Startup watch: Gridstore targets Hyper-V storage market

This week I spoke to Gridstore, a startup that offers storage arrays that integrate with the Microsoft Hyper-V virtualisation environment and with on-board smarts it claims boosts I/O for Hyper-V traffic.

Gridstore is delivered as a hardware appliance with its software configured on Dell servers it calls nodes. You can get two types of node – in a minimum of three – the H-Class high performance version with a mixture of PCIe flash and 12TB of spinning disk and the C-Class, aimed at less-demanding I/O applications that comes with spinning disk only. Building out these nodes can take you to a maximum capacity of around 3PB.

So far so box-standard array, but where the smarts come in is that Gridstore applies intelligence to the I/O queues. Normally, of course, virtualisation traffic creates the so-called I/O blender effect, which is when numerous virtual machines try to access disk and the potentially large number and random nature of the calls overwhelms the media.

What Gridstore does is to examine I/O coming in from different VMs and put it into queues and make that access sequential rather than random. The user can define the priority of access to storage for different VMs in a quality of service (QoS) gold, silver, bronze approach.

George Symons, CEO at Gridstore, says it “cleans up contention”, and agrees its something like what Virsto (acquired by VMware in Feb 2013) does, but at the storage not the host.

What’s also interesting is that Gridstore’s controller software is integrated with Hyper-V at the level of its operating software, working like a driver specific to that OS, so can’t be used with VMware.

“To be able to clean up I/O we need to operate at that level. When Hyper-V goes to write to the drive, we intercept it and deal with it. Hyper-V thinks it’s dealing with a local drive,” says Symons.

Due to this tight integration with Hyper-V, Gridstore can use advanced features such as data deduplication, thin provisioning, replication and snapshots in Windows Server 2012 that are usually the preserve of high-end storage hardware.

But being so tightly integrated into a specific hypervisor also means that a VMware ESX version is some way off, at least 12 months, says Symons.

The company (California-based) is making its first European push with the appointment of former NexSan man Andy Hill to VP for EMEA sales. The company is at B round in its funding cycle and late last year held a beta product programme of the block-based Hyper-V storage hardware with around 20 customers after switching its focus from scale-out NAS.

All of which means it’s early days yet for Gridstore, but it’s certainly bringing an interesting product to market, although tightly targeted at users of the, for now, minority hypervisor.