As mentioned in this recent post, there’s a lot of activity in the market looking at combining storage and compute not just in the same rack (version 1.0) but within the same server infrastructure itself. We can look to Nutanix as being the first to bring this to market in a commercial product and where they have led, others have followed. Most recently we have seen Violin Memory Inc, well known for their all-flash array, release a solution that integrates Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 into their hardware platform.
In some respects it makes sense to use a storage array for virtualisation. After all, the components are basically the same in many of today’s storage platforms. As an example, there have been rumours that EMC would do something similar with VMAX or VNX, which is a story for another day. The tricky part of running the hypervisor and storage together is in the detail. Here’s some information on the Violin solution.
W2K12 R2 runs on both of the memory gateways within a 6000 series array. Each instance has 16 cores (2x 8 core processor) plus 24GB of memory with the amount of dedicated resources configured at boot time. For resilience there is a hidden heartbeat mechanism that operates between the two clustered W2K12 instances. Licensing is included within the cost of the 6000 array, although I don’t have specific details on this.
It’s a nice idea to run a hypervisor on the storage array, given that sufficient resources are available to make this workable. In device that already offers high latency, removing the storage fabric too provides for extremely high speed operations. Windows Server 2012 comes with a raft of new storage features including Storage Spaces, which are designed to work with JBOD devices and effectively deliver thin provisioning and de-duplication for any virtual machines deployed within the array itself (as these features don’t natively exist). For highly intensive workloads, this solution seems like a good deal.
Of course there has to be some downsides. Let’s think these through. This offering seems like a good for server and desktop virtualisation however I can’t help thinking that the resource ratios of compute/memory/storage might be biased too much in terms of having more IOPS and storage capacity than can be effectively used. Certainly the memory capacity seems too low for any useful scaleable Hyper-V deployment. Then there’s the question of scale-out. Violin arrays don’t scale out today, so scaling this solution would mean connecting isolated islands of compute/storage together using Infiniband. It would be very easy to have fragmented and unused resources in each deployment; not a cost effective solution. So how would things scale? Can I keep increasing memory and CPU, or am I bound to the fixed deployments documented?
The Architect’s View
For this solution to be credible, we need to see some good examples of workload running on the box; many VMs and desktops or a large-scale SQL or SharePoint deployment. The issues of scaling need to be explored and explained; how could this solution become a scale-out architecture? Much of this may be in the works and yet to see the light of day. Will Violin support VMware? I don’t see why not; we’re moving to a scenario where the hypervisor is almost free and is, in some cases. Converged 1.0 was hardware in the same rack. Converged 2.0 is compute/storage/network on the same physical platform. It wouldn’t surprise me to see other vendors moving forward with these kinds of solutions, as the future of the dedicated storage array steadily declines.
- Violin Scale-out Memory Platform Accelerates Windows Applications in the Enterprise Cloud (Violin Memory Press Release)
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