It’s been a little over three years since I first was introduced to Avere Systems at what was SNW Europe (now Powering The Cloud) in Frankfurt.  At the time, the positioning on their FXT hardware platform was as an edge “caching” filer to allow core NAS assets to be extended to branch offices without sacrificing on performance.  The technology could have been viewed as simply a protocol extension/WAN optimisation platform, in the same vein as products from the likes of Riverbed, however that’s far from what the product was even then.

Avere hadn’t simply provided the market with a storage gateway (another term we should carefully avoid).  Instead their caching appliance stores state and manages its own internal filesystem, allowing reads and writes to be cached locally on the appliance (returning an immediate acknowledgement to the host), with write I/O updates offloaded back to the core filer as an asynchronous process.  The result is a claimed 50:1 reduction in I/O traffic between core and edge, with write I/O mainly accounting for this 2%.

The core aim of the product has always been the separation of NAS capacity from performance, allowing more flexibility for customers in how they access their NAS-based content.  As the platform has evolved, each release of AvereOS, the software powering FXT has seen the delivery of new features that extend this core message.

AvereOS 1.0 was all focused on performance.  AvereOS 2.0 introduced the idea of a global namespace, allowing FXT edge filers to own the logical to physical mapping of the NAS filesystem.  AvereOS 3.0 introduced the idea of data management with FlashMove and FlashMirror, features that provide the ability to move data or replicate data between core filers respectively.  The data mobility features provided the baseline for AvereOS 4.0, which allows core data to be stored in the “cloud” on Amazon Web Services’ S3 (Simple Storage Service) platform or on private object storage such as that from Cleversafe Inc.

Inverting the Pyramid

All of the above features are concentrated on retaining capacity in the core and accelerating I/O performance at the edge, with a focus on placing compute with the edge filers to gain the lowest level of latency.  Today I was briefed by Ron Bianchini (CEO) and Rebecca Thompson (VP, Marketing) on AvereOS 4.5, the latest O/S release and the first to step away from delivering a purely hardware appliance.

As of 31st October 2014, Avere announced the immediate availability of vFXT, a virtual appliance version of the FXT hardware Edge Filer that runs on Amazon’s EC2 Compute Cloud.  Data continues to be stored in core filers as before, however the vFXT provides the ability to enable data access to compute services running on EC2.  The benefits of this become immediately obvious; applications can be pushed to the cloud and still access data retained on-premises, with the vFXT filer storing only the active subset of the core data.  This effectively enables “cloudbursting”, a much used term for something that in reality is actually hard to achieve.  In fact there are a number of benefits that spring to mind:

  • EC2 can now be truly used for burst capacity in processing data, for example in media processing where processor core count and low latency is key.
  • EC2 spot capacity can be used more efficiently as the data is effectively “immediately” available to the spot instance, allowing the lowest spot price to be achieved.
  • Data doesn’t need to be moved to the cloud, incurring the overhead of having to manage data in a new location with all the associated encumbrances like backup and data consistency (e.g. locating the most current copy).
  • Cloud risks and concerns become easier to mitigate as the cloud only holds a cache copy of the original data, meaning the customer can retain the primary copy wherever they choose (e.g. onsite) and destroy the cloud copy at any time.

Now as with everything there are some issues to consider.  Networking is the main one that many customers will grapple with configuring as VPCs in AWS aren’t straightforward.  Similarly, there will need to be discussions on how to extend the security model from the corporate data centre, into AWS, however these things are well established and can be delivered with adequate documentation and a degree of professional services.  From a pricing perspective, there is obviously a licence charge for vFXT and customers will need to pay for their own EC2 instances that run the software.

The Architect’s View

Avere have ‘inverted the pyramid” of data access, demonstrating that the new paradigm of moving data to compute can be achieved in the public cloud.  The company continues to innovate with their technology, surely making them an acquisition target for one of the major players.  vFXT can be deployed standalone with no need to have existing hardware.  This will make the platform attractive for customers who want to “try before they buy”, providing another beachhead to acquiring new customers.  The only question left to ask is what could possibly be left for delivery in AvereOS 5.0?

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Written by Chris Evans