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vRetreat: Cohesity Overview

At the recent vRetreat at Silverstone, I experienced three technical presentations / Q&A sessions from the event sponsors. One of these, Cohesity, I was charged with writing a little more about. Up until that point, my experience and knowledge of Cohesity’s solutions was very limited as I’ve had my head buried in several large projects over the recent months. Ezat Dayeh‘s presentation at the vRetreat was therefore a great introduction for me to Cohesity’s mission and value proposition.

Cohesity was founded in 2013 by Mohit Aron, former co-founder of Nutanix and a Google File System lead developer. With this DNA, it’s no real surprise that Cohesity’s solutions have a storage focus. The difference with Cohesity is that its focus is not around primary storage (production virtual machines, databases etc), but secondary storage (file shares, backups, archives etc). Their mission is to redefine that secondary storage market.

What is secondary storage

Cohesity estimate that around 80% of an enterprise’s storage needs are for secondary data and that the majority of the storage market incumbents are focussed on primary storage. Obviously the picture will differ from customer to customer, but in many cases this secondary storage will be distributed across various platforms and, in some cases, may be stored more than once. This could lead to problems with regulatory compliance, operational costs and even just having a view on what data is being retained.

The Cohesity solution

Cohesity’s solution is based on a hyper-converged infrastructure platform built from commodity hardware. Of course the hardware isn’t the whole story, not even close to it. But we’ll come on to the software part of it in a minute.

The C2000 series chassis offers 4 HA nodes in 2U of rack space and there are no stated limits when it comes to scalability. The obvious advantage to this over some of the more “traditional” storage solutions is of course that you can start small and grow it. This is a model that many newer solutions are opting for and it seems to work well for them, so why not Cohesity too 🙂

Cohesity’s special sauce, its software, is where the clever stuff happens. One of of the primary use cases for Cohesity is as a backup target or to provide an alternate backup solution. Cohesity can be a backup target for your existing backup software (Veeam being one of the cited examples and another of vRetreat’s sponsors). Alternatively, Cohesity can pull in the inventory from vCenter so that it can be backed up as part of a schedule using snapshots. Protected virtual machines can be restored swiftly and even used for test and development workloads. Restoration jobs are placed and on the Cohesity platform initially and then storage vMotioned back to the correct location later.

Cohesity’s CloudArchive solution opens up the option of archiving cold data up to public cloud services like Amazon S3 or NFS based services. Once enabled, it’s all automated.

CloudReplicate is a version of Cohesity that runs in the public cloud and enables a number of interesting use cases. One is DR in the cloud, Azure is supported with AWS coming soon. Another is using such cloud services for test and development environments, particularly for geographically dispersed teams.

Another area that Cohesity are actively working on is that of data analytics. They predict that in 3 to 4 years’ time, it’ll be a huge use case. Add in deduplication, an “API first” development approach and built-in HA to the mix and you have an interesting solution emerging.

My thoughts on Cohesity? Based on Ezat’s presentation, Cohesity looks to have found an area that isn’t fully exploited yet. Most other vendors so far have been focussed on the cream at the top of the bottle (I had a manager once who raved about gold top milk) and, in some cases, happy to drink the rest too. Cohesity almost seem to be saying “You have the cream, we’ll have the rest of the bottle.” Will they be successful? I think they will. Ezat shared with us that their EMEA sales operation was doing well in the first four months of operating. But I’d wager that their successes will draw other players in to the space they’re trying to carve out.

I’d like to hear from some of Cohesity’s customers at some point to understand how it’s helped them. There’s nothing better than a good customer use case! Of course, some potential customers are going to be wedded to other vendors and some may be doing just fine managing their data with their primary storage. But it’s a big marketplace out there if the USP is right.

As a final word, I’d like to thank Cohesity for sponsoring the vRetreat last month. And, if you happen to be around for the South West UK VMUG in Bristol on February 22nd, they’ll be there then too.

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Synology DS1513+ Released

DS1513+The Synology DS1512 has been a popular choice for many home labs in recent years. I hoped that the company’s raft of recent product updates would reach this model eventually. Well my wish was granted as Synology have announced the DS1513+.

There are a few modifications to note. The one that stands out the most at first glance is the doubling of LAN capability.  The DS1513+ boasts no fewer than 4 RJ45 ports. That does seem like quite a lot. It does open up some interesting possibilities though…

The full specifications for the DS1513+ can be found here.

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Nutanix Bloggers’ Session 08/10/2012

I was invited to a briefing by the vendor Nutanix on Monday at VMworld. Now there are a lot of new / recent startups in the storage space and keeping a handle on them all could occupy my time completely so I did hesitate to accept the invitation at first.

I had heard some good things about Nutanix from other bloggers though and, after looking at their website, I was intrigued to find out a little more. Along with a few other bloggers I found my way to the Tryp Apolo hotel in Barcelona where we were greeted by a number of Nutanix employees from EMEA and the US along with London VMUG’s very own Jane Rimmer.

Perhaps now is a good time to explain what it is that Nutanix do. They claim to be a software company but their software is only available on their hardware. I would perhaps think of them more as a storage solutions company. Anyway, that’s semantics.

Nutanix’s product aims to provide a full virtualization platform that performs consistently well, scales linearly and, most importantly, does not requires any shared storage. That’s right, no shared storage. No SAN.

