Elastifile Add More Elasticity To Their Offering

I shared my thoughts on Elastifile after seeing them at Storage Field Day 12. Since then they’ve been busy developing their product and Andy Fenselau kindly to the time to update me on what’s been happening with them in the months since. They’re also my new favourites because they use they understand the difference between premise and premises.

 

About

Elastifile were founded in 2013 and are based in Santa Clara, CA and Herzliya, Israel. They have Global Sales & Marketing (throughout North America, EMEA, and China). They’re well-funded with nearly $70M, and have a number of strategic investors involved, including Dell Technologies Capital, Cisco, and Western Digital.

 

The Problem

Elastifile tell me they’re solving the hybrid-cloud enterprise data management problem. Companies are still facing the following issues:

  •  On-premises struggles with cloud-like efficiency – they need scalability, “hardware freedom”, and consumption-based pricing; and
  •  Unable to lift and shift to true hybrid cloud.

People have been “[g]oing to a gun fight with knives for the last few years”.

 

The Solution

Cross-cloud Data Fabric

The solution, according to Elastifile, is their Cross-cloud Data Fabric, offering the simplicity of file, the scalability of object, and the performance of block.

[image courtesy of Elastifile]

 

Primary Use Cases

The primary uses cases for Elastifile are

  • Hybrid and multi-cloud file services;
  • High-performance compute and analytics; and
  • Container data persistence and mobility.

Core Components

  • Software-only, cloud-scale distributed file system;
  • CloudConnect granular object tiering; and
  • Consumption-based, subscription pricing.

Elastifile tell me that a lot of customers have been starting with on-premises deployments. They can also accommodate different tiers of flash and map to different SLAs.

 

Licensing

From a licensing perspective, Elastifile license the solution by active data capacity (the minimum configuration is three servers). There are three consumption models available:

  • On-premises tier;
  • On-premises with CloudConnect tier; and
  • In-cloud and cross-cloud tiers.

It’s subscription based, with a pay as you grow model via quarterly true-ups.

 

CloudConnect

  • Use CloudConnect to tier inactive data to cloud;
  • Can be used as a cloud-based backup solution; and
  • Only shipping the deltas (deduped and compressed) before it’s sent up there.

If you need to burst into the cloud, just check out the data you need and you can run the apps in the cloud (at this point data mobility starts to line up with app mobility).

[image courtesy of Elastifile]

Elastifile mentioned an example of cloud bursting for parallel EDA. In that example, for two months of the year they use 100% of the infrastructure. The rest of the time, they’re using 20%.

 

Other News

In other news, Elastifile recently announced certification and native support as a Google Cloud Tech Partner and Amazon Partner Network (APN) Technology Partner. They’ve also announced the availability of the Elastifile Dell EMC OEM Solutions Appliance. You can read more about that here (in French).

 

Final Thoughts

Elastifile currently have around forty customers with more on the way. From a product maturity perspective, features such as encryption at rest are coming, which I think will help them penetrate certain segments more easily. There’s a lot to like about the flexibility of the product, and I’m a big fan of simplified subscription models to license products. I’d be interested to see just how well it really performs in a public cloud scenario, but this is a concern for every cloud-friendly storage solution. Hybrid is the new black, and it feels like Elastifile are putting a lot of work into making sure they’ve got a product that plays well in that space. I’m looking forward to seeing whether they can build on what seems like a well thought platform and compete with some of the bigger scale-out players.

 

Elastifile Are Doing It For All The Right Reasons

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 12.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

 

Here are some notes from Elastifile‘s presentation at Storage Field Day 12. You can view the video here and download my rough notes here.

 

What is it?

Elastifile’s crown jewel is the Elastic Cloud File System (ECFS). It’s a scalable data platform, supporting:

  • 1000s of nodes, 100000s of clients
  • 100s thousands FS (data containers), unlimited files/directories
  • Exabyte scale capacity, 10s millions IOPS (and above)

And offering “advanced embedded data management and analytics”.

It is software only, and is virtualisation and cloud friendly, running on:

  • Physical servers (tested on 20+ platforms)
  • On-premises virtualisation (VMware, KVM, etc)
  • Cloud VMs (Amazon, Google, etc)

It’s also “Flash Native”, supporting all NAND technologies interfaces and offering support for object/S3 cold tiers (dynamic tiering/HSM/ILM).

From an architectural perspective, ECFS also offers:

  • Enterprise Level Features, including non-disruptive upgrades (NDUs), n-way redundancy, self healing, snapshots, sync/async DR
  • Storage Interfaces based on NFSv3/v4, SMB2/3, S3, HDFS

It also has cloud-friendly features, including:

  • Multi-tenancy, QoS, Hot add/remove nodes/capacity
  • Snapshot shipping to S3 (“CloudConnect”)
  • ILM/HSM/Dynamic tiering to other sites/clouds, Object/S3
  • Multi-site (geographically distributed access)

You can also leverage a number of different deployment modes, including:

  • Hyperconverged mode (HCI)
  • Dedicated storage mode (DSM) – with 2 tiers or single tier
  • Cloud (“Marketplace”) – as a service / as an application

 

Design Objectives and Journey

So what did Elastifile consider the foundation for a successful architecture when designing the product? They told us it would be “[a] good trade-off between all relevant dimensions, resources and requirements to produce the best solution for the desired target(s)”. Note, however, that it isn’t a linear path. Their goal is to “[b]e the best data platform for the cloud era enterprise”. It’s a lofty goal, to be sure, but when you’re starting from scratch it’s always good to aim high. Elastifile went on to tell us a little bit about what they’ve seen in the marketplace, what requirements these produced, and how those requirements drove product-direction decisions.

