How do you download storage performance? A look at Infinio Accelerator

Many of you joined us (virtually) at Tech Field Day 9 back in June for the world premiere presentation of Infinio and their “downloadable storage performance” for VMware environments.

In the month and a half since we met Infinio, I’ve been planning to write about their presentation and their product. It’s an interesting technology, and something I can see being useful in small and large environments, but I hadn’t gotten around to piling the thoughts into the blog.

I did find that I was bringing them up in conversation more often than I do most Tech Field Day presenters (with the possible exception of Xangati). Whether I was talking to the CEO of a network optimization startup here in Silly Valley, or a sales VP for a well-established storage virtualization player at the Nth Symposium, or a couple of others, I found myself saying the same things. “Have you heard of Infinio? They just made a splash onto the scene at Tech Field Day 9. You should check them out.”

What is an Infinio?

201306 TFD9 Infinio 01 Peter Smith Model

Peter Smith, Director of Product for Infinio, introducing the “Infinio Way” of deploying the Accelerator

Infinio is a two year old, 30ish-person startup whose Accelerator product is designed to be an easy drop-in to your VMware environment. They’re focusing on making the product easy to try (including substantial engineering focus on the installation process), simple and affordable to buy, and visibly useful to your environment as soon as possible.

CEO Arun Agarwal talked up the focus on the installation process, but even more interesting was his focus on the trial and sales model. This seemed important at the time, but as time passed, I really appreciated the idea more.

Just this past week, I downloaded a “free” VM from a much larger company, only to be told in a pushy followup email that I need to provide a phone number and mailing address and get trial licenses and talk to a sales guy on the phone to do anything with the “free” VM. It was annoying enough to get to this point, and I’m disinclined to actually buy and use that product.

I want a company to provide (1) enough information on their website for me to understand the product, (2) a hands-off model for acquiring and trying out the product (even if it’s at 2am on a Saturday because I can’t sleep and I’ve got a hundred servers sitting idle in a datacenter to play with), (3) smart and non-pushy people to help me with understanding, evaluating, and maybe buying the product if I do decide to move forward–when and if I need them, and not the other way around, and (4) a product that really solves the problem.

Infinio plans to provide all these things. You can download the trial without giving a lot of information (or any, as I recall), and you can buy your licenses with a credit card on the site. This would be a refreshing model, and I’m optimistic about their being able to do it.

So what are they doing?

I was wondering that too… and seeing the phrase “downloadable storage performance” a week or so before the visit, I was dubious.

201306 TFD9 Infinio 02 Peter Smith DashboardThe Infinio Accelerator is a virtual NAS (NFS v3) accelerator for VMware. It sits between the vmkernel interface and the storage server on each host, providing a shared, deduplicated caching layer to improve performance across your systems. It also works transparently to both storage and server, so you don’t change your storage settings or ACLs (great for those of us who have siloed storage, networking, and virtualization management teams, and all the efficiencies they provide).

And possibly most impressive of all, you don’t have to reboot anything to install or remove the product.

The management console allows you to toggle acceleration on each datastore, and more importantly, monitor the performance and benefit you’re getting from the accelerator. They call out improvements in response time, request offload, and saved bandwidth to storage.

Let’s make this happen

201306 TFD9 Infinio 03 Peter Smith Improvement

It does make a difference.

Peter Smith demonstrated the Infinio Accelerator for us live, from downloading the installer from the Infinio home page (coming soon) to seeing it make a difference. The process, with questions and distractions included, came in around half an hour.

You download a ~28MB installer, and the installer will pull down about a CD’s worth of VM templates (the Accelerator and the management VM) while you go through the configuration process. (You can apparently work around this download if you need to for network/security reasons–this would be a good opportunity to enlist those smart and non-pushy people mentioned above.)

After the relatively brief installation (faster than checking for updates on a fresh Windows 7 installation, not including downloading and installing all 150 of them, mind you), Peter brought up a workload test with several parallel Linux kernel builds in 8 VMs, demonstrating a 4x speedup with the Accelerator in place even with the memory per VM halved to make room for the Accelerator.

201306 TFD9 Infinio 04 Peter Smith vTARDIS

vTARDIS, MacPro flavor

An aside about making room for Infinio: The accelerator will eat 8GB of RAM, 2 vCPUs, and 15GB of local disk space on each hypervisor host you’re accelerating. It will also use 4GB RAM, 2 vCPUs, and 20GB of storage for the management VM, on one of your hosts. So if your virtualization lab is running on your 8GB laptop, you’re gonna have a bad time, but a quad-core lab system with 32GB of RAM should be practical for testing. A typical production hypervisor host (128GB or more) will probably not notice the loss.

And a further aside about the demo system. As a big fan of Simon Gallagher’s vTARDIS concept of nesting hypervisors, I was pleased to see that the Mac Pro the Infinio folks rolled in for the demo was effectively a vTARDIS in itself. This is a pretty cool way to protect your live demo from the randomness of Internet and VPN connectivities and the very real risk that someone will turn your lab back at the home office into a demo for someone else, if your product lends itself to being demonstrated this way.

Some future-proofing considerations

The team at Infinio were very open to the suggestions that came up during the talk.

They have a “brag bar” that offers the chance to tweet your resource savings, but they understood why some companies might not want that option to be there. Some of us work (or have worked) in environments where releasing infrastructure and performance info without running the gauntlet of PR and legal teams could get us punished and/or fired.

