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Startup InkTank Brings Software Defined Storage To The Enterprise

As enterprise IT managers know, one thing that can really drive up costs for IT organizations is storage. Given the voluminous amounts of data produced by larger enterprises, storage costs can take a big chunk out of IT budgets. Luckily for IT, Inktank has made it their mission to take a bite out of storage costs. Joining us today is Inktank’s Vice president for Marketing and Community Relations Ross Turk.

As enterprise IT managers know, one thing that can really drive up costs for IT organizations is storage. Given the voluminous amounts of data produced by larger enterprises, storage costs can take a big chunk out of IT budgets. Luckily for IT, Inktank has made it their mission to take a bite out of storage costs. Joining us today is Inktank’s Vice president for Marketing and Community Relations Ross Turk, pictured on the right.

IT Specialist: Thank you for taking the time to share your perspectives Ross. Can you provide some brief background on Inktank, such as what year you were started and the background of the founders?

Ross: Launched by leading Ceph developers in 2012, Inktank’s mission was to help enterprises use Ceph to break free of expensive and proprietary storage systems to decrease storage costs, increase operational flexibility, and effectively manage rapidly growing data. Inktank’s flagship offering, InktankCeph Enterprise, is the market’s first enterprise-grade, dedicated Ceph product that delivers everything needed to confidently run a production Ceph storage cluster at scale.

Ceph technology development began in 2004 at University of California at Santa Cruz when Sage Weil, Inktank chief technology officer was a graduate student. He was part of a research team that built the first working prototype of the Ceph distributed file system.  The team made key breakthroughs that today continue to serve as Ceph’s foundation.

After graduating in 2007, Sage worked at DreamHost, a hosting company he co-founded, and dedicated himself to Ceph technology development on a full-time basis. The company then hired a team of developers and before long software contributions from the open source software community increased in frequency.  In 2012, with support from DreamHost, Sage founded Inktank, Inc., with the goal of driving Ceph adoption and enabling enterprises to run production Ceph clusters at scale.

In May, 2014, Red Hat acquired Inktank.

IT Specialist: Could you please provide an overview of what exactly “software defined storage” is, and software defined storage differs from traditional storage solutions?

Ross: Ceph technology in Red Hat’s Inktank Ceph Enterprise storage is a software-defined storage solution. It is designed to solve the problems inherent in traditional storage solutions and was built as specialized software on top of everyday hardware—as opposed to the hardware appliances that are prevalent today.

Traditional storage appliances rely upon restrictive and proprietary hardware that often results in high cost.  Software-defined storage solutions aren’t hardware—they are software that virtualize storage and provide services, and they run on standard servers.  That means enterprises don’t have to purchase expensive proprietary hardware, but it also means something much more important: software-defined storage solutions bring additional flexibility and ease of programming.

These solutions provide durability and reliability by using distributed software on commodity hardware instead of expensive hardware appliances.  By distributing the work across a cluster of inexpensive servers, they can radically improve the economics of storage for enterprises. Below is the architecture of Ceph:

IT Specialist: How would you describe the current overall state of the enterprise storage market – is storage still usually handled by large, propriety vendor solutions or have we started to see the move to software defined storage as we’ve seen with software defined networking?

Ross: Storage is changing.  What was once hardware technology is increasingly becoming software technology, and enterprises are stretching to get more out of less.  It’s a very lucrative market as well, and is still largely dominated by proprietary appliance vendors.  I think that open source software has the potential to accelerate that change.

Software-defined storage is still an emerging field of technology, but we have started to see adoption in some key areas: public/private cloud, big data, high-performance computing, and web-scale IT.

IT Specialist: Moving now to the core technology, could you highlight what exactly Ceph is, how it works, and what are its key features and advantages versus non-software defined storage? I assume Ceph leverages the inherent advantages of cloud computing and virtualization?

Ross: Ceph is an open-source, massively scalable, software-defined storage system that provides object, block and file system storage in a single platform. Its key features are its self-managing and self-healing nature, allowing the storage cluster to react to changing hardware conditions automatically.  If storage administrators require more capacity, they can add more nodes, one at a time.  Ceph’s peer-to-peer storage nodes communicate with each other to replicate and redistribute data to adapt to changing cluster conditions in real-time.

Ceph also utilizes a very intelligent placement algorithm to address a challenge that’s somewhat unique to distributed storage platforms: if a storage cluster has a hundred servers, and any of them can fail at any time, which one should a client connect to for a given object?  The CRUSH algorithm efficiently calculates an object’s location inside a dynamically changing cluster, requiring no centralized metadata server to keep track of where objects reside. For storage administrators, this eliminates many data placement tasks.

Ceph is an open-source, massively scalable, software-defined storage system which provides object, block and file system storage in a single platform. Its key features are its self-managing and self-healing nature, meaning the storage cluster is elastic and can grow, shrink and repair itself.

And you’re right—because Ceph runs on commodity hardware, it saves enterprises costs and provides ultimate flexibility, both inherent advantages of the cloud.

IT Specialist: Turning now to the enterprise, could you highlight what Inktank Ceph Enterprise is exactly? From the perspective of an enterprise IT specialist, could you provide some highlights of what exactly you are offering with the Inktank Ceph Enterprise solution? I gather this is a subscription-based solution?

