Siemens’ eMeter group has deployed Datrium NVMe flash storage in a move that has allowed it to slash deployment times for new systems to a few minutes, while restores from backups can be done in seconds.
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The upgrade has also allowed it to save hugely on storage admin time as it does away with LUNs as a unit of storage management.
The company’s eMeter division develops and runs software for utility meter data capture. It runs deployments from customer datacentres but also operates test and operational capacity at its own datacentre in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Data can be captured from customers as often as every few minutes and is used for analytics, billing, loss prevention and a number of other functions. Customers can amass tens of TB a year in metering data.
Siemens had previously run NetApp and Nimble Storage hardware. Both ran using the iSCSI block protocol and used LUNs as the basic unit of storage management, but this had become increasingly cumbersome and formed a layer that consumed management time.
Siemens eMeter had around 1,500 customer metering software systems with around 850 LUNs as their basic unit of storage.
“Management of storage pools was a nightmare,” said director of infrastructure, Bryan Bond.
“Everything was managed at the storage level. If eight or 10 of our systems were managed by one LUN and if we did something to that LUN there would be repercussions that we’d need to deal with,” said Bond. “We had to constantly be on top of how much space there was on LUNs, what rate of growth there was, keeping an eye out for when we would need a new one.”
“It all amounted to energy and time to manage and we didn’t want to spend time doing it any more. The question was, how do we make it so it manages itself?”
“We gave EMC, NetApp etc a look but settled early on on the idea of NFS, file level storage, rather than block level storage.”
But even though there are no LUNs in file access storage there is still a lot of management to do in NFS storage, with for example, assignment of data to RAID groups etc.
So, Bond’s team looked at storage products that do away with LUNs and allow users to manage pools of storage directly, namely Datrium and Tintri.
Bond said Datrium won based on its performance. The company deployed four Datrium DVX arrays with 25TB of capacity each. Datrium’s DVX Data Nodes contain 7,200rpm SATA HDDs for bulk storage and NVMe flash as an accelerating cache.
Meanwhile, eMeter deployed 65 DVX Compute Node hosts with 2x NVMe flash drives on each of between 1.6TB and 8TB, giving 120TB of flash cache in total.
“We got an insane performance increase,” said Bond. “And almost everything runs on local cache. When we deploy new systems – which are usually clones of existing systems – it is usually 20 to 25 minutes to deploy. That’s now about four minutes.”
Backup and restores take a few seconds, down from 30 to 45 minutes, “of which there could be five or six a day,” said Bond.
“We don’t manage storage any more at all and there are no more LUNs for the 80% of the environment that’s now off them. We just look at a very large pool of storage and manage it.”
Datrium is one of a number of flash storage makers focused on NVMe-based products. NVMe is a subset of PCIe, comes in a card form factor and offers hugely increased input/output per second (IOPS) and lower latencies than existing flash products that use spinning disk-era connectivity methods and the SCSI protocol.
By doing away with SCSI, NVMe can boosts flash performance exponentially. That can be achieved by simply slotting it into servers, but currently a key stumbling block to achieving NVMe’s potential in a shared storage environment is the ability to handle controller functionality at speeds that don’t bottleneck input/output input/output.
Datrium’s answer to this conundrum is to place NVMe cards and controller functionality in host servers. It claims a performance premium of 2x to 4x over SCSI-connected flash.