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Formation Data Systems can help recapture unused storage

Startup Formation Data releases new feature for FormationOne software-defined storage to enable users to recapture unused storage capacity in their VMware environments.

Startup Formation Data Systems added a way for customers of its storage software platform to take advantage of unused capacity in VMware virtualized servers.

The Virtual Storage Recapture (VSR) feature is part ofthe FormationOne Dynamic Storage Platform, which was launched in February. FormationOne supports iSCSI block storage, NFS file storage and object storage through an S3 API. The software runs on commodity server hardware and can scale out to hundreds and potentially thousands of nodes.

"Our core objective is to be able to have the features and functions of a midrange storage array -- the ability to start small and grow," said Formation Data Systems CEO Mark Lewis, a former CTO at EMC. "You don't have to buy petabytes."

Freemont, Calif.-based Formation Data System's new Virtual Storage Recapture (VSR) feature is not the standard fare of midrange storage systems. Lewis said potential customers testing the software asked if Formation Data Systems could find a way for them to use their existing unused storage capacity.

"I tried doing this before. I built a product at EMC called Invista. I built a number of things to try to virtualize arrays and provide a management layer on top of arrays. I guess ViPR is kind of doing that now for EMC," Lewis said. But prior approaches were "generally not successful and very hard to do economically because you already have the cost of the array."

The new VSR software is a "small sliver" of the FormationOne storage manager that deploys as a VM. The lightweight VM enables the system to discover and virtualize unused disk and flash storage from the physical hypervisor host servers, VM-attached arrays and hyper-converged systems. Users can create new pools of virtualized storage and centrally manage the recaptured capacity as part of the FormationOne system.

It's quite possible that terabytes of storage are just sitting out there in a number of environments that could be used for better things.
Steven Hillsenior storage analyst, 451 Research

Lewis said one early adopter has so much available storage that it did not purchase any new hardware to test the Formation Data Systems product. The company's initial use case relies on the VSR feature to recapture storage from existing hardware.

"Many companies purchase servers that ship with storage as part of the basic build, and VSR is an easy way to make that available to a VMware environment," said Steven Hill, senior storage analyst at 451 Research, via email. "It's quite possible that terabytes of storage are just sitting out there in a number of environments that could be used for better things. It's also a potential way for companies to repurpose aging servers to provide additional on-premises storage for any number of purposes."

Hill said the capability to recapture unused storage capacity has been "done in the past, but not to the degree of scalability as Formation Data is doing with the new VSR feature."

Lewis said ViPR and other management products "come in as an overlay piece of software and virtualize whatever resource is behind it and then project it out."

"We're not trying to virtualize the entire resource. If you have an array that's 75% full, and it's doing all of this work in the SAN, we're not going to manage that array," Lewis said. "We're not trying to take over that storage and provide an intermediary to your legacy apps or whatever you're running. We're not trying to manage your existing environment. We're just trying to let you project excess resources from that environment as a part or as all of the storage you need to create a new environment."

The initial VSR release targets VMware environments. Lewis said the company will test VSR on other hypervisors, such as Microsoft's Hyper-V and KVM, based on customer demand.

VSR is a free feature with the purchase of a FormationOne subscription, which is based on capacity under management. A minimum configuration of FormationOne consists of three nodes and about 20 TB to 25 TB of capacity at a price of $2,000 to $2,500. Lewis said discounts kick in at about 250 TB.

Rick Walsworth, Formation Data's vice president of marketing, said the startup has 15 organizations testing the product and/or doing proofs of concept. Most use FormationOne for block and file deployments, while object is "still in the experimental stage," according to Lewis.

"We're not going to take on the tier 0 and high-end SAN stuff," Lewis said. "We know that's like the mainframe market. That's not moving for a while. We're not going for the just cheap-and-deep Cleversafe [object storage] kind of market. Literally the most expensive and the most inefficient area is the midrange array. They're still highly customized. They're still segmented and hard to manage and scale. That's where we're focused."

FormationOne supports standard storage capabilities such as snapshots, clones, deduplication and tiering. Two features that have gained traction with early adopters are quality of service (QoS), prioritizing I/O and throughput on a per-volume basis, and TimeLine journaled data protection, providing the ability "to roll back to literally any point in time," according to Lewis.

Lewis likened TimeLine to continuous data protection, but he said the FormationOne feature is built in without the need for another box. He said the feature has been popular with organizations that need to improve their recovery time and recovery point objectives.

Scott Sinclair, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said Formation would probably have a strong play in server virtualization and big data environments, among organizations "looking to move to more cloud-like, software-defined, data center-like internal architecture."

"They have a solid potential to make a substantial impact on the storage market," Sinclair said, citing FormationOne's "ability to not only abstract itself from the underlying hardware but ensure that the right level of storage resources are delivered to the applications through things like QoS."

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