations. DataCore's storage virtualization solutions deliver a more practical HA solution to VMware shared storage requirements. They abstract your storage into idealized, virtual disks akin to virtual machines. The software pools and mirrors disk blocks across available devices, despite differences in make and model. In the process, it speeds up I/O response and throughput using extensive SAN-wide caching. This lets you take optimum advantage of VMware's full suite of capabilities without hesitation. A plug-in for VMware's Virtual Infrastructure Client allows you to nondisruptively provision, share, clone, replicate, and expand virtual disks among physical servers and VMs.

InfoWorld: With the new releases of SANmelody (3.0) and SANsymphony (7.0), what is the real market impact here for VMware users?

DataCore: There are five major enhancements to these solutions. They include:

  1. 64-bit "mega caches" that boost SAN-wide performance - Leading the list of new features in SANmelody 3.0 and SANsymphony 7.0 are native 64-bit controller software with support for mega cache capacities. In large-scale, consolidated data storage, cache is king. DataCore's solutions will now support up to a terabyte of cache. They dwarf anything in the market and scale linearly with each node that you add to the fabric. The entire working set of a large number of virtual machines can now be kept in SAN-wide cache for unprecedented performance. Behind the cache, VMware customers can grow their storage pools from a few hundred gigabytes to multiple petabytes.
  2. Radically simple, high-availability for nonstop storage virtual infrastructure - Needless to say, storage pools of such immensity are in constant flux. With this in mind, the new product enhancements are fully integrated into DataCore's radically simple, high-availability solutions for VMware. Only DataCore allows maintenance, upgrades, expansion, and failures to take place throughout portions of the storage infrastructure without disrupting applications.
  3. Full use: Efficient space reclamation for thinly provisioned storage - Both SANmelody and SANsymphony offer the choice to thinly provision virtual disks rather than tie up physical capacity when LUNs are first created. This is particularly desirable with virtual machines that generally consume only a small fraction of the total volume assigned to them. In the new releases, previously allocated or thinly provisioned space will be automatically reclaimed in the background after applications or file systems no longer need it. With this functionality, the SAN returns unused capacity that may have been temporarily needed for some operations and can now further optimize resource utilization.
  4. Windows Server 2008-based, universal storage controllers - Configuring DataCore software on x86/X64 Windows servers transforms them into universal storage controllers. ESX servers and virtual machines (VMs) needing storage connect to the DataCore controllers using iSCSI or Fibre Channel. All of the popular operating systems, including Windows Server 2003, 2008, Unix, Linux, NetWare, and Mac OS can take advantage of DataCore's SAN-wide storage virtualization features. In small configurations, the DataCore controller is hosted on a VM as a virtual appliance alongside application VMs. The SAN is completely virtual needing no external storage. Larger configurations dedicate physical servers to this storage virtualization role and typically include both internal disk drives and external arrays. The new SANmelody 3.0 and SANsymphony 7.0 releases have been re-architected to exploit the power and scalability of Microsoft Windows Server 2008 for either virtual or physical x86 and x64 platforms as universal storage controllers.
  5. New hypervisor migration support and tighter integration to VMware virtual center - DataCore's "Transporter" time saving migration facility is a new option in SANmelody 3.0 and SANsymphony 7.0. Transporter migrates disk images and workloads between different operating systems, hypervisors and storage subsystems, eliminating lengthy backups and restores due to complicated format conversions. In addition, a plug-in for VMware's Virtual Infrastructure Client is a no-charge option that allows administrators to nondisruptively provision, share, clone, replicate, and expand virtual disks among physical servers and VMs.

Special thanks again to George Teixeira, president and CEO of DataCore Software, for taking time to speak with me about this subject.

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