SolidFire Aims for Performance, Capacity Balance in Cloud Storage

By Kenneth Corbin

For large-scale, multi-tenant cloud service providers, balancing the performance and capacity expectations poses a unique challenge in the storage arena.

While modern hypervisors have advanced to the point where that performance/capacity balance can be achieved in compute, storage has lagged behind, according to SolidFire, a three-year-old startup based in Boulder, Colo., that offers a high-performance storage architecture catering to cloud service providers with massive, multi-tenant deployments.

For SolidFire's customers, the "objective is not about delivering massive amounts of performance to [a] single application at any cost. Instead, these providers are focused on profitably delivering consistent performance to thousands of applications [and] tenants at the same time," explained Dave Wright, the company's founder and CEO.

"Conversations with service providers throughout the past year have only reinforced our belief that this customer segment is unique in its scale, business model and the solutions that it requires," Wright said.

SolidFire's SSD storage systems are meant to address a number of pain points common to large cloud service providers, including distinct challenges associated with multi-tenancy architectures deployed at a massive scale. Wright noted recently that "scale is not a checkbox feature," but rather a set of challenges that span across all facets of a system, highlighted by capacity and performance, which SolidFire notes are often at odds with one another. Flash systems, for example, offer robust performance but can fall short in their ability to scale capacity across a deployment. Hard-disk systems, in contrast, offer abundant capacity scale but are generally weaker on performance.

Then, too, service providers are challenged by the expectation of delivering predictable performance while retaining a measure of visibility at the application level.

"Individually, each of these factors impose unique pressures on the IT environment," Wright said. "Taken together, they demand an entirely new approach."

For SolidFire, that approach comes in the form of a performance virtualization technology that facilitates what the company describes as a more granular level of provisioning, enabling service providers to efficiently allocate storage resources to the unique demands of a given application.

SolidFire systems run the company's Element operating system, which offers a standard feature set that includes data protection, real-time compression and real-time deduplication.

Additionally, SolidFire offers a guaranteed quality-of-service (QoS) that enables customers to configure minimum, maximum and burst IOPS. Once set, those configurations can be adjusted through SolidFire's API to modify the system's performance, with the changes taking effect instantly.

"Armed with [a] previously unavailable level of performance control, service providers can now confidently offer hard SLAs around storage performance," Wright said.

SolidFire's clusters are designed to scale incrementally, so that as additional nodes are incorporated, each brings an equal balance of capacity and performance without requiring an elaborate reconfiguration.

Wright, whose former firm JungleDisk was acquired by Rackspace, believes that his latest venture is well positioned as cloud computing continues its march into the mainstream and the use cases and business value of the technology grow more apparent.

"We are charging hard toward general availability later this year," Wright said. "This has us mostly focused on product development and servicing key early access customers."

Additionally, the firm is working to achieve certifications from an array of cloud computing components, continuing in the vein of SolidFire's recent announcement that it had completed an initial integration with the open source cloud operating system OpenStack.

Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects for more than four years, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here

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This article was originally published on May 30, 2012