I had the pleasure of attending Storage Field Day 3 in April. We saw many company presentations, including one from Exablox, and one from PernixData that I'm really excited to share with TechRepublic readers.
PernixData's insightful and exciting presentation was chock-full of technical content. One of the first things CTO, Satyam Vaghani, told us in this presentation is that one of the company's initiatives is to make its product, Flash Virtualization Platform (FVP), accessible for every data center. At Storage Field Day we saw quite a pattern...almost everyone was talking about flash. The differences, though, were where this flash was placed: on the server or on the storage array. Vaghani said the ideal system would take care of the IOPS problem at the server and wouldn't need to go to the storage tier. This would be the fastest solution, and this is where PernixData's FVP comes in.
FVP is a software solution that currently only works with the VMware hypervisor on vSphere 5.0 and above, although there may be plans to integrate it with Microsoft's Hyper-V. FVP sits in the hypervisor kernel, which is as close as you can get when you're dealing with IOPS. It requires the ESXi servers to have some sort of flash hardware installed. As long as VMware's HCL has approved it, it's okay to use. On a side note, many people believe that flash will start coming with new servers soon, so it won't be an "extra" that you have to order and install. FVP is a fault tolerant, write acceleration software that utilizes the server flash as a cache, with no disruption to the VMware software.
What does all that mean? Well, basically, it lessens the amount of IO that has to be sent all the way back to your storage array. Data that is accessed more commonly is kept on the flash in the server so that it can be accessed more quickly with possibly higher performing storage (flash) than you might have on your storage array (SAS or NL SAS, but could also have flash). This data is also copied to your storage array, so there should not be a loss of data if you lose the server flash. For a more detailed explanation on how this is done, please read Ilja Coolen's blog post.
Historically server-side flash hasn't been a great solution because the magic of VMware vSphere is in the way it uses clusters to pool resources. Server-side flash hasn't been able to maintain this kind of high availability. FVP solves this issue by creating its own clusters and replicating any necessary virtual machine data to each server that has FVP installed on the hypervisor kernel. It uses your current vMotion network to replicate the data automatically. So now if you need to vMotion a VM to another host, you can do that and you won't lose any of the performance savings. VMware's HA will also work as it should without any performance loss.
You can manage the FVP software by using a vCenter plugin. As many FVP clusters can be created as you like, but the intent is to just create one unless you have testing to do or something like that. The plugin is the only thing that looks different on the vCenter console. All other vSphere functions should be carried out as you normally would. So, you're not losing a whole lot of time learning how to use the software. Some other nice points are you don't need to have flash installed on each ESXi server for this to work, you just need to have FVP installed. Obviously, the servers without flash won't have the same performance gains, but everything will still work as it should. This also means that if for some reason you need to pull the flash out of your server, or it just stops working, you will not experience any downtime on the VMware side.
It's often difficult to decide whether to start following, much less, investing in a startup. I know I'm very interested in PernixData, though. Not only because its product sounds so promising, but also because the CTO actually created VMware's VMFS while he worked for VMware. He understands how the software works and has a proven track record.
If you're interested in learning more about PernixData or even trying it out, there is a public beta available on the PernixData website. The first version of the product has not been released yet, but they're hoping to release it before the end of the year. I can't say enough about this product and highly recommend doing more research on it.
Lauren Malhoit is a VMware vExpert '12, '13 and a member of the EMC Elect. She works as a Solutions Implementation Engineer at Network Storage Inc., where her main concentrations are on VMware, EMC, and Cisco. She has a degree in Computational Mathematics from Hillsdale College and has worked on several certifications, including CCNP, MCSE: Security, and VCP 5.