There’s more than one way to change a tyre

During talks with people who are interested in the Open vStorage concept, we quite often get the following question:

How are you different compared to <insert name of software-defined storage product of the moment>

Well the answer is something which has been the adagio within CloudFounders from day one: Keep IT Simple, Stupid. The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated. This is equally through in the storage industry. For decades we are chasing the utopian dream of Virtual Machines that are always online. I must admit, we are very close but we should look back at the price we are paying: complexity. But don’t be fooled, hand in hand with complexity comes its buddy error.
Within our company we have an average of 15 years’ experience within datacenter and storage environments. The most important thing we learned down the road is that complexity is your worst enemy when things go bad. The second thing we learned is that things will go bad eventually, no matter how prepared you are. Ok, when you have added enough complexity like active-active SANs, firewalls, databases, etc, things will go bad less often but when disaster strikes your downtime will be much more than when you would have kept things simple.
When we designed Open vStorage the KISS principle has always been in the back of our mind. I’d like to give you 2 examples of where we keep things simple while others are making it complicated, expensive and dangerous.

  • To support functionality such as vMotion and VMware High Availability (HA), you can use an expensive SAN. In order to decrease the hardware complexity and cost, architects are nowadays turning towards distributed file systems. Don’t get me wrong, distributed file systems such as GlusterFS, developed by more than 70 software engineers, is a great file system. But in the end it is a file system, it is designed to store files and was never designed to run Virtual Machines. But a clever engineer saw that GlusterFS solved his problem of a unified namespace, making all files on the file system available on every host. But let us take a step back to see the unified-namespace-problem in perspective. What we want to achieve is that the Virtual Machine volume, a block device, of a Virtual Machine can move from one host to another host without having to bring the VM down. Instead of using a distributed file system to store the virtual disk, Open vStorage uses a different less complex approach to tackle this problem. We store the volumes on a shared backend. To make sure that VM data isn’t accessed at the same time by two hosts we have created a rule within Open vStorage that a volume can only by attached to one host. We store the ‘owner’ of the host in a distributed database. When vMotion is triggered, the 2 hosts work together to make the transition. Once the volume is available on the second host, the 2 hosts sync the data which is not yet on the backend and the move is complete. To summarize instead of making all Virtual Machine volumes available on all hosts all the time, Open vStorage makes sure that a volume is connected to a single host at the right time.
  • To support multiple hypervisors and multiple storage backends, we also took an easy approach. Instead of trying to convert each hypervisor type directly into different storage protocols, we created a front and a backend. The complexity was greatly reduced as we only need to write per hypervisor a storage frontend and immediately the new hypervisor can talk with all storage backends. The same goes for a new backend: write a new backend extension and all hypervisors can use that backend. This flexibility does not only minimize the development effort but on top different hypervisors can share the same storage pool. Also as we use raw volumes, moving a Virtual Machine from VMware to KVM could (in the future) just be a reboot on the right host, no conversion needed.

Now back to the title, you can change a flat tyre in different ways, one way it to just replace the flat the tyre. Or, you could instead strip the whole car from around that flat tyre and reassemble it around a new tyre. This way you fix the same issue but the cost will be higher, the process will be more complex and you will probably need more than 70 engineers to fix your flat tyre.

Upcoming release (End April)

The Open vStorage tries to release a new version once month. Since version 1.0.2 was released end of March, the next (big) release release can be expected by the end of April. This release, Open vStorage 1.1 is planned to have following content:

  • HA Support: in version 1.0.2 you need to set a host offline to be able to steal volumes away from the VSA on that host. In the next release we would allow to steal volumes automatically when a host is down. This means that Virtual Machines which are migrated by the hypervisor to another node will automatically be stolen by the new hosts. Keep in mind that in version 1.0.2, live migration is f.e. already supported. As long as both hosts are online, volumes can move withouth downtime between VSAs.
  • Logging: in version 1.0.2 the logging was very minimal. In the 1.1 version we will make sure all components log into a central location for the whole cluster. This should make troubleshooting much more user-friendly.

That is the plan for the next big release. In case you want to see things added to the roapmap, let us know!