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'Alexa, provision my Tintri storage'

Want to manage your Tintri storage the same way you turn on lights, set an alarm, or choose music with an Amazon Echo or Dot device?

Tintri Inc. launched a proof of concept that lets customers ask Amazon’s Alexa voice service to initiate tasks such as provisioning virtual machines (VMs), taking snapshots and applying quality of service.

Tintri storage engineers used Amazon’s software development kit to map its application programming interfaces (APIs) to the Alexa service to enable Echo and Dot devices to recognize and execute storage commands.

Chuck Dubuque, vice president of product marketing at Tintri, said Tintri will use feedback on the proof of concept to gauge the potential to turn the “cool demo” into a product.

A video demonstration shows a Tintri employee instructing Amazon Alexa to ask the system to provision a VM. Alexa prompts the user with questions such as “What type of VM would you like to create?” and “How many VMs would you like to create?”

Dubuque admitted that using Amazon Echo beyond home use cases might be “a little further out” in the future. But the proof of concept gives Tintri experience using Amazon’s voice recognition and natural language capabilities and making its self-service APIs more responsive to human commands, he said.

“It’s relatively easy to write an admin interface for the storage administrator or the VM administrator who already thinks about things at the low level around VMs and vdisks and other things,” Dubuque said. “But for people who aren’t experts on the infrastructure and just want to say, ‘Hey Alexa, create a test environment,’ what does that mean? Underlying all of the assumptions, a test environment means this set of 100 virtual machines is created from this template, put into this network with these characteristics. That’s more complicated.”

Chat option lets developers manage Tintri storage

At VMworld last August, Tintri demonstrated a text-based chat option to enable developers to collaborate with each other and manage Tintri storage. Dubuque said a customer in Japan used Tintri’s REST APIs to put together a simple robot to respond to system commands from within the Slack chat environment.

Developers in the virtual chat room could call out to a Tintribot — which appears as another “person” in the chat window — to tell the system to execute a command, such as firing up VMs to test new software.

“The Tintribot will acknowledge the command, maybe ask a few questions, and then once all of the VMs are up and running, reply back into the same chat window: ‘Hey, the 100 VMs are now ready. You can run your test,'” Dubuque said.

“It’s a way to enable self-service. In this case, it’s aligned to the developers who don’t really care about the details. They want to be able to do things on their own when they need to without having to hand it off to a third party,” to launch VMs.

Because the Slack-based ChatOps interface requires a username and password for login, the system can control what any given user is permitted to view and create a time-stamped chat audit trail in case they need to troubleshoot a problem.

“You get to see all the humans who were involved in the decision, as well as what the environment was telling you – what’s successful and what wasn’t,” Dubuque said.

Tintri is still gathering customer feedback and has not determined a general availability date for the Slack-based ChatOps that performs operations from within a chat.

“It’s definitely something that has sparked a lot of interest,” Dubuque said.

Dubuque said the Tintri storage architecture is conducive to plug-in integration with systems such as Slack and Amazon Alexa. He said the company’s key differentiator is a web services model “where the fundamental unit that we manage is around the virtualized or containerized application.

“Our file system, our I/O scheduler, all of our storage operations are at that same level that virtualization and cloud management systems use to control compute and networking,” Dubuque said. “You can think of us as finishing the trinity of network, compute and storage being all aligned to the same abstraction level, which is a virtual machine, or a container, not around physical constructs.”

Dubuque said Tintri exposes REST APIs and interfaces with PowerShell and Python through a software development kit. He said other storage vendors use REST APIs that focus on storage constructs such as LUNs and volumes and don’t directly map to an individual application. That causes complexity when trying to automate the storage component of an application.

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