Tintri attempts to solve storage pains in virtualization

Flash memory, low-cost SATA drives, and sophisticated compression algorithms combine to optimize I/O performance and data triage

Server virtualization has been transforming the data center for the past 10 years by enabling better utilization of server hardware components. However, one piece of technology that hasn't adapted to the virtualization market quite as fast has been storage.

As virtualization and server components have advanced in feature, function, and deployment rate, slower storage technology has become the bottleneck in many cases. What hasn't slowed down for virtualization shops is the cost of connecting storage to virtualized environments.

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Kieran Harty, who led all desktop and server research and product development at VMware from 1999 to 2006, saw the challenges of storage and virtualization firsthand. Harty quickly realized that storage was often the major barrier to broader virtualization deployments and noted storage performance is one of the reasons that IT organizations have been reluctant to put mission-critical applications on virtual machines. That's one reason for VM stall and why, on average, less than 30 percent of servers end up being virtualized.

Harty, who left VMware in 2006, unveiled his new startup, a company called Tintri where he is now founder and CEO. Tintri (Gaelic for "lightning") has emerged from stealth mode after completing two funding rounds with the main venture capital backers, NEA and Lightspeed, which have invested $17 million into the 35-person company. The team brings a unique perspective with strong backgrounds in both virtualization coming from VMware and Citrix as well as storage with backgrounds at Data Domain and NetApp.

Rather than building yet another storage device, Tintri announced it was developing a new storage system aimed squarely at handling the storage issues that have been plaguing virtualized environments. It took the company more than two years in stealth mode to build this technology. The group has come up with is an appliance that can handle hundreds of virtual machines and their storage needs all in a single device, yet appears as simple as a direct-attached storage array.

The appliance, called VMstore, can be configured with up to 8.5TB of usable storage. The system combines flash memory, low-cost SATA drives, and sophisticated compression algorithms to perform data triage and optimize I/O performance. The most important or in-demand information finds its way to the high-speed flash memory while the rest reside on the standard hard drives.

In addition to the support for inline deduplication and compression capabilities, VMstore also comes with monitoring and reporting tools that work on a per-virtual machine and per-virtual disk basis, for greater transparency in managing storage for VMs.

According to the company, Tintri VMstore eliminates most of the cost and complexity of managing storage systems in a virtualized environment. Central to the company's value proposition is the idea that storage should be interchangeable, powerful nodes that allow users to move virtual machines from one to another as needed. This gives VM administrators greater visibility into their network and control of their storage. And each storage node is presented as a single data store to the VM administrator.

Perhaps the bulk of its intellectual property and what took the company the longest to build while in stealth mode was its VMstore file system. According to the company, the Tintri VMstore file system is designed from the ground up for virtual machines:

It uses virtual machine abstractions -- VMs and virtual disks -- in place of conventional storage abstractions such as volumes, LUNs, or files. Each I/O request -- reads, writes, or metadata operations -- map directly to the particular virtual disk on which it occurs. Tintri VMstore directly monitors and controls I/O performance for each virtual disk. Conventional storage must make file- or volume-level decisions about data location and access prioritization, and then map these to the VM through bolt-on features -- with their own complex set of storage abstractions -- to give them context in a virtualized environment.

Because VMstore is focused specifically on virtualization, it is said to offer a substantially better experience that doesn't require deep storage expertise. That's a bonus, as virtualization administrators often have to cross over into the storage silo without any type of extensive storage experience.

Tintri isn't alone. While the company has an impressive pedigree, there are plenty of companies, both large and small, trying to solve the virtualization storage challenge. We're starting to see more and more impressive ideas and solutions hit the market, making storage a bit more interesting to watch.

This article, "Tintri attempts to solve storage pains in virtualization," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in virtualization and cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.