EMC ViPR Review

EMC ViPR virtual physical object and software defined storage (SDS)


During the recent EMCworld event in Las Vegas among other things, EMC announced ViPR (read announcement here). Note that this ViPR is not the same EMC Viper project from a few years ago that was focused on data footprint reduction (DFR) including dedupe. ViPR has been in the works for a couple of years taking a step back rethinking how storage is can be used going forward.

ViPR is not a technology creation developed in a vacuum instead includes customer feedback, wants and needs. Its core themes are extensible, open and scalable.

On the other hand, ViPR addresses plenty of buzzword bingo themes including:

  • Agility, flexibility, multi-tenancy, orchestration
  • Virtual appliance and control plane
  • Data services and storage management
  • IT as a Service (ITaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
  • Scaling with stability without compromise
  • Software defined storage
  • Public, private, hybrid cloud
  • Big data and little data
  • Block, file and object storage
  • Control plane and data plane
  • Storage hypervisor, virtualization and virtual storage
  • Heterogeneous (third-party) storage support
  • Open API and automation
  • Self-service portals, service catalogs

Note that this is essentially announcing the ViPR product and program initiative with general availability slated for second half of 2013.

What is ViPR addressing'

IT and data infrastructure (server, storage, IO and networking hardware, software) challenges for traditional, virtual and cloud environments.

    • Data growth, after all, there is no such thing as an information recession with more data being generated, moved, processed, stored and retained for longer periods of time. Then again, people and data are both getting larger and living longer, for both little data and big data along with very big data.
    • Overhead and complexities associated with managing and using an expanding, homogenous (same vendor, perhaps different products) or heterogeneous (different vendors and products) data infrastructure across cloud, virtual and physical, legacy and emerging. This includes add, changes or moves, updates and upgrades, retirement and replacement along with disposition, not to mention protecting data in an expanding footprint.

      • Operations and service management, fault and alarm notification, resolution and remediation, rapid provisioning, removing complexity and cost of doing things vs. simply cutting cost and compromising service.

      What is this software defined storage stuff'

There is the buzzword aspect, and then there is the solution and business opportunity.

First the buzzword aspect and bandwagon:

      • Software defined marketing (SDM) Leveraging software defined buzzwords.
      • Software defined data centers (SDDC) Leveraging software to derive more value from hardware while enabling agility, flexibility, and scalability and removing complexity. Think the Cloud and Virtual Data Center models including those from VMware among others.
      • Software defined networking (SDN) Rather than explain, simply look at Nicira that VMware bought in 2012.
      • Software defined storage (SDS) Storage software that is independent of any specific hardware, which might be a bit broad, however it is also narrower than saying anything involving software.
      • Software defined BS (SDBS) Something that usually happens as a result when marketers and others jump on a bandwagon, in this case software defined marketing.

Note that not everything involved with software defined is BS, only some of the marketing spins and overuse. The downside to the software defined marketing and SDBS is the usual reaction of skepticism, cynicism and dismissal, so let us leave the software defined discussion here for now.

An example of software defined storage can be storage virtualization, virtual storage and storage hypervisors that are hardware independent. Note that when I say hardware independent, that also means being able to support different vendors systems. Now if you want to have some fun with the software defined storage diehards or purist, tell them that all hardware needs software and all software needs hardware, even if virtual. Further hardware is defined by its software, however lets leave sleeping dogs lay where they rest (at least for now ;)).

Storage hypervisors were a 2012 popular buzzword bingo topic with plenty of industry adoption and some customer deployment. While 2012 saw plenty of SDM buzz including SDC, SDN 2013 is already seeing an increase including software defined servers, and software defined storage.

Regardless of what you view of software defined storage, storage hypervisor, storage virtualization and virtual storage is, the primary focus and goal should be addressing business and application needs. Unfortunately, some of the discussions or debates about what is or is not software defined and related themes lose focus of what should be the core goal of enabling business and applications.


