Tintri VMstore T5000: All-flash and VM-aware

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Tintri's new all-flash storage array uses VM-aware software that pushes it to the top of the pile in terms of delivering and managing performance.

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PROS
• Support for VMware, Hyper-V and other leading hypervisors
• Storage provisioned, monitored and managed at the VM level
• Storage QoS tools can guarantee storage performance to individual VMs
• Simple web-based management interface
• vCenter plug-in for VMware deployments
• Independent VM snapshot, clone and recovery tools

CONS
• Lacks a native plug-in to manage Tintri storage from within the Microsoft console
• Expensive

Price
From £60,000 (ex. VAT)


Network storage vendor Tintri has released a new range of all-flash VMstore appliances to sit alongside its existing hybrid product range. There's nothing remarkable in that, as storage vendors have been busy abandoning magnetic disks in favour of solid-state alternatives for some time, mostly on the back of plummeting SSD prices. Lower prices make it possible to leverage the clear performance, availability and space-saving advantages of flash without the price premium. Where Tintri differs is in its VM-Aware Storage (VAS) architecture, with which the company claims to be able to balance storage loads at the VM level as well as make major inroads into management overheads.

Industry-standard hardware

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There's nothing particularly special about the hardware behind the new VMstore T5000 series, which is based on industry-standard components. At just two rack units it's a lot more compact than the existing 4U hybrid T800 series, but otherwise it's little more than the hybrid appliance with the spinning disks removed and more SSDs added.

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Image: Tintri

Everything is hidden away behind a smart-looking white facia that masks dual hot-swap power supplies and controllers for high availability. On the connectivity side, each controller can be equipped with either four or six 10GbE network interfaces with failover link aggregation and VLAN tagging as standard.

Another plus is that, because the T5000 shares the same OS (it requires Tintri OS 4.0 or higher) and VM-level analytics as the existing hybrid appliances, the two can be integrated and managed together in the same rack, saving you having to rip-and-replace to add the all-flash product to an installation. The all-flash appliance can also be used for replication and failover in combination with its hybrid stablemates.

Choose your capacity

There are three all-flash configurations to choose from, all using 12Gbps SAS SSDs, starting with the entry-level VMstore T5040. This ships with 5.76TB of raw flash capacity, which isn't much compared to a lot of consumer products, but is standard for an enterprise appliance. And when you factor in the inline data deduplication and compression technologies available via Tintri OS, you get a much more decent 18TB.

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The VMstore T5000 appliance features all-flash storage plus redundant power supplies and management controllers.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research

The figures rise again to a native 11.5TB (36TB deduped/compressed) for the mid-range T5060 with, on the top-of-the-range T5080, a raw capacity of 23TB, or up to 73TB with deduplication and compression.

Unsurprisingly for a storage product aimed at customers with virtualised datacenters, Tintri also rates its appliances in terms of the number of VMs each can handle. The T5040 can cope with a maximum of 1,500 VMs, the T5060 2,500 while the T5080 has ceiling of 5,000. And all in just 2U of rack space in each case, which is pretty impressive.

Virtually different

The Tintri hardware, then, is fairly standard. But it's how the storage is presented and managed that makes it stand out from the crowd - and, arguably, justify the hefty price tag associated with the new appliance.

The argument here is that while the traditional way of connecting network storage - where block-based access and SCSI LUNs rule - may be fine for physical servers, it simply can't cut it in the age of the hypervisor. Not least because, with hundreds of virtual machines running on the same host, traditional storage solutions are unable to differentiate between individual VM workloads. That, in turn, means that business-critical applications can't be prioritised or protected against less-important noisy neighbours or potential storage hogs.

This hasn't gone unnoticed, and storage vendors have all come up with technologies to address such issues. Most, however, are based around pre-emptive disk pooling strategies and the use of logical volumes to divide up and isolate storage resources. These tend to be complex to manage and offer little help when it comes to diagnosing performance issues at the VM or application level.

Tintri's answer is to abandon block-based storage access altogether and devise its own native file system to run on the appliance, presenting storage to client hypervisors as a simple shared resource. In effect, the Tintri appliance becomes a virtual datastore, with Tintri OS offering up its storage to hypervisors as one large pool through a network file system - NFS in the case of VMware and SMB3 for Microsoft Hyper-V.

Tintri VMstore appliances can also be used with Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, XenServer 6.5 and OpenStack.

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From its web-based dashboard, Tintri users can monitor, provision, manage and troubleshoot the storage in a VMstore - and do so at the VM level across multiple hypervisors.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research

This approach really does make storage a great deal easier to manage. Rather than have to mess about with LUNs, disk pooling and suchlike, with Tintri you simply assign storage from the single pool and associate it with a specific VM. Moreover, in the case of VMware this can be done using a VCenter plug-in, with something similar in development for Hyper-V.

Alternatively, storage can be assigned and managed from Tintri's web-based interface regardless of hypervisor architecture with, for large deployments, a tool called Tintri Global Center for real-time management of up to 32 VMstores across multiple locations.

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You can monitor and manage up to 32 VMstores from the optional Tintri Global Center console.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research

The Tintri GUI is both easy to understand and informative, showing at a glance what's going on using simple metrics to indicate available storage performance and capacity reserves, as well as how these resources are currently assigned.

There's no need to worry about RAID levels, disk pools or volumes: you simply click on a metric and start managing it - no other storage appliance makes it this easy. And when it comes to troubleshooting capacity and performance issues, it's equally simple, with clear metrics right there at the VM level.

Tintri OS will also do its best to balance storage loads automatically, but you can still go in and fine-tune the settings directly. Click on a VM that seems to be hogging the available performance, for example, and you can set a new IOPs ceiling for that workload simply by dragging with the mouse on the graph displayed.

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Here we set a new maximum throughput rate for a VM by using the mouse to drag the 'max' indicator on the displayed graph - the arrow shows where the change was made.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research

Beyond that, Tintri lets you encrypt the VMstore as well as providing tools to take snapshots of individual VMs and clone VMs - and do so incredibly quickly compared to the tools provided by hypervisors directly. You can also take advantage of a tool called SyncVM to time-travel back and forwards between snapshots, making it easy to, for example, recover accidentally deleted data or rapidly update child VMs in a DevOps environment. And whereas other storage solutions require you to recover entire LUNs, with Tintri you can restore individual files for a guest OS.

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Individual files for a guest OS can be restored from a Tintri snapshot.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research

Raising the profile

We spent some time checking out Tintri's management and troubleshooting tools, using a remote connection to the company's own storage lab, and found the VMstore and its software refreshingly straightforward and easy to understand.

Tintri has ambitious plans to extend the analytics capabilities - in particular to help identify potential capacity and performance issues before they become a problem, with the option of further balancing storage workloads via migration between VMstore appliances.

The first implementation, which is limited to manual migration, is due in a few months; a fully automated version that can move workloads transparently between appliances is expected to follow later this year.

This should help to raise the profile of the innovative Tintri VMstore appliance, which could arguably use a boost when it comes to promotion and marketing. Tintri certainly has a good story to tell, and for the second year in a row has been positioned as a Visionary in Gartner's 2015 Magic Quadrant for general-purpose storage arrays.

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