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What about Tintri?

August 2, 2011 3 comments

I attended the Phoenix VMUG meeting this week.  The two main sessions were about vSphere5 and Tintri’s VMstore.  While vSphere5 is interesting, I have been working with it for over 5 months now so it wasn’t a “must see” presentation for me.  I was actually at the event to see Tintri and I have to say that the Tintri VMstore product intrigues me quite a bit.  For those who haven’t heard of this product, think of it as a purpose built storage appliance for your VMware environment.   This “appliance” is roughly 8.5TB (usable) and is only accessed via NFS.  The entire device presents itself as one large datastore to your hosts.  If you think about it, this really does simplify things quite a bit.  There is no zoning, no LUN creation, no disk grouping, etc.  Basically, all of your standard storage creation tasks have been removed.  Time to add capacity? Just add another appliance and add it to your vCenter as another datastore.  It’s that simple.

Management of the appliance is performed through a web interface and via a vCenter Plug-in.  The bulk of what you expect in a management tool is there with a few notable exceptions (discussed later in this post).

One of the VMstore design goals is performance.  To that end, Tintri has equipped the VMstore with 1TB of SSD storage.  Through their own internally developed magic, the bulk of “hot” data is kept in SSD.  The rest is stored on SATA disks.  You can imagine the kind of IOPS possible given the heavy use of SSD.  BTW, the SSD is deduped so you get more bang for your buck.

The folks at Tintri gave the standard “who we are” and “why we are different” presentation that we all expect at open events like this.  After talking about the product and walking us through the mgmt. interface the Tintri folks took questions from the audience.  All-in-all, a good showing.

There were no hard questions asked at the VMUG, but the after meeting was completely different.  I am also a member of Advanced Technology Networking Group (ATNG) and we met up with the Tintri folks a few hours later.  ATNG consist of hardcore techies and since many of our members are responsible for acquisitions and managing data centers, our meeting with vendors tend to be “No holds barred”, but in a friendly way.  Our goal is to get to know the product (warts and all) as much as we can during our meetings.

We questioned a lot of design choices and where the product is going.  One are of particular interest to me was the use of SATA drives.  Yes, the appliance uses RAID6 and has hot spares, but that did not alleviate my concern.  Drive quality continues to improve so only time will tell if this was a good design choice or not.

Another area questioned was the use of a single controller.  The general rule of enterprise storage is to have two controllers.  VMstore currently has one.  Notice that I say “currently”.  Future product will have two controllers.

There were a few questions and suggestions regarding the management interface.  One suggestion was to rename the VMStore snapshot function.  It is not the same snapshot feature as in vCenter.  vCenter has no visibility into VMstore native snapshots and vice-versa.  This can be a source of confusion if you consider that the target audience for this product is VM admin.

The lack of some enterprise features also came up in our discussions.  Notably, the lack of SNMP support and the lack of replication support.  The only way to get notified of something going wrong with the appliance is to either receive an email alert or see something in vCenter.    As for replication, the only option available is to perform a standard vm backup and restore the data to another appliance or storage device of your choice.

However, all is not doom and gloom.  Tintri is working on updates and improvements.  SNMP support, replication capabilities, and more are coming soon.   Keep in mind that Tintri recently came out of stealth mode and is on 1.0 of their product.   For a 1.0 product, it’s pretty good.  Just to give an idea of the performance and quality of VMstore, Tintri has a reference customer that will attest that they have been running a beta version since November 2010 without any issues.  In fact, that customer is still on the beta code and has not upgraded.  That’s a pretty good reference if you ask me.

So what do I think of VMStore?  I think Tintri is on the right track.  Purpose built storage for VMware is a great concept.  It shows a laser like focus on a particular market and it lets the company focus on capabilities and features that are specific to that market.  Generic storage has to cater to many masters and sometimes gets lost in the process.

I am going to predict that Tintri will either be copied by other storage vendors or that they will be acquired by one of them.  The product/concept is just too unique and spot-on that it can’t be ignored.

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