Tuesday, 17 March 2015 11:02

SolidFire sets up shop in Australia


All-flash storage vendor SolidFire has officially opened its new Sydney office, the company's third in the Asia Pacific region.

A survey of more than 300 Australian IT decision makers (all responsible for IT spending in large organisations) conducted for SolidFire by PureProfile found 61% agreed that storage innovation played a critical or important role in enabling their IT department to remain relevant and offer next-generation applications and services to the business.

55% indicated that their current storage environment was suited to their needs over the next three to five years, and only 26% believed their current storage vendor will be able to meet their requirements over that period.

The survey "backed our assumptions," SolidFire general manager for Australia Steve Kelly told iTWire.

Storage is one of the hardest parts of IT infrastructure to manage using traditional approaches, but "there's a lot of resistance to change in corporate Australia" so SolidFire needs to show potential customers how its strategy reduces risk.

CEO Dave Wright told iTWire that SolidFire's "shared nothing" architecture does exactly that. Rather than having to determine which model of storage array will suit an organisation's needs over the next several years or face the prospect of a fork-lift upgrade, anything from four to 100 SolidFire nodes can be connected into one cluster.

Each node occupies 1U of rack space. Four models are available, ranging from 8.5TB and 50,000 IOPS to 35TB and 75,000 IOPS.

SolidFire's approach also means that storage managers do not need to worry about every application's exact capacity and performance requirements. Instead of allocating applications to a particular array or storage class, they can simply 'dial up' the space and performance required and the system automatically maintains the specified quality of service for each application. The company refers to this capability as 'guaranteed quality of service.'

If the aggregated actual requirements ever exceed the system's capacity, managers can tell it how to rebalance the load so that the most important applications get what they need to function at an acceptable level. In practice, the system provides a warning that it is beginning to run out of grunt so that one or more additional nodes can be purchased and installed before that shortfall occurs.

Inline compression and deduplication are provided, as these capabilities are "critical to making flash cost-effective" for primary storage, Wright said. "It's going to be cost effective and in many cases less expensive" than rotating storage once operational cost savings - including reduced space, power and cooling requirements, as well as the benefits of automation - are taken into account.

The various node models can be mixed and matched in a cluster in order to get the aggregate capacity and throughput needed by the application mix. Furthermore, the company's 'FlashForward' guarantee means customers are assured that any future models will be compatible with their existing storage as long as they maintain a support contract.

So upgrades are "all completely non-disruptive and transparent to applications," said Wright.

The guarantee also covers unlimited drive wear, regardless of workload.

"We don't expect many customers to reach 100 nodes," he said. Most customers run between 10 and 30 nodes, and typically adopt a 'pod' architecture for hardware (compute, storage, networking) which they replicate as necessary.

But if it should become necessary to replace a node rather than merely adding one, SolidFire's software provides a mechanism for "evacuating" all the data to other nodes and wiping the storage for safe disposal. A higher capacity and/or higher performance node can then be installed, and the software will automatically redistribute the data to take advantage of it.

This focus on automation is a key part of the next-generation data centre, Wright said. SolidFire's products were designed with automation in mind, with a REST-based API. The company's own management tools use this API, which is also usable from OpenStack and VMware's management software.

Kelly told iTWire that the company is "targeting a broad swathe of customers" in Australia, primarily enterprise-scale organisations and service providers.

Cloud provider Hosted Network's managing director Ben Town told iTWire that while his company considered all of the major storage vendors, "SolidFire ticked all the boxes."

In particular, it's "scale-out was fantastic," the guaranteed QoS feature means that if one of its VDI customers imposes a sudden heavy load (eg, by rebooting or virus-scanning hundreds of desktops simultaneously) that won't affect other customers, and SolidFire's operational simplicity were important considerations.

"We don't employ a storage engineer - we don't need to with SolidFire," Town told iTWire.

"I wanted it simple [and] it really is that simple."

Kelly said "simply throwing more traditional hardware at the data centre to respond to performance challenges is just a bandaid."

He added "This rapid shift towards the deployment of all-flash infrastructures for all tier 1 and tier 2 workloads is one of the core reasons why SolidFire's new Sydney office is at the centre of our plans for growth globally.

"We feel that all-flash storage is playing an increasingly important role in allowing IT decision-makers to innovate and turn their IT departments into thriving profit centres that deliver true value to the business."

Wright picked up this issue, observing that public cloud has provided benchmarks for IT costs and responsiveness. IT departments are increasingly expected to come close to these levels or organisations, and the scalability and cost-effectiveness of SolidFire storage systems help them do just that.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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