Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/05/10/vipr_bite_back/

Rivals tout antidotes to EMC's ViPR bite

Clowns, beef, ringleaders, fire brigades... PAH! - HDS

By Chris Mellor

Posted in Storage, 10th May 2013 09:25 GMT

Comment How do you avoid a snakebite from the ViPR that EMC has let loose in the storage jungle? El Reg storage desk has spoken to some of its competitors about their "software-defined" antidotes.

ViPR is a layer of storage virtualisation software that separates upper-level storage management functions (which EMC calls the "storage control plane") from lower, storage access type (file, block, object) array-level functions (which EMC calls the "data plane").

ViPR can work as a storage controller for traditional and newer infrastructures and also talk to older systems, EMC said on Monday.

ViPR is not in the data path and it can issue its storage management function requests to underlying arrays such as EMC's VMAX, VNX, Isilon and Atmos products, plus NetApp FAS arrays. EMC is also promising more third-party array support. EMC claims ViPR can also talk to commodity storage that may be leased by cloud service providers.

In short, ViPR is EMC's software-defined storage product - and, as you all know, "software defined" is the new "cloud".

We have comments from HDS, NetApp, Nexenta and Solidfire.

HDS: We've been doing it for years...

HDS's Michael Hay, product planning VP, blogged about ViPR, saying: "We innovated separation of the control and data planes within the block storage infrastructure layer and Hitachi has subsequently cascaded this approach in our Hitachi NAS Platform (HNAS) and HCP offerings.

"Moreover, a deeper look at our Hitachi Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) and its little brother Hitachi Unified Storage VM (HUS-VM) reveals a Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) ensuring a high degree of flexibility in our choice of physical infrastructure — hmm ... I wonder where that is going."

Rather confusingly, he adds:

So this week if you’re spellbound by a ringleader’s sizzling showmanship while he announces the latest hijinks of the Bourne clown troupe masquerading as a fire brigade to “save the storage world as we know it,” pause and ask: “Where’s the beef?” If you ask this question, and I believe you will, I have an answer for you and it is coming later this month.

Are we going to see a HUS-VM type of product that's available just as software?

NetApp says EMC is trying to catch up

NetApp says it's glad EMC has embraced a software-defined storage strategy because that's what NetApp has been doing for years with ONTAP, decoupling storage services from storage hardware devices. It says its SVM (Storage Virtual Machine) functionality in Clustered Data ONTAP provides hardware independence and it can use NetApp hardware or commodity hardware in the cloud through Amazon Web Services.

Well, yes, software-defined storage means storage defined by software and, in EMC's sense, software divorced from the hardware and using the hardware as it sees fit (via APIs). Thus ViPR is layered above VMAX, VNX, Isilon and Atmos arrays in EMC's product pantheon. It's just an app that runs in servers.

This isn't quite the same as ONTAP, which is an array-based operating system and doesn't, for example, run on NetApp's E-Series array products, which have their own SANtricity operating system. A NetApp version of ViPR would run above its FAS (ONTAP) arrays and E-Series arrays.

NetApp has its V-Series devices - servers running ONTAP - which it describes thus: "NetApp V-Series open storage controllers provide leading data protection, data management, and storage efficiency for your existing EMC, HDS, HP, IBM, and Fujitsu storage arrays... Enable NAS and SAN gateways to your current storage arrays with V-Series’ support for multiple protocols (NFS, CIFS, iSCSI, FCoE, and FC)."

But you cannot buy the V-Series software separated from the V-Series controller (server) hardware on which it runs. It is not divorced from the hardware although it is, effectively, just another X86 app. You can buy ONTAP Edge, NetApp software which runs as a VMware VM VIrtual Storage Appliance (VSA) and includes ONTAP-V.

Data ONTAP Edge converts the server’s internal disk drives into a flexible storage platform, giving you many of the same benefits as a dedicated NetApp storage system...

Data ONTAP Edge includes the NetApp Data ONTAP-v operating system, whose native data deduplication and FlexClone, SnapVault, and SnapRestore software leverages your central site’s NetApp storage system for data backup, data recovery, and archiving of remote-site data. The result is that your remote offices can participate in your shared IT infrastructure with the same levels of efficiency and flexibility that Data ONTAP provides in your data centre.

