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Cloud host dumps hybrid for all-flash software-defined storage

Cloud firm Togglebox tried Linux software-defined storage and Nimble hybrid flash, but customers hit it too hard so it opted for all-flash with storage software from StorPool

US-based cloud hosting company Togglebox has dumped Nimble Storage hybrid flash arrays and built its own flash-based storage using software-defined storage from Storpool.

Togglebox is a cloud hosting company that offers cloud and managed services from two datacentres in Dallas and Atlanta. It has around 3,000 customers, which are mostly small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

It is a company with its own engineering expertise so it originally tried building its own SAN using native Linux tools, said founder and chief technology officer (CTO) Matt Ayres.

“The tools are there, but you spend so much time tuning it and trying to keep a live system running well,” he said.

Togglebox then deployed 64TB in Nimble Storage hybrid flash arrays, but ran into issues with performance and upgrade costs, said Ayres.

“Nimble got very expensive when it came to upgrades,” he said. “For example, if we wanted to go from a [controller with a] four-core to eight-core Intel E5 central processing unit [CPU] Nimble wanted to charge $20,000 when the retail price is $1,000.”

Also, said Ayres, Togglebox had lots of customers that signed up for basic services to test them, with the potential of becoming large-scale consumers of the company’s services.

“During testing these kind of customers hit the Nimble hard and often got the [spinning disk] HDD rather than flash. We needed to look for an all-flash system for our customers.”

Ayres started to look at all-flash providers such as Solidfire and Pure Storage, but because it had deployed Nimble it had some flash capacity and had the luxury of being able to grow its new all-flash component relatively slowly.

Read more about software-defined storage

So, Togglebox at first deployed 4TB of flash and HDD storage using StorPool software-defined storage on three SuperMicro servers. It has since scaled that up to 30TB of capacity.

Software-defined storage is the use of storage software to create and manage pools of shared storage from existing disk or dedicated capacity. Its chief attraction is that it brings budget savings compared with pre-packaged storage arrays.

So, why deploy flash and HDD when Nimble storage (flash and HDD, for example) hybrid flash didn’t cut the mustard?

“The difference is that in the storage array we’ve created [with StorPool] the flash is not a cache. All reads are directly from SSD while the HDDs store replicas of the data,” said Ayres.

In fact, the HDD component in the StorPool-created array sees data distributed across the three sets of hard drives in a triple-replicated configuration.

So, what are the key benefits of an approach that is near-DIY for Togglebox? Key for Ayres is flexibility over hardware and the lack of supplier lock-in, which amount to cost savings.

“If we want the next generation processor, we buy it. Same applies to flash drives. There’s no need to pay a supplier premium on these. We’re getting full flash performance for the price of hybrid flash.”

StorPool provides SAN-like block storage

StorPool offers storage software that can be deployed on commodity servers to provide storage area network-like block storage. It requires at least three instances of server hardware to be deployed which can be for storage only, or – by using only 5% to 10% of CPU performance for storage tasks – can co-reside with compute, in so-called hyper-converged format.

StorPool claims performance of 250,000 random read IOPS and 4,200 MBps sequential reads for three servers, with this increasing as hardware nodes are added. Storage features include synchronous replication, snapshots and thin provisioning.

StorPool is limited to deployment in hardware with Linux operating systems (OS) and use with Linux-friendly virtualisation platforms such as KVM, Xen or Docker.

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