Tintri flashes unique VMware storage credentials

Talks virtual disks instead of files and LUNs

US startup Tintri aims to put every other storage array vendor on the back foot with the first dedicated VMware storage appliance using VMware storage abstractions instead of generalised files and LUNs.

The idea is that virtualised server storage operations are faster and more efficient with a storage stack designed for VMware instead of for general files or Logical Unit Numbers (LUNs) as used in storage area networks. This will open the way to boost the number of virtualised servers up to 80 per cent from the current stalled 20 - 30 per cent level according to the company.

Tintri, Irish gaelic for "Lightning", is emerging from stealth with an appliance, its general availability, and the completion of two funding rounds. The main venture capital backers are NEA and Lightspeed and they have put $17m into the 35-person company.

The VMstore T440 is a 4U, rackmount, multi-cored, multi-processor, X86 server with an NFS interface across gigabit or 10gigE ports to a VMware server host. It appears as a single datastore instance in the VMware vSphere Client - connecting to vCenter Server. Multiple appliances - nodes - can be connected to one vCenter Server to enable sharing by ESX hosts. Virtual machines (VMs) can be copied or moved between nodes using storage vMotion.

The T440 is a hybrid storage facility with 15 directly-attached 3.5-inch, 7,200rpm, 1TB, SATA disk drives, and 9 x 160GB SATA, 2-bit, multi-level cell (MLC) solid state drives (SSD), delivering 8.5TB of usable capacity across the two storage tiers. There is a RAID6 redundancy scheme with hot spares for both the flash and disk drives.

We think the bulk of the IP is in Tintri's software, and Tintri has this to say about it:

The Tintri VMstore file system 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. In effect, the only layer of abstraction in a Tintri device is the virtual disk itself. Every other file system relies on storage abstractions that create a fundamental mismatch between the storage and VM layers.

Concerning the endurance of the flash Tintri says:

Tintri's innovative file system solves MLC flash problems like like write amplification and latency spikes that previously made it unsuitable for enterprise environments. The Tintri file system integrates flash as a first-class storage medium rather than as a bolt-on cache to fully leverage continued improvements in flash price and performance.

The software includes inline deduplication, using Tintri-developed code and not imported dedupe technology, plus standard, public domain compression software. Each T440 has redundant components inside such as power supplies, and dual-port NICs. The VMstore file system inside the appliance is said to be designed for reliability and fast recovery. It employs transactional schemes for non-destructive software patches with most patching complete in 30 seconds, with no VM client or end-user disruption.

A future release of the product will provide dual controllers for additional redundancy.

The Tintri datastore can be easily managed, Tintri says, by a VMware administrator with little or no storage experience. The appliance can be set up in minutes and will support hundreds of VMs in its 8.5TB of capacity.

One beta tester, Do ST. Onge, TIBCO Software's CIO, said: "Before Tintri, our attempts to virtualise our Oracle Financials application had failed - we couldn't deliver the performance users required. With Tintri VMstore, we saw a 2X performance boost. Tintri's unique approach to deduplication and compression lets us run the entire 1TB database instance in only 177FGB of flash."

Tintri's CEO is Irishman Dr Kieran Harty, who served seven years as VMware's engineering VP. He founded Tintri with Mark Gritter in 2008. Ex NetApper Chris Bennett is the marketing VP and engineering VP Pratik Wadher comes from Data Domain.

Full-frontal marketing assault

Tintri's aim is clear; it wants to become the preferred VMware virtualised server data store, replacing all the existing storage arrays used for that purpose on grounds of performance, cost and efficiency. Whether it will stake out a role for itself as a VMware-specific storage silo depends on it sustaining its advantages in the face of the mature flash-enhanced EMC, HDS, HP, IBM, NetApp and other vendor's arrays available today.

It is opening up a full frontal assault on them in the hottest storage market in the industry and must have marketing cojones of cobalt steel. The basic idea, of abandoning LUN and legacy filesystems for a pure, VMware-dedicated storage appliance is easy to grasp. Can it deliver? Can it carry on delivering if it makes a successful entry into the market, and when the major vendors respond with marketing developments of various sorts?

This is going to be a seriously interesting marketing contest. Kudos to Tintri for opening it up.

The T440's list price is $65,000. It will be available in the first week of April through Tintri's channel. ®

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