They took suggestions of external integration and external access to the product’s information too, from being able to monitor and report on the Accelerator’s performance in another dashboard, to being able to work with the Accelerator from vCops. And they’re working on multi-hypervisor (read: Hyper-V) support and acceleration of block storage. Just takes enough beer and prioritization, we were told. 

So where do we go from here?

Infinio is releasing a more public beta of the Accelerator at VMworld in San Francisco in just a couple of weeks. Stop by and see them if you’re at VMworld, or watch their website for more details about the easy-to-use trial. You can sign up to be notified about the beta release, or just watch for more details near the end of August.

The pricing will be per-socket, with 1 year of support included[1], and hopefully it will be practical for smaller environments as well as large ones. We will see pricing when the product goes to GA later this year.

I’m planning to get the beta to try out in my new lab environment, so stay tuned for news on that when it happens.

And if you’re one of the lucky ones to get a ticket for #CXIParty, you can thank the folks from Infinio there for sponsoring this event as well. And I may see you there.

Disclosure: Infinio were among the presenters/sponsors of Tech Field Day 9, to which I was a delegate in June 2013. While they and other sponsors provided for my travel and other expenses to attend TFD9, there was no assumption or requirement that I write about them, nor was any compensation offered or received in return for this or any other coverage of TFD9 sponsors/presenters.

Some other write-ups from TFD9 Delegates (if I missed yours, let me know and I’ll be happy to add it):

[1] Update: When we talked with Infinio in June, they planned to include 3 years of support with the initial purchase. They are now planning to include 1 year with renewals beyond that being a separate item. This should make the initial purchase more economical, and make budgeting easier as well.

rsts11: Gallifrey One and Virtualization Field Day 2, and a one-two-three-four?

It’s February, the month I traditionally miss the BayLISA meeting (OpenLDAP backend with Howard Chu, and SSL with Heather Stern, if you’re interested, btw). Do you follow me on Twitter? If not, go ahead and do it! But if/when you do already…

This weekend will be pretty quiet. I’m moving stuff into my store’s warehouse, which I will write about soon.

First things first, but not necessarily in that order…

Next weekend is Gallifrey One’s Network 23, 20,000 Years Into The Future. The largest and longest-running (I think) Doctor Who fan convention in the world takes over Los Angeles with over 2000 fans from around the world, and cast and crew and writers and famous fans of the longest running television show (with continuity) in history. It will be my fourth year, and we’re expecting the entire primary cast of the 1996 television movie (including the TARDIS console), and guests from Waris Hussein and William Russell who were in on the first episode in 1963, to people who were involved in the most recent series in 2011.

I probably will not live-tweet a lot of it, partly because cellular reception in the bowels of the LAX Marriott is epicly bad. But if you see anything from me on Twitter, it will likely be Doctor Who-related. New to the good Doctor? Head to Netflix (or iTunes or Amazon) and watch yourself some.

Virtually the next week…

And just before the following weekend is Virtualization Field Day 2, a production of Gestalt IT which brings together thought leaders and truly interesting vendors for an intense two-day conference on IT technology (sometimes focused, as this session is, on a narrow area like virtualization or wireless networking).

I’m very honored to have been chosen as a delegate this time, so I’ll be camping with several other tech prognosticators and making the rounds of some of the most interesting virtualization players in Silicon Valley. You’ll likely see a blog post or two, and quite a few tweets, about what I find interesting, abominable, intriguing, or totally whiskey-tango-foxtrot.

Tech Field Day, and its WFD/VFD brethren, are interesting in that the sponsors pay to bring the thinkers together, covering the travel and living costs of the delegates for the duration of the event. Some of them choose to give freebies to the delegates, like typical vendor schwag or a sample of the company’s product.

However, there’s no requirement or expectation that delegates write about everything, agree with the sponsoring companies’ pitches and perspectives, or paint an unduly rosy picture of the sponsor or its products/services/roadmap/choice of tie. You’ll see what I think about the presenters (and my co-delegates, who I don’t believe are subject to the FTC disclosure rule but might give me cool stuff too), from an independent and personal viewpoint.

For example, if the fine folks at Xangati, who I saw at TFD5 as an evening guest, pitch their new iPhone-based VM monitor software, you will probably see me forget the </yawn> tag. But (hypothetical example only) if VMware shows up and announces the return of the VMTN (which is just a pipe dream, I know they’re thinking about bringing it back but I doubt they’ll present or announce it), that’s something that affects me and my team/company/world, so I’ll make some noise. And if Eva Longoria, Eva Mendes, and Leonard Nimoy show up for the party on Thursday, I will probably be posting pictures.

You think you’re funny?

The week after VFD2, I’ll be back on stage at Rooster T Feathers in Sunnyvale for the first round of the 10th Annual New Talent Comedy Contest. This will be my second contest appearance, and my fifth time on stage. I may get a chance to go on stage at Plan B in Sunnyvale the following weekend, for any local readers who want to see the backwaters of Sunnyvale. I don’t really expect to win the contest, but at least this year I don’t have a Disney World trip planned for finals week so, if it happens… it happens.

And so fourth…

I’ve started writing up my VMware lab configuration (with the Shuttle SH67H3 and a HP N40L Microserver), and got the Microserver installed last night. Now to find a place other than the living room floor to set them up, take a couple of pictures, and make it slightly more interesting reading.