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Analysis

DataCore's 'solid state SANs' with mega-caches to make storage virtualisation performance soar
Peter Williams By: Peter Williams, Practice Leader - IT Infrastructure Mgmt., Bloor Research
Published: 5th March 2009
Copyright Bloor Research © 2009
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Enterprises with virtual environments should be intrigued by DataCore Software's developments for its venerable software—with upcoming SANmelody 3.0 and SANsymphony 7.0 storage virtualisation releases due for general availability around month end. These include a massive boost to SAN-wide performance and improvements to high availability.

A slight delay has meant DataCore providing only a pre-announcement at CeBIT this week—but it does seem a pretty big deal. With 30,000 instances of these two venerable solutions now installed, there could be quite a flurry of activity within the user base alone.

Both SANmelody and SANsymphony will now support for 64-bit "mega-caches" providing up to one terabyte (TB) of cache memory per node; so performance will scale linearly with each node added to the fabric. It means that the entire SAN operation for many virtual machines can be kept in SAN-wide caches avoiding the vast majority of disk I-O.

"This is a solid state SAN," James Price, vice president channel and product marketing told me, adding that this would dwarf anything in the market. "There will be a 600–1200% performance increase."

He explained that while the number one bottleneck for virtualisation was memory (CPU cycles and pure capacity), next came storage performance—limited by I-O to virtualised disk. So the need was to scale and deliver I-O at native speeds or more. This boost should be worth watching!

Previously DataCore has offered up to 20 GB of cache, which Price said had been competitive, but, driven by increasing virtualisation, 16–32 GB cache would be a common requirement with a lot of customers. That's a long way from the TB maximum so provides oodles of expansion for those who find they need more.

Price said that its software was engineered for virtualised environments."Virtualisation is native to our DNA." Work has been proceeding apace in the past. While physical attachment would continue to be supported, the company had found over 70% of its revenue was coming from four leading virtualisation platforms (Citrix, Microsoft, Parallels and VMware).

This partly explains its new optimised disk utilisation for Citrix XenServer, XenDesktop and XenApp environments, with the solutions ‘Citrix Ready' for XenServer 5. This should mean an affordable, simple-to-run but flexible way of configuring and managing storage systems—in combination with the scalability already described.

The company is also offering a suite of SANmelody-based Business Continuity (BC) and Disaster Recovery (DR) packages for Citrix environments including BC/DR SAN Starter Virtualisation bundles, BC/DR 32 TB SAN Virtualisation bundle, as well as SANsymphony bundles. Because of the performance boost, it becomes feasible for Citrix customers, in particular, to grow their storage pools from a few hundred gigabytes to multiple petabytes.

In fact, it looks like DataCore is thinking especially of large enterprises and cloud storage environments. It refers to immense storage pools which will be in constant flux—and the product enhancements have been fully integrated into DataCore's high availability solutions for Citrix disk farms. DataCore is claiming maintenance, upgrades, expansion, and failures to parts of the storage infrastructure can occur without application disruption.

There's also optional ‘before- and after- the fact' thin provisioning of virtual disks for SANmelody and SANsymphony to avoid tying up physical capacity. Since virtual machines typically use only a small fraction of the total volume assigned to them, the software will automatically reclaim thinly provisioned space previously occupied in the background after applications or file systems zero it out. So the SAN gives back capacity temporarily needed to optimise resource usage.

DataCore's "Transporter" migration facility is another new option designed to cut out long backups and restores caused by complicated format conversions. It migrates disk images and workloads between different operating systems, hypervisors and storage subsystems.

Finally (for now because there is more), a re-architecting of SANmelody 3.0 and SANsymphony 7.0 has been needed to fully exploit the power and scalability of 64-bit Windows Server 2008—both virtual and physical platforms—to provide universal storage controllers. Everything in these solutions will now support x64 technology.

So it all sounds good but the proof will be in the eating; only a few weeks to wait.

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Published by: IT Analysis Communications Ltd.
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