Each node (host) is a fairly standard x64 architecture server with dual processors. Presently each node comes equipped with 320Gb of PCIe SSD (fusionio), 300Gb of SATA SSD and 5Tb of SATA HDDs. Each node also has 1x10GbE and 2x1GbE networking connections. Nodes are manufactured in blocks of 4 and each node has VMware ESXi pre-installed on it.

Aside from combining the hardware, Nutanix’s secret sauce comes in when it comes to presenting that local storage to ESXi. When the nodes are clustered, the available storage is combined and presented as a VMFS datastore to all of the hosts in the cluster. VMs provisioned on a host will have their files stored locally although it will appear like they are being stored on a shared datastore when viewed through the vSphere Client. Behind the scenes the Nutanix software actually replicates those files to other hosts within the cluster (imagine that there are more hosts than shown below – this was just a quick diagram that I knocked up):

The fact that the datastore is presented to all hosts means that vMotion and HA both work as intended. If a VM ends up on another host Nutanix will move that VM’s files to the correct host in the background and completely transparently.

With respect to scaling, Nutanix say that you can just add blocks to an existing deployment. As each node has its own storage, each node should have more than adequate storage performance to handle the VM load placed on it. Clever stuff but does it really work and does it really scale?

Being the diligent bloggers that we are, we asked plenty of questions and Nutanix seemed to have all of the right answers. For me, the idea of scaling in that way is perfect for a growing business. More established enterprises may be too heavily invested in existing technologies to consider it though. Technically it’s a clever solution too, no doubt about that, but perhaps they may need to introduce a few more sizing options for the hosts over time or the software up to being used on other hardware platforms.

After that, Nutanix gave us some insights into the future development of their product. I can’t go into details unfortunately but I look forward to seeing how they progress.

Thanks to Jane and Nutanix for organising the session (and the drinks afterwards) and talking with us all.

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QNAP VAAI Details

I did promise to pop back to QNAP’s stand at VMworld Europe when I posted yesterday about them introducing VAAI across their range of storage appliances. True to my word, I popped in for a chat.

As a reminder, VAAI (vStorage APIs for Array Integration) enables ESXi hosts to offload specific virtual machine and storage management operations to compliant storage hardware – basically talking some of the storage load from the hosts and letting the storage hardware handle it.

Now whilst the functionality will be available across their range of products with release 3.8, it seems likely that they are only going to certify it on the x79 series. It will work on all of their current and past models however. The features to be implemented are:

  • Block Zeroing – used during the creation of vmdk disk files
  • Block Copy – used when deploying and cloning VMs / templates. Rather than the ESXi host copying vmdk files from the storage and re-writing them back, the copy is performed by the storage hardware.
  • Hardware accelerated locking – (aka Atomic Test & Set) used during the creation and locking of files on a volume
  • vSphere Client Integration – allows provisioning and management of datastores from within the vSphere client

QNAP said that 3.8 will be available as of November sometime although their website makes no mention of it currently. I did ask about other features, such as VASA (vStorage APIs for Storage Awareness), but there’s no word on those yet. Personally I suspect they knew a little more than they were letting on.

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QNAP Gets VAAI

I purposefully wandered past the QNAP booth in the Solutions Exchange at VMworld Europe 2012 yesterday as I have one of their devices at home connected up to my lab (although as it gets older and my demands get higher I find that I’m using it less and less). I also know a few other individuals (e.g. Jeremy – co-author on this site) who have one in their home lab setup and QNAP have a good presence in the SMB market.

As the title suggests, QNAP are going to deliver VAAI functionality very shortly. The really good thing though is that this does not mean that you need to buy a new model. As QNAP use the same OS package on all of their devices, the whole range will get the functionality as of version 3.8. Geeks (with QNAPs) everywhere will rejoice and dance in the streets!

I plan to pop back past later on and find out more about it.

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Fixing “HostDatastoreSystem.QueryVmfsDatastoreCreateOptions” Issue

Having recently made a right old mess of my home lab, I set about building it from scratch over the weekend. Having installed some nice, fresh builds of ESXi 5.0 I started adding in my SATA disks and began to create VMFS datastores on the hosts.

The first one worked ok. The second one didn’t for some reason. I got an error part way through the “Add Storage” wizard. The error stack wasn’t too helpful:

Call “HostDatastoreSystem.QueryVmfsDatastoreCreateOptions” for object “datastoreSystem-9” on vCenter Server “svr-vcenter.vspecialist.co.uk” failed.

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EMC PowerShell Cmdlets! Who do I have to kill?

I try to avoid news type postings like this if I can – there are plenty of other blogs out there that do it without me joining in – but this is exciting geeky stuff!

I like PowerShell, clever stuff. I should use it more than I do but some fool only put 24 hours in the day! I digress…

So, those nice folks over at EMC have had some of their own cmdlets for a while that have been used internally. Now though they are being released for people like you and me to play with – I mean use – in anger.

So in answer to my question, it seems that nobody has to die in order for me to get my hands on them.

Now, if only I wasn’t working in a NetApp environment… 🙁

The cmdlets can be grabbed from here and Chad (@sakacc) has posted about them here. If you are able, please give feedback on the cmdlets so they can make them even better!