Some questions and discussion topics pertaining to ViPR:Whom is ViPRfor'

Organizations that need to scale with stability across EMC, third-party or open storage software stacks and commodity hardware. This applies to large and small enterprise, cloud service providers, managed service providers, virtual and cloud environments/

What this means for EMC hardware/platform/systems'

They can continue to be used as is, or work with ViPR or other deployment modes.

Does this mean EMC storage systems are nearing their end of life'

IMHO for the most part not yet, granted there will be some scenarios where new products will be used vs. others, or existing ones used in new ways for different things.

As has been the case for years if not decades, some products will survive, continue to evolve and find new roles, kind of like different data storage mediums (e.g. ssd, disk, tape, etc).

How does ViPR work'

ViPR functions as a control plane across the data and storage infrastructure supporting both north and southbound. northbound refers to use from or up to application servers (physical machines PM and virtual machines VMs). southbound refers target or destination storage systems. Storage systems can be traditional EMC or third-party (NetApp mentioned as part of first release), appliances, just a bunch of disks (JBOD) or cloud services.

Some general features and functions:

  • Provisioning and allocation (with automation)
  • Data and storage migration or tiering
  • Leverage scripts, templates and workbooks
  • Support service categories and catalogs
  • Discovery, registration of storage systems
  • Create of storage resource pools for host systems
  • Metering, measuring, reporting, charge or show back
  • Alerts, alarms and notification
  • Self-service portal for access and provisioning

ViPR data plane (adding data services and value when needed)

Another part is the data plane for implementing data services and access. For block and file when not needed, ViPR steps out-of-the-way leveraging the underlying storage systems or services.

Object storage access

When needed, the ViPR data plane can step in to add added services and functionality along with support object based access for little data and big data. For example, Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) services can support northbound analytic software applications running on servers accessing storage managed by ViPR.


More on the object opportunity

Other object access includes OpenStack storage part Swift, AWS S3 HTTP and REST API access. This also includes ViPR supporting EMC Atmos, VNX and Isilon arrays as southbound persistent storage in addition.

Object (and cloud) storage access example

EMC is claiming that over 250 VNX systems can be abstracted to support scaling with stability (performance, availability, capacity, economics) using ViPR. Third party storage will be supported along with software such as OpenStack Swift, Ceph and others running on commodity hardware. Note that EMC has some history with object storage and access including Centera and Atmos. Visit the micro site I have setup called www.objectstoragecenter.com and watch for more content to be updated and added there.

More on the ViPR control plane and controller

ViPR differs from some others in that it does not sit in the data path all the time (e.g. between application servers and storage systems or cloud services) to cut potential for bottlenecks.

Organizations that can use ViPR include enterprise, SMB, CSP or MSP and hosting sites. ViPR can be used in a control mode to leverage underlying storage systems, appliances and services intelligence and functionality. This means ViPR can be used to complement as oppose to treat southbound or target storage systems and services as dumb disks or JBOD.

On the other hand, ViPR will also have a suite of data services such as snapshot, replication, data migration, movement, tiering to add value for when those do not exist. Customers will be free to choose how they want to use and deploy ViPR. For example leveraging underlying storage functionality (e.g. lightweight model), or in a more familiar storage virtualization model heavy lifting model. In the heavy lifting model more work is done by the virtualization or abstraction software to create an added value, however can be a concern for bottlenecks depending how deployed.

Software defined, storage hypervisor, virtual storage or storage virtualization'

Most storage virtualization, storage hypervisors and virtual storage solutions that are hardware or software based (e.g. software defined) implemented what is referred to as in band. With in band the storage virtualization software or hardware sits between the applications (northbound) and storage systems or services (southbound).

While this approach can be easier to carry out along with add value add services, it can also introduce scaling bottlenecks depending on implementations. Examples of in band storage virtualization includes Actifio, DataCore, EMC VMAX with third-party storage, HDS with third-party storage, IBM SVC (and their V7000 Storwize storage system based on it) and NetApp Vseries among others. An advantage of in band approaches is that there should not need to be any host or server-side software requirements and SAN transparency.

There is another approach called out-of-band that has been tried. However pure out-of-band requires a management system along with agents, drivers, shims, plugins or other software resident on host application servers.