Ross: The Ceph community project has a fast release cadence with new releases coming out every few weeks and major releases about every three months. It is a busy project, and is actively being worked on by a broad community of contributors. Enterprises need a hardened and supported solution with the most mature and reliable features suited for enterprises. That’s Red Hat’s Inktank Ceph Enterprise storage solution.

Red Hat’s Inktank Ceph Enterprise storage solution is a subscription offering for a enterprise-ready solution that goes through additional interoperablity and compatibility testing, delivered with deployment tools.

IT Specialist: Turning now to your products, I gather you have three core use cases – Ceph for OpenStack; Ceph for Service Providers, and Ceph for Backup & Archival. Could you provide some highlights for each of these?

Ross: Ceph storage for OpenStack is one of our most popular use cases (you can see a diagram below). Ceph technology has gained traction among OpenStack infrastructure customers—in fact, in the most recent OpenStack user survey,Ceph was one of the leading distributed block storage technologies for OpenStack clouds. You can use Ceph for both object and block storage with OpenStack, and thin provisioning and cloning of images and volumes makes booting new virtual machines with highly available, fault-tolerant disks faster, easier and more efficient.

Ceph is popular among service providers that want to achieve the lowest cost per Gigabit.  They are attracted to Ceph’s unique architecture to help them quickly launch competitive products and services for their demanding customers.

With Inktank Ceph Enterprise 1.2, our product has added new features designed with backup and archival use cases in mind.  These features, erasure coding and cache tiering, allow clusters to differentiate between “hot” and “cold” data to achieve an optimal blend of price and performance.”

IT Specialist: One final question from the perspective of enterprise IT– what is the ideal type of customer for your enterprise solution? Or to put it a different way, since software defined storage is still so new, when IT evaluates its existing storage architecture, what characteristics would make IT say to themselves “aha, we really should move to a software defined storage solution”?

Ross: Enterprises requiring next-generation storage technology as a way to effectively manage their rapidly growing data are ideal for Red Hat’s Inktank Ceph Enterprise solution.We tend to find Ceph is brought into organizations with a next-generation storage need like backup and archival or a private cloud deployment, and then tends to spread to other use cases.These enterprises are often large companies and small and medium businesses looking to run storage and have the in-house expertise to manage distributed systems.

IT Specialist: Turning now to Inktank at the corporate level, are there any particular customers or customer case studies you could share with us? Also, who would you see as your main competitors and/or what types of vendors in the storage market are you trying to displace?

Ross: There are several case studies can be found on our website: http://www.inktank.com/customers/ You’ll see that we’ve worked with a broad range of customers, including Fortune 100 companies, major telecommunications providers, universities and service providers.

Our main competitors include other companies offering software-defined storage solutions, some of which are open source.  These companies are usually offering technologies similar to Ceph, although each one has distinct architectural decisions and advantages. But ultimately, we aim to displace the traditional giants who dominate today’s storage industry.

IT Specialist: I understand the big news for Inktank is that you’ve been acquired by Red Hat. Could you explain how this came about – what made Red Hat keen to acquire Inktank, and what made Inktank feel that being part of the Red Hat family was the best long-term solution for you?

Ross: This is very exciting news for Inktank and the software-defined storage industry. Red Hat has delivered on its software-defined storage strategy with its 2011 acquisition of Gluster. With Ceph’s adoption in OpenStack infrastructures, the addition of Inktank positions Red Hat as one of the leading providers of open software-defined storage across object, block and file system storage. 

When Inktank was started, our goal was to make Ceph successful as a broad-based, collaborative open source project with a vibrant user, developer and commercial community. Red Hat shares this vision and is the best organization to make Ceph a ubiquitous and transformative force in the storage industry.

IT Specialist: Tell us about your new Inktank Ceph Enterprise 1.2 offering and what it brings to the table.

Ross: This is a major new release for our solution and the first release since the Red Hat acquisition. With this launch, we’re adding two powerful new features: erasure coding and cached tiering. These features allow customers to create storage systems that blend price and performance in flexible ways to help them tackle the challenge of storing increasing amounts of data with limited budgets.

Not all data is equal. Some data needs to be available, and there’s a lot of it, but it doesn’t need to be available quickly. Some data needs to be available immediately. Erasure coding and cached tiering allows enterprises to move “hot” data onto high-performance media when it becomes active while storing “cold” data on low-performance media. This sophisticated hot-to-cold and cold-to-hot data management allows enterprises to radically reduce storage costs.

New erasure encoded storage pools in Red Hat’s Inktank Ceph Enterprise allows data to be stored more densely than traditional replicated pools while preserving durability in the case of system failure. In fact, they can lower raw capacity requirements by up to 50 percent. 

The new Inktank Ceph Enterprise 1.2 product is supported on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.5 and 7.0, Ubuntu 12.04 and 14.04, and CentOS 6.5. We’ve also updated the Cephmanagement platform, Calamari, which helps storage administrators visualize and manage cluster operations.

IT Specialist: Finally, for those who might want to trial your solution, what would be the best way to learn more? Is there a contact person with whom they should interface?

Ross: Feel free learn more about Inktank Ceph Enterprise: http://www.inktank.com/contact-us/

And of course, as an open source project, Ceph is freely available over at http://ceph.com/ for anyone interested in exploring software-defined storage.

IT Specialist: Thank you for answering our questions Ross, and best of luck going forward.

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