Scale Computing integrates flash into tiering to strengthen SMB hyper-converged offering

Scale’s new HEAT technology brings flash into hybrid tiering, with all the performance benefits of using flash for a tier rather than just a cache. The challenge here was not introducing flash, but doing so in a way that would not increase complexity, and would be cost-effective for SMBs.

HC3_clusterIndianapolis-based Scale Computing has announced the integration of flash-enabled automated storage tiering into its hyper-converged HC3 platform. While Scale’s focus remains squarely on the SMB space, unlike other hyper-converged players, they believe the increase in performance will also make them more attractive further upmarket.

Scale has always emphasized relative simplicity of design, something they believe is essential to SMB customers, but which has historically been lacking in hyper-converged products.

“The industry is seeing increasing complexity of virtualized file systems, in which you have files on file systems, on files on file systems,” said Jason Collier, Scale’s co-founder, chief evangelist, and former CTO. For SMBs, he said it was tantamount to the child’s board game Mousetrap, which constructs an ultra-complex and absurd sequencing of events in order to drop a trap on a mouse.

“The hyper-converged pioneers didn’t eliminate the SAN in solving problems,” he said. “Instead they have virtualized the storage and distributed it, without making it less complex. The result is that the customer needs more hardware to boot the storage. This need for additional resources is problematic in the SMB market.”

In contrast, Collier said that Scale has replaced the convoluted Mousetrap with a simple, real mousetrap and a simpler IO path.

“Our architecture has eliminated the nested files on file systems on files on file systems,” he said. “The only file systems in HC3 are on the guest system itself. This dramatically simplifies the path, so instead of seven hops to make a small change in a VM, we require only three hops.”

“There is no public glory in serving our market, but they are the market that needs help the most,” said Alan Conboy, of the Office of the CTO at Scale. He stressed that the size of customers in Canada, where most customers are SMBs and large enterprise is a tiny part of the economy, is why Scale is comparatively strong in Canada.

“The makeup of the customer base in Canada is such a strong fit for us,” Collier said. “99 per cent have 1-99 employees.”

Collier said that the new development Scale is announcing allows them to keep their simplicity while significantly enhancing performance.

“We are introducing SSD flash as a fluid tier – instead of a cache,” he said. “Using SSD as a storage tier will provide at least 4x the IOPs, providing advanced functionality while still being easy to use.”

Scale’s HEAT (HyperCore Enhanced Automated Tiering) technology uses a combination of built-in intelligence, data access patterns, and workload priority to automatically optimize data across disparate storage tiers within the cluster.

“This allows for use of flash the way SSD and flash were designed to be used,” Conboy said. “It takes advantage of that very elegant IO path we have created, and allows us to redefine making things incredibly simple, rather than throwing away a lot of SAN resources. This makes us even more approachable for SMBs.”

Conboy said that HEAT has been Scale’s objective for years, but that it was a complex process that required very extensive re-engineering, in order to do it at an SMB price point and without ramping up complexity.

“We tried to do it that way from the beginning, to use flash as a tier in a hybrid system rather than just for caching only,” he said. “We had it running in the lab two and a half years ago, but getting it into production was a major project that took a long time.”

The declining cost of flash has led some enterprise-focused vendors to focus on all-flash for primary storage. EMC, for example, has declared 2016 the year of all-flash. Collier emphasized that for the SMB, even at today’s flash price points, this still isn’t realistic and a hybrid system represents the affordable cutting edge.

“All-flash would put us out of the SMB price point,” he said. “We developed this the right way for the customer we are going after.”

Scale is deploying its new HEAT technology across its entire HC3 product line, and is introducing a flash storage tier as part of its HC2150 and HC4150 appliances. The technology is backward-compatible with existing product. Available in 4- or 8-drive units, Scale’s latest offerings include one 400 or 800GB SSD with three NL-SAS HDD in 1-6TB capacities and memory up to 256GB, or two 400 or 800GB SSD with 6 NL-SAS HDD in 1-2TB capacities and up to 512 GB memory respectively. It can also be added in storage-only nodes, typically for Microsoft licensing reasons.

Pricing is as low as $USD 25,500 for an entry level system, while a cluster of three HC2150 appliances, with 24 cores that can sustain 30,000 IOPS, is $USD 61,500.

Collier said that the increased performance and continued low price should move Scale up a little in the mid-market.

“We think this functionality will drag us upmarket a bit and do so in a unique way,” he said. “We are also seeing increased traction upmarket from application folks within the enterprise or people who provide business applications into the enterprise. They see us as a plug-and-play, almost AS400 type of platform, to make it easy to deploy an application in the enterprise. We aren’t going to replace VCE in the data centre, but for specific applications that run well in this siloed environment, we are a really good fit.”

Collier also indicated that Scale believes HEAT will be noticed by the hyper-converged vendors, even though most now state they are committed to the enterprise market.

“We think this new component will get their attention,” he said. “Our biggest fight is against VMware, and their traditional 3-2-1 style of approach, but we still see Nutanix and SimpliVity in our market all the time, especially when they go through DMRs.”

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