Overcoming the Storage Challenges of Hyperscale Data Centers – Excelero Briefing Note

A hyperscale data center may have hundreds of instances of multiple applications. At any point in time one of these instances may peak and demand a much higher than normal amount of CPU and storage IO, starving other instances and applications for resources.

Most hyperscale IT professionals try to deal with these peak demands by either building for the worse case (the peaks) or to “unconverge” the environment. Both solutions are inefficient and go against everything a hyperscale data center strives for.

The Good and Bad of the Hyperscale Data Center

The hyperscale data center, a trend started by companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft, is supposed to be the model of efficiency. When it comes to applications they are. These environments use technologies like hyperconvergence, virtualization and containers to maximize compute resources. But when it comes to storage and providing consistent performance IO to those applications there are challenges.

Hyperscale is also working its way well beyond name brand cloud data centers. Even enterprises have “special” applications or environments where they are attempting to model their cloud brethren. The storage problem has to be solved so hyperscale can work for both web-scale companies and more traditional enterprises.

The core of the problem is whether the environment is converged, hyperconverged or has dedicated storage, the CPU assigned to storage is shared between the various applications or volumes.

Introducing Excelero

Excelero provides a software -defined block storage solution called NVMesh™ that separates the control plane from the data plane. The goal of the Excelero solution is to significantly reduce the amount of CPU that has to be assigned to storage. Excelero places the responsibility of managing the data part of storage IO on the client needing the IO, which means that a peak in the client’s requirements has no impact on the other applications, instances or services.

The software also communicates via RDMA bypassing the CPU for most tasks, and interfaces directly with the storage once again, keeping CPU requirements to a minimum. The scale-out storage solution is also optimized for NVMe for drive communication and takes full advantage of that communication protocol.

These unique capabilities result in highly efficient storage IO communication, with very low storage target CPU requirements and very low latent shared storage communication (thanks to RDMA and NVMe). The combination is ideal for hyperscale architectures that want to fully exploit hyperconvergence or convergence.

The Excelero Architecture

The key component of the NVMesh architecture is its client software. Unlike most software defined storage solutions Excelero assigns data services responsibilities to the client. Software has to be installed in each client accessing Excelero controlled storage.

There tends to be a certain hesitancy to installing client software, but the time has come to move on. The value of having each client perform the bulk of its own data services is there is no way for an application to starve out another application of resources. It may starve itself but that is the extent of the exposure. With Excelero, part of the design process is making sure each application or instances has the appropriate storage resources assigned to it.

With the client handling the bulk of data services, the CPU requirement of the storage target is minuscule. Excelero has demonstrated millions of IOPS in performance on entry level server configurations.

The other unique aspect of the NVMesh architecture is its RDDA protocol, which leverages RDMA to directly access NVMe based flash drives. The result is a very low latent, very CPU efficient, storage IO path.

The client software handles the data protection aspects of Excelero. Today, that data protection is replication or mirroring. Essentially data can be written to multiple volumes synchronously. The software does provide control over where the secondary volumes are and IT planners can make sure those volumes are on different nodes or event in different racks.

Today, there are not many data services beyond replication. Excelero promises erasure coding before the end of the year and more advanced enterprise services like snapshots next year. Given the low cost of the solution and the speed at which it operates, making a second copy of data, even a large data set, should only take less than a minute. But to broaden its appeal Excelero will eventually need to provide snapshot capabilities.

Right now the solution is ideal for hyperscale data centers that need high performance storage IO at very low cost. The Excelero demo system was generating millions of IOPS for less than $20,000 in hardware. The only bottleneck in the solution is the number of PCIe lanes the CPU provides. Less expensive CPUs have fewer PCIe lanes and a high IOPS configuration may require more PCIe lanes than what an entry level server will provide.

StorageSwiss Take

We speak to vendors every week that are providing software defined storage solutions of one kind or another. It is rare to hear or see anything unique.

Excelero clearly has some unique properties. The use of the client for data services is clearly a big one. There is no doubt the shared everything model has issues. Putting the responsibility for CPU processing on the client seems like an elegant solution.

Excelero’s use of RDMA is also unique. The ability to communicate directly with storage without having to go through a protocol stack and steal CPU resources is very intriguing. Once again, in a hyperscale environment it seems like an ideal solution to hyperscalers’ concerns.

How broadly Excelero is adopted is largely dependent on its ability to execute against its roadmap. If it can deliver both snapshots and remote replication, then the solution moves from being something for hyperscale environments to something that the enterprise could use across a broad range of workloads.

Eight years ago George Crump, founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal. To educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is and a heavily sought after public speaker. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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