Nutanix boosts storage performance by 50% with BlockStore

Hyper-converged infrastructure pioneer Nutanix boosts access to NVMe and potentially Optane storage with BlockStore, which avoids the need to access the deepest layers of the OS

Hyper-converged infrastructure provider Nutanix has revamped several elements of its Acropolis operating system, with the most prominent being BlockStore, which is a new layer of storage with accelerated access to NVMe drives, Intel Optane included.

The improvements around BlockStore are mostly targeted at databases that demand intensive reads and writes.

“We have rearchitected Acropolis around a new module, BlockStore, which, unlike our existing layer of storage, functions in user-space mode,” said Nutanix EMEA engineering chief Sylvain Siou. “In other words, we have reduced access latency by avoiding having to call on kernel routines that drive SSD operations.”

User space and kernel space exist in Linux systems and designate in simplified form, respectively, an area mostly accessed by applications and a deeper, better protected and more complex-to-access space reserved for OS operations.

BlockStore has been developed in partnership with Intel, and is based on the SPDK (Software Performance Development Kit) open source Linux library, of which AOS is part. Using this library, BlockStore carries block and free space management commands in a RocksDB mini-database internally. That is shared with Stargate, which is the AOS layer that takes care of I/O and which functions in user space.

SPDK functions to provide direct memory access for applications, in other words to allow software to communicate directly with the NVMe media rather than having to initiate system calls that involve the kernel space.

“Beyond simple NVMe SSD, this improvement will bring all its benefits to Optane too, which will allow it to be used as non-volatile memory with SAP Hana,” said Siou.

“Optane modules, which are much quicker than classic SSDs, are not yet massively adopted in the enterprise. But we believe their use will explode in the coming months.”

Other improvements in AOS concern networking, security and management. The networking layer, Flow – now called Flow Networking – has gained the ability to create virtual private networks between two private enterprise sites via a cloud deployment.

“Flow Networking takes the principle of virtual private networks and utilises the big cloud providers to connect the virtual infrastructures of different branches of the enterprise,” said Siou.

“The principle is to be able to move on-site virtual machines [VMs] to the cloud without needing to change their IP addressing.”

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By extension, Flow Networking will allow several physically isolated virtual networks to be managed together. That will allow integrators or cloud service providers to offer better network management to enterprises.

Meanwhile, Flow’s security functions are separated out into Flow Security. This can be managed from a software-as-a-service console that handles automated verification functionality, maintains an inventory of resources connected in Nutanix private clouds and manages micro-segmentation, which mainly amounts to attaching a firewall per VM.

According to Siou, separating out the security functionality in Flow will show customers that Nutanix intends to go beyond simple firewall configuration. Nutanix’s intention seems to be to develop a hub of business functionality – Flow Security Central – based around regulatory compliance.

Finally, the Prism console is now re-baptised Prism Ultimate. It has been upgraded with proactive maintenance functionality with better activity recognition and automated downtime resolution processes.

A key development is that Prism Ultimate will also now be able to monitor non-Nutanix environments. That will mean the public cloud environments that Nutanix has emphasised but also competitors’ infrastructures, in particular VMware vSphere.

Like Flow Security Central, Prism Ultimate takes the form of a software-as-a-service (SaaS) console – as a browser run from public cloud – which makes it accessible to remote-working administrators and to be able to manage geographically separated sites.

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