There’s A Whole Lot More To StarWind Than Free Stuff

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 StarWind‘s presentation at Storage Field Day 12. You can view the video here and download my rough notes here.


StarWind Storage Appliance

StarWind’s Storage Appliance is looking to solve a number of problems with traditional storage solutions, including:

  • Unpredictable data and performance requirements growth;
  • Legacy storage incompatibility with existing compute / HCI; and
  • Untenable licensing costs when scaling out traditional HCI.

StarWind tell us that their solution offers the following benefits:

  • Easily scalable, fast, and fault tolerant storage;
  • Seamless integration into any existing CI/HCI; and
  • Ability to scale storage independently from compute.

This all sounds great, but what’s the “sweet spot” for deploying the appliances? StarWind position the solution where “high performance is needed for particular workload at a reasonable cost”. This seems to fall within the 20 – 40TB range. They also offer hybrid and all-flash models (you can check out the datasheet here).


What’s in the box?

So what do you get with these things? Nothing too surprising.

  • NL-SAS / SAS drives
  • RAID Adapter
  • Ethernet adapter (with support for RoCE)
  • DIMM RAM Cards


“The magic happens in the software”

For StarWind, the real value is derived from the software platform driving the appliance.

Supported storage protocols include:

  • iSCSI
  • iSER
  • SMB3
  • SMB Direct
  • NFS v4.1
  • NVMoF (coming soon)

From a management perspective, you get access to the following tools:

  • Web GUI
  • vCenter Plugin
  • Thick client
  • CLI (Powershell)
  • VASA / vVols
  • SMI-S

While there’s support for Ethernet and InfiniBand, there is still (disappointingly) no FCoTR support.


Stairway to Cloud

StarWind also walked through their partner Aclouda‘s product – a hardware cloud storage gateway recognised by the server as an ordinary hard drive. In the picture above you can see:

  1. SATA interface for host connectivity
  2. Proprietary RTOS (no Linux!). Motorola PowerPC and ARM
  3. Gigabit Ethernet: iSCSI and SMB3 for cloud uplink
  4. Altera FGPA to accelerate (what software can’t do)

The idea is you can replace spinning disks with cloud storage transparently to any software-defined storage and hypervisor. You can read about the StarWind Storage Appliance and AcloudA Use Case here (registration required).


Further Reading and Conclusion

I’m the first to admit that I was fairly ignorant of StarWind’s offering beyond some brief exposure to their free tools during a migration project I did a few years ago. Their approach to hardware seems solid, and they’ve always been a bit different in that they’ve traditionally used Windows as their core platform. I get the impression there’s a move away from this as scalability and throughput requirements increase at a rapid pace.

The HCI market is crowded to say the least, but this doesn’t mean companies like StarWind can’t deliver a reasonable product to customers. They say the sweet spot for this is 20 – 40TB, and there are plenty of smaller shops out there who’d be happy to look at this as an alternative to the bigger storage plays. To their credit, StarWind has focused on broad protocol support and useful management features. I think the genesis of the product in a software platform has certainly given them some experience in delivering features rather than relying on silicon to do the heavy lifting.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out for StarWind, as I’m certainly keen to see them succeed (if for no other reason than Max and Anton are really nice guys). It remains to be seen whether the market is willing to take a bet on a relative newcomer to the HCI game, but StarWind appear to have the appetite to make the competition interesting, at least in the short term. And if you’ve gotten nothing else from this post, have a look at some of the white papers on the site, as they make for some great reading (registration required):

(As an aside, you haven’t lived until you’ve read Stephen’s articles on the I/O Blender here, here and here).

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