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Hedvig software-defined storage aims to advance the market

Hedvig, whose founder created Cassandra and Amazon Dynamo, looks to disrupt storage with a distributed platform that virtualizes hyperscale storage.

Hedvig came out of stealth this week with distributed storage software that aims to virtualize any type of commodity...

hardware and can achieve petabyte scale for cloud deployments.

Hedvig founder and CEO Avinash Lakshman invented the Cassandra distributed database system at Facebook and helped invent the Amazon Dynamo NoSQL database. He spent the past two-plus years raising $12.5 million at Hedvig and working to bring distributed systems capabilities to storage. Lakshman calls the Hedvig Distributed Storage Platform "a modern approach to software-defined storage."

"I took a look at virtualization, storage and the cloud, and I felt there was no fundamental innovation in storage over the last decade at least," Lakshman said. "Most of the innovation that happened was incremental. I felt I had accumulated a unique set of skills having built the kind of systems I've built, and I felt that if that could be stitched together in an intelligent way, then a big industry could be disrupted fundamentally."

The goal for Hedvig software-defined storage is to turn commodity servers into petabyte-scale block (iSCSI), file (NFS) and object (Amazon Simple Storage Service and OpenStack Swift) storage. The vendor claims its software connects to any hypervisor, runs in any cloud, and provides enterprise storage capabilities such as inline deduplication/compression, thin provisioning, server-side caching, snapshots/clones, auto tiering and wide striping.

Hedvig Distributed Storage is expected to become generally available around mid-year, but the vendor said early customers are using the software. Those include Intuit, Van Dijk Education, and Paul Hastings LLP.

Hedvig says its software can support hyper-converged or hyperscale workloads. It scales compute and storage independently in a hyperscale deployment, and scales them together as a hyper-converged system.

Lakshman said Hedvig software can provide storage for server virtualization or serve as commodity-based cloud storage or elastic storage to virtualize Hadoop and NoSQL big data applications.

Think of DataCore or EMC ViPR created for distributed cloud workloads -- Hedvig software replicates to data centers and clouds, and self-heals by automatically re-creating failed node data on another node in the cluster.

Lakshman said Hedvig will sell the application as standalone software, or package it on an appliance for customers who prefer a turnkey approach. He said there is no theoretic limit on how many server nodes can be managed in a cluster. Pricing will be based on capacity.

No flash is required, but any virtual disk can be pinned to flash as well as hard disk drives.

Hedvig was originally called Quexascale but Lakshman said he wanted a non-traditional sounding company name. "We sat around and put together a list of terms that you can take as attributes of next-generation storage," he said. "We wrote down hyperscale, elastic, distributed, virtual, intelligent and granular. That is Hedvig."

With brash claims, Hedvig software-defined storage has a lot to prove

It's hard to believe a startup with fewer than 30 people can be the disruptive force Hedvig claims it will become. Instead of promising to be the right storage for practically any type of deployment, Hedvig will likely have to narrow its focus to succeed.

Mark Peters, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said Hedvig software-defined storage fits the basic definition of the term, but must find the right market.

"Everyone is trying to claim software-defined storage just like they claimed cloud five years ago," Peters said. "And just like we've had different forms of cloud, there will be different forms of software-defined storage."

"Hedvig's product looks comprehensive. I do think they're talking about the purist's version of software-defined storage -- software that you run on anyone's hardware. But they're not the only people who have tried that. You had the DataCores and Falconstors of the world who, for whatever reason, never made the leap to the big time," Peters said.

Peters said Hedvig also must compete with virtual storage products from EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM and NetApp.

Like any startup, Hedvig will have to prove it can work better than the established vendors.

"You need to create credibility to make a change in the market," Peters said. "You need to have a product that works, and it takes time for people to accept that a product works. Then it will make a difference if they get some big users on board."

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How innovative do you think Hedvig's Distributed Storage will be?
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Comparison to Ceph?
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Ah, so it's not related to the play Hedvig and the Angry Inch? I wondered.

Anything that lets enterprises make use of commodity hardware I think is a good idea. The problem any startup has, no matter how innovative, is to convince the enterprise buyer that the company is still going to be around in a couple of years. What's the company's exit strategy? Do they plan to go public or get purchased by somebody?
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Well, Mr. Laksham has already distinguished himself with his work on AWS Dynamo and Apache Cassandra (facebook), so Hedvig ought to be taken seriously after a couple of years of development in stealth mode. On the surface Hedvig sounds a bit like Sage Weil's Ceph with its ability to provide block, file and object storage. Ceph began as an open source project which was commercialized by InkTank and bought by Red Hat last April for $175M. The ideas in Ceph were developed by Mr. Weil in his PhD dissertation in 2007. So you can see there was some lag time between conceptualization and delivery of a commercial supported product. Hedvig, which makes no claim about being open source, is operating on a shorter timeframe but will still face a gestation period before it will be embraced by a larger commercial audience. That said, if Hedvig turns out to be "insanely great" it could gain more acceptance sooner rather than later. Since Hedvig has just emerged from "stealth mode" there is not a lot of information on its performance or cost. I guess we will have to wait for that while everyone at Hedvig is knee-deep in the hoopla.
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