VM-based storage platform scales out to multiple sites

New arrays and software from Tintri can create a pool of storage for as many as 64,000 VMs

Enterprises that want their storage organized around virtual machines will get more hardware options and greater scalability later this year from Tintri, a startup that specializes in VM-based storage.

On Tuesday, Tintri updated its VMstore line of appliances with two new models and unveiled Tintri Global Center, which lets IT administrators manage multiples of the company's boxes as one system. Both the hardware and software are scheduled to ship by the end of the year.

Tintri rejects conventional ways of organizing storage capacity, so instead of arranging volumes and LUNs (logical unit numbers) of data, administrators manage a pool of storage with allocations for each VM. This can be a useful way of administering storage for highly virtualized workloads, Forrester Research analyst Henry Baltazar said. Tintri's arrays aren't suited to general-purpose storage, but as both small and large enterprises virtualize more servers, Tintri is relevant to a growing number of IT shops.

"Even though it seems like it's a very niche play ... its a niche that's growing really fast," Baltazar said.

Tintri's new VMstore T600 series includes options for both large and medium-size enterprises. At the high end, the T650 has a "usable" capacity of 33TB on a combination of hard disk drives and flash, while the smaller T620 has 13.5TB. But the company doesn't characterize its arrays in those terms. Instead, it says the bigger system can provide storage for 2,000 VMs and the smaller for 500 VMs. The VMstore T650 is priced starting at US$139,000 and the VMstore T620 at $74,000.

For typical virtualized workloads, performance is what enterprises need most, said Kieran Harty, Tintri's co-founder and CEO. Tintri delivers that performance through smarter caching, he said: Because its software knows which VMs are generating which I/O traffic, it can place highly used data in a solid-state cache in a more fair way and prevent one application from hogging the cache.

Being smarter about storage is one of the missing pieces in virtualization, according to Harty.

"You can manage your hosts, but your storage is really a black box," Harty said. Like traditional network infrastructure, typical storage systems lag behind servers when it comes to the flexibility that virtualization offers, he said.

Tintri Global Center is the company's scale-out play. It can manage as many as 32 Tintri arrays in multiple locations, which means 64,000 VMs if all those systems are T650s. The architecture of the Global Center software is actually designed to handle as many as 1 million VMs, Harty said, but Tintri isn't claiming that yet. For one thing, the user interface will have to work faster to show all those VMs to administrators. "It's really about testing and the snappiness of the UI," Harty said.

The company, which shipped its first products in 2011, is focused on helping enterprises consolidate servers and maximize performance for virtualized desktops and applications such as Oracle, SAP and Microsoft Exchange. Through greater efficiency, its architecture can cut capital and operating expenses. Tintri's platform is not intended for general storage or petabytes of unstructured files such as video, audio and scientific data, Harty said. The company has close to 250 customers, he said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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