Example of generic fast path control path model

ViPR takes a different approach, one that was seen a few years ago with EMC Invista called fast path, control path that for the most part stays out of the data path. While this is like out-of-band, there should not be a need for any host server-side (e.g. northbound) software. By being a fast path control path, the virtualization or abstraction and management functions stay out of the way for data being moved or work being done.

Hmm, kind of like how management should be, there to help when needed, out-of-the-way not causing overhead other times ;).

Is EMC the first (even with Invista) to leverage fast path control path'

Actually up until about a year or so ago, or shortly after HP acquired 3PAR they had a solution called Storage Virtualization Services Platform (SVPS) that was OEMd from LSI (e.g. StorAge). Unfortunately, HP decided to retire that as opposed to extend its capabilities for file and object access (northbound) as well as different southbound targets or destination services.

Whats this northbound and southbound stuff'

Simply put, think in terms of a vertical stack with host servers (PMs or VMs) on the top with applications (and hypervisors or other tools such as databases) on top of them (e.g. north).

Northbound servers, southbound storage systems and cloud services

Think of storage systems, appliances, cloud services or other target destinations on the bottom (or south). ViPR sits in between providing storage services and management to the northbound servers leveraging the southbound storage.

What host servers can VIPR support for serving storage'

VIPR is being designed to be server agnostic (e.g. virtual or physical), along with operating system agnostic. In addition VIPR is being positioned as capable of serving northbound (e.g. up to application servers) block, file or object as well as accessing southbound (e.g. targets) block, file and object storage systems, file systems or services.

Note that a difference between earlier similar solutions from EMC have been either block based (e.g. Invista, VPLEX, VMAX with third-party storage), or file based. Also note that this means VIPR is not just for VMware or virtual server environments and that it can exist in legacy, virtual or cloud environments.

Likewise VIPR is intended to be application agnostic supporting little data, big data, very big data ( VBD) along with Hadoop or other specialized processing. Note that while VIPR will support HDFS in addition to NFS and CIFS file based access, Hadoop will not be running on or in the VIPR controllers as that would live or run elsewhere.

How will VIPR be deployed and licensed

EMC has indicated that the VIPR controller will be delivered as software that installs into a virtual appliance (e.g. VMware) running as a virtual machine (VM) guest. It is not clear when support will exist for other hypervisors (e.g. Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix/XEN, KVM or if VMware vSphere with vCenter or simply on ESXi free version). As of the announcement pre briefing, EMC had not yet finalized pricing and licensing details. General availability is expected in the second half of calendar 2013.

Keep in mind that the VIPR controller (software) runs as a VM that can be hosted on a clustered hypervisor for HA. In addition, multiple VIPR controllers can exist in a cluster to further enhance HA.

Additional Information

EMCworld 2016 EMC Hybrid and Converged Clouds Your Way

EMCworld 2016 Getting Started on Dell EMC announcements

Some questions to be addressed among others include:

  • How and where are IOs intercepted'
  • Who can have access to the APIs, what is the process, is there a developers program, SDK along with resources'
  • What network topologies are supported local and remote'
  • What happens when JBOD is used and no advanced data services exist'
  • What are the characteristics of the object access functionality'
  • What if any specific switches or data path devices and tools are needed'
  • How does a host server know to talk with its target and ViPR controller know when to intercept for handling'
  • Will SNIA CDMI be added and when as part of the object access and data services capabilities'
  • Are programmatic bindings available for the object access along with support for other APIs including IOS'
  • What are the performance characteristics including latency under load as well as during a failure or fault scenario'
  • How will EMC place Vplex and its caching model on a local and wide area basis vs. ViPR or will we see those two create some work together, if so, what will that be'

Bottom line (for now):

Good move for EMC, now let us see how they execute including driving adoption of their open APIs, something they have had success in the past with Centera and other solutions. Likewise, let us see what other storage vendors become supported or add support along with how pricing and licensing are rolled out. EMC will also have to articulate when and where to use ViPR vs. VPLEX along with other storage systems or management tools. View more at www.objectstoragecenter.com.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.

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