SVM doesn't appear on NetApp's website product page or the A-to-Z product list. NetApp could, if it wished, extend ONTAP V so that it became a fully fledged storage management system that virtualised heterogeneous arrays and, effectively do what ViPR does - become "ONTAP's ViPR", in effect.

Nexenta says it's the leader: Would anyone agree?

Nexenta supplies NexentaStor, a ZFS-based storage operating system that its partners twin with disk and solid state drives to build storage arrays. Its storage is as software-defined as they come and Nexenta declares it is the leading software-defined storage company.

Its CEO, Mark Lockareff, said: "Having a company like EMC enter our market certainly validates what we have been saying all along; namely, that the old storage model is broken. Customers deserve to have a choice when it comes to selecting the hardware solutions that best fit their needs, and not be held hostage by their primary storage vendor... As we learn more about EMC’s solution, I am confident we will continue to be seen as a leader in this important market space.”

The Register storage desk would like to gently point out that whether you are effectively locked in to your storage software supplier or your storage hardware supplier, you are still locked in.

But customers can, at least, choose at which level in the storage stack they prefer to be locked:

  1. Storage array hardware with included software controller.
  2. Storage software which controls your choice of hardware.
  3. Storage hypervisor which controls your choice of storage array software and hardware. This is the level where ViPR operates.
  4. Server hypervisor with included storage management functions which are put into effect by a storage hypervisor like ViPR and/or storage array controller software and hardware.

In theory, as customers move from level 1 through to 4 they will find their storage hardware (and often software) will cost less money but they may have less storage functionality. It's a possibility that ViPR could become a part of VMware's hypervisor.

SolidFire: ViPR? It's a lot like OpenStack's Cinder project

SolidFire CEO and founder Dave Wright has written a blog about ViPR here.

SolidFire ships all-flash arrays for cloud service providers and the company is a corporate sponsor of OpenStack.

Wright characterises ViPR as "a form of storage virtualisation where a software-based control plane sits in front of heterogeneous storage, simplifying basic management and provisioning. Unlike previous storage virtualisation approaches, the ViPR controller doesn't sit in the data path, it simply configures storage arrays via their proprietary protocols while providing another proprietary (but REST-based) API on top."

He thinks it's pretty similar to the OpenStack Cinder project, which "provides a simple (and open) API for managing pools of heterogeneous storage systems. Individual vendors can write open-source plugins for their storage systems, and there are more than a dozen available today." He reckons EMC should have contributed ViPR to OpenStack instead of "attempting to create a new layer of lock-in in the orchestration stack."

His conclusion is:

Anyone considering ViPR as the solution to their storage system lock-in problem will quickly find that middleware lock-in isn't really any better.

Wright reckons EMC realises storage in the cloud is a threat to its current existence, and counters: "Open source storage virtualisation software like Cinder makes it easy for customers to move their cloud workloads to the best storage platform over time. Linux had a very similar effect in leveling the playing field for x86 servers against proprietary Unix systems."

You can't just call everything 'software-defined', mate

El Reg storage desk thinks software-defined storage has to be separately available storage virtualisation software that turns heterogeneous storage hardware and any associated storage array software into pools of storage - file, block and/or object - using storage hardware that's on site/premise or in the cloud.

Going strictly by this definition, array-level software isn't software-defined storage even if it's available on its own and can use openly available commodity storage.

That type of product is better than proprietary array software from the lock-in point of view, but is only partway along the road to fully software-defined storage.

The OpenStack idea of software-defined storage is the pinnacle of the notion although it may not offer the functionality provided by proprietary software-defined storage products like ViPR.

It may also be better to abandon the confusing notion of software-defined storage and talk of storage hypervisors, like ViPR, like Cinder and like DataCore and Sanbolic's Melio on the one hand, and array-level controller software - like NexentaStor and Data ONTAP - on the other.

Saying that array-level controller software is somehow akin to storage hypervisors is, in our view, a little misleading. ®