It’s an understatement that the data center storage space is getting rather crowded these days. The advent of Software Defined Storage (SDS) with the de-coupling of software from hardware as part of its vision, has allowed software-only companies to enter the datacenter storage arena in earnest. No less than 20 or so vendor solutions currently occupy the combined Software Defined and Hyper-Converged storage space, with no doubt more on the way. Also, the development cycle is nowhere near completion as new and established SDS/HCI platforms are still evolving rapidly in a struggle to secure a solid foothold.
One of most interesting recent entries is probably software-only vendor Springpath. The company was officially founded in May 2012 and after a development period of almost 3 years (which is pretty normal when comparing this to like companies) surfaced early 2015. Even after officially announcing its existence to the market, Springpath has been optimizing its storage software ever since. This means the go-to-market software is expected to feel more like a version 1.5 version rather than a 1.0 release. Although Springpath was officially announced back in february 2015, it’s picking up the pace with the goal of bringing the General Availability (GA) release to VMWorld which is held this week in San Fransico. The platform will first be released in the US, followed by a release in Europe later this year.
But with so many SDS/HCI platforms out there already, what makes Springpath special and worth taking a serious look at? First and foremost it’s the vision: a no compromise modern approach to meet the core requirements in todays data management and to eliminate existing challenges. The key dimensions here being data performance, data management, data services, data efficiency and data scalability. Secondly, it’s the foundation: aligning to the vision from day one and thus building a platform from the ground up. This essentially means that for example re-using an existing file system as the base and optimizing it for your own use is simply not an option and far less likely to succeed in achieving the goals set. Therefore at the heart of the Springpath platform you’ll find the in-house built, patent pending Hardware Agnostic Log-structured Object (HALO) architecture. HALO provides the necessary data distribution, data caching, data persistence, data optimization, and data services capabilities to deliver on the promise of a no compromise storage solution (click on the picture below for a larger view).
The approach in itself might not be necessarily new or innovative, as other vendors have done this before. It reminds me a lot of Nimble a few years back, a hybrid storage company that also looked at the needs and challenges first and then used the newest technology available to create intelligent storage software (CASL) in order to deliver great storage services while at the same time keeping management easy and intuitive. Anyway, while others have gone the route before, it does open certain doors to new and exciting possibilities in a broad sense. To point this out, let’s take storage efficiency for instance. All but a few SDS/HCI vendors provide deduplication and compression as mere add-ons, if these functions are there at all. It certainly is not an integral part of their core software, and as such raises the question whether the platform will behave optimal once these features are turned on. In Springpath deduplication and compression were designed to be part of the core functionality and as such are inline processes and always-on. In a world where storage technology like SSD is still not cheap, this is a great advantage when wanting to make optimal use of all resources available. That’s nice and all, but doesn’t it hurt performance, I hear you ask? If the test results from pilot environments that I’ve seen so far hold true, the Springpath platform is more than capable of delivering more than 1.5x performance that some of the other major SDS platforms can provide.
Supported Platforms and Functionality
Although the overall promise sounds great, the Springpath software – in its current version – is limited in both support and functionality. Today Springpath only offers support for the VMware vSphere platform. Last June Springpath received its official listing in the VMware Compatibility Guide for vSphere version 5.5 and 6.0, including VMware API for Storage Integration (VAAI) for NFS support. As you might know, VAAI lets you offload storage related tasks from VMware vSphere to the storage platform. To fit inside the VDI space as well, official certification for Citrix XenDesktop 7.6 has also been established. Support for Microsoft Hyper-V is planned, as is support for Docker and OpenStack. The latter will include the KVM hypervisor and the Cinder API (currently in beta). Since it has cloud integration top in mind, Springpath provides RESTful API that is Swift and S3 compatible from day one. This way Springpath can be adopted as part of the Software Defined Infrastucture (SDI).
The GA version of Springpath provides automatic data distribution, data protection based on 1 or 2 extra copies, space efficient cloning and snapshots, as well as auto-rebalancing of data when adding/removing nodes online. The platform also automatically takes corrective actions when either a physical server or physical disk fails. On the end of scalability, 24 nodes is the initial tested maximum, but by no means a maximum of the technology. Management of the platform is integrated fully with the VMware vSphere Web Client through a plug-in. Besides executing operational actions, performance and other metrics are also visible for within the Web Client. From a functional perspective the most important feature that the Springpath platform is currently lacking, is no doubt remote replication. For the time being Springpath is dependent on third-party software such as vSphere Replication or Zerto Virtual Replication. Springpath is working on built-in asynchronous replication, but when this will be actually available is still sketchy.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Springpath will evolve over the coming year. First things first though: come October I plan to take the Springpath software for a proper spin on some of the servers in our test lab. I’m very keen to see how the platform compares to other SDS/HCI offerings in the market. I’ll keep you posted on any progress from this end.