De-Risking Enterprise Storage Upgrades (Part 2)
Guest Blogger: Eric Burgener, Research Vice President, Infrastructure Systems, Platforms and Technologies, IDC
The first part of this blog post discussed common design approaches in enterprise storage that are used to de-risk upgrades. These approaches are used by Infinidat in their InfiniBox enterprise storage system as well, but they have also introduced other unique differentiators that provide meaningful value to customers for de-risking enterprise storage upgrades. Infinidat provides a 100% data availability guarantee along with their systems, and their unique approach to de-risking upgrades is an important contributor to their proven ability to deliver on this guarantee. These additional innovations include:
- Innovative hardware redundancy. Most enterprise array architectures are built around a controller-pair oriented hardware design. Regardless of whether these are implemented as active/active or active/passive, controller firmware or software upgrades in traditional systems are performed in a "rolling" manner with the end user first upgrading one controller and, once that is complete, upgrading the other. The system continues to operate during "rolling upgrades", a fact that has two implications. First, during the period in which the first controller is being upgraded, the system operates in the same "panic mode" that would occur in the event of a controller failure. This generally means that the system reverts from the higher performance "write back" cache mode to the lower performance "write through" cache mode to safeguard data integrity, impacting application performance in traditional dual controller architecture upgrade scenarios. It also means that systems have to be regression tested to ensure that they operate in two different configurations: one where firmware is the same on all controllers and one where there are two versions running simultaneously across different controllers.
Infinidat's InfiniBox uses an architecture with three controllers, all of which cooperate together in active/active/active mode during normal operation. Any controller related upgrades are performed all at once without interrupting application services. Upgrading controller firmware takes milliseconds and with it being done simultaneously, all controllers are upgraded to the new release before any applications can time out, ensuring that application services continue to run in an uninterrupted manner. This synchronized upgrade approach does not require inter-generational regression testing since customers will never be running different releases across different controllers simultaneously (generally a riskier prospect than running the same release on them) and does not ever require the system to go into a performance-impacting "write through" cache mode.
- Packaging approaches. Most of the systems Infinidat sells are used to consolidate the workloads of two, three and sometimes as many as four other legacy enterprise storage arrays. For this reason, the average provisioned storage capacity among Infinidat customers is significantly higher than that for other enterprise storage vendors and needed storage capacity grows rapidly over time. To better meet their customers' high growth storage capacity requirements, Infinidat ships all systems with fully configured system back ends. When customers need more provisioned capacity, they just provision the needed storage (which is already in the system) and pay for it. This means that capacity expansion is a mere software change, no field engineering activities are associated with it, and together these mean not only that it happens much faster but that the risk associated with manual upgrades is entirely avoided.
- Development track record and expertise. Of all the storage vendors who have arisen in the last decade, few have the development track record and expertise in enterprise storage that Infinidat has. Infinidat's founder (Moshe Yanai) was the original designer of the EMC Symmetrix storage array and the founder of XIV. In 2011, Yanai founded Infinidat and many of the developers from his prior two projects again gravitated to the new venture, bringing their expertise with them. The InfiniBox is a very intelligently crafted enterprise storage platform that features a number of unique innovations that have again furnished design examples that have been readily copied by many other storage players. While it is beyond the scope of this blog to discuss those, IDC has written a technically detailed vendor profile on Infinidat that discusses them at length (Infinidat Bucking External Storage Market Trends with Continued High Revenue Growth and Profitability, IDC #US43193317, December 2018).
This expertise is evident not only in what features Infinidat has implemented but also in how those features have been implemented. I'd encourage any potential Infinidat customers to delve into these features during the vendor comparison/due diligence phase prior to a purchase. One metric that is important is how efficient the storage operating system code is. An NDA with Infinidat precludes me from stating the actual code line count of Infinidat's storage operating system, but as a customer prospect you can certainly compare that metric with those of other storage vendors. You'll find that Infinidat compares very favorably here despite offering the full complement of enterprise storage features. Simpler systems tend to be more reliable in operation.
The development team's proven experience is also evident in other decisions they've made – not only the software-defined design, running of storage management features in user space and use of AI/ML to drive adherence to SLAs with dynamically adjusting self-driven storage management but also in other more unique areas like a three controller architecture, highly scalable locking that enables consistent high performance at scale, trie-based metadata structures, different capacity packaging approaches, and many others that prospects are encouraged to explore with Infinidat.
The rationale behind Infinidat's strong focus on system reliability and availability should be clear, given the vendor's focus on consolidating the workloads of multiple other storage systems onto its InfiniBox. There are many other features of the system that support its 100% data availability guarantee, and its focus on de-risking upgrades is just one of those. Hopefully this discussion provides a better understanding of how Infinidat's approach to upgrades is meaningfully different from its competitors.