 

Elastifile Architectural Base Observations

Elastifile went into what they saw out in the marketplace:

  • Enterprises increasingly use clouds or cloud-like techniques;
  • In a cloud (like) environment the focus ISN’T infrastructure (storage) but rather services (data);
  • Data services must be implemented by simple, efficient mechanisms for many concurrent I/O data patterns;
  • Everything should be managed by APIs;
  • Data management should be very fine grained; and
  • Data mobility has to be solved.

 

Elastifile Architectural Base Requirements

The following product requirements were then developed based on those observations:

  • Everything must be automatic;
  • Avoid unnecessary restrictions and limitations. Assume as little as you can about the customer’s I/O patterns;
  • Bring Your Own Hardware (BYOH): Avoid unnecessary/uncommon hardware requirements like NVRAM, RDMA networks, etc (optional optimisations are OK);
  • Support realtime & dynamic reconfiguration of the system;
  • Support heterogeneous hardware (CPU, memory, SSD types, sizes, etc); and
  • Provide good consistent predictable performance for the given resources (even under failures and noisy environments).

 

Elastifile Architectural Base Decisions

So how do these requirements transform into architectural directions?

Scale-out (and Scale-up)

  • Cloud, cloud and cloud! (Cloudy is popular for a reason)

Software only

  • Cloud and virtualisation friendly (smart move)
  • Cost effective (potentially, although my experience of software companies is that they all eventually want to be Oracle)

Flash only

  • Provides flexibility and efficient multiple concurrent IO patterns
  • Capacity efficiency achieved by dedupe, compression and tiering

Application level file system

  • Enables unique data level services and the best performance (!) (a big claim, but Elastifile are keen to stand behind it)
  • Superset of block/object interfaces
  • Enables data sharing (and not only storage sharing) for user self-service. (The focus on data, not just storage, is great).

 

Bumps in the Road

Elastifile started in 2013 and launched in v1 in Q4 2016 and they had a few bumps along the way.

  • To start with, the uptake in private clouds didn’t happen as expected;
  • OpenStack didn’t gather enough momentum;
  • It seems that private clouds don’t make sense short of the web-scale guys – lack of economy of scale;
  • Many enterprises do not attempt to modernise their legacy systems, but rather attempt to shift (some/all) workloads to the public cloud.

The impact on product development? They had to support public cloud use cases earlier than expected. According to Elastifile, this turned out to be a good thing in the end, and I agree.

 

The hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) model has proven problematic for many use cases. (And I know this won’t necessarily resonate with a lot of people I know, but horses for course and all that). Why not?

  • It’s not perceived well by many storage administrators due to problematic responsibilities boundaries (“where is my storage?);
  • Requires coordination with the applications/server infrastructure
  • Limits the ability to scale resources (e.g. scale capacity, not performance)

HCI is nonetheless a good fit for

  • Places/use cases without (appropriate/skilled) IT resources (e.g. ROBO, SMB); and
  • Vertical implementations (this means web scale companies in most places).

The impact on Elastifile’s offering? They added a dedicated storage mode to provide separate storage resources and scaling to get around these issues.

 

Conclusion

One of the things I really like about Elastifile is that the focus isn’t on the infrastructure (storage) but rather services (data). I’ve a million conversations lately with people across a bunch of different business types around the importance of understanding their applications (and the data supporting their applications) and why that should be more important to them than the badge on the front of the platform. That said, plenty of companies are running applications and don’t really understand the value of these applications in terms of business revenue or return. There’s no point putting in a massively scalable storage solution of you’re doing it to support applications that aren’t helping the business do its business. It seems like a reasonable thing to be able to articulate, but as anyone who’s worked in large enterprise knows, it’s often not well understood at all.

Personally, I love it when vendors go into the why of their key product architectures – it’s an invaluable insight into how some of these things get to minimum viable product. Of course, if you’re talking to the wrong people, then your product may be popular with a very small number of shops that aren’t spending a lot of money. Not only should you understand the market you’re trying to develop for, you need to make sure you’re actually talking to people representative of that market, and not some confused neckbeards sitting in the corner who have no idea what they’re doing. Elastifile have provided some nice insight into why they’ve done what they’ve done, and are focusing on areas that I think are really important in terms of delivering scalable and resilient platforms for data storage. I’m looking forward to seeing what they get up to in the future. If you’d like to know more, and don’t mind giving up some details, check out the Elastifile resources page for a nice range of white papers, blog posts and videos.