Tech Field Day Roundtables at VMworld US 2013: Infinio

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During the Tech Field Day roundtables at VMworld US 2013, I had a change to meet Infinio.

Infinio is a startup founded about 2 years ago, with the idea to create a solution for storage acceleration, with some design objectives about being efficient, as cheap as possible and easy to manage for IT admins. Their overall business model has been designed around this idea, and I found this focus on their value proposition really interesting:

– customers have a problem -> NAS performances in VMware enviroments
– we have a solution that can help -> Infinio
– a well defined target audience -> only read caching, on NFS storage, for VMware Hypervisors

Peter Smith, Director of Product Management, showed us how Infinio works. Basically, it’s a VSA to be installed on each ESXi, it uses the hypervisor’s RAM to accelerate read activities of NFS storages shared between the hypervisors. It’s a pure software solution, and it does not requires you to buy SSD disks like other solutions on the market (even if it uses RAM, so it consumes some hardware resources nonetheless).

How Infinio works

Each VSA uses 8 GB of RAM, and you can lower it to 4 for small environments. Memory is completely reserved, to avoid contention problems with other VMs, or the ballon driver kicking in. Also, the VSA uses 2 vCPU, and one of them is reserved, for the same reason. The cache of each VSA is pooled in a single cache instance, shared among all hosts and deduplicated.

The sequence to read data when Infinio is in place is first of all the local cache, than the remote cache from other VSA, and finally the NAS storage. Even if it sounds strange to read cache content through the network, it’s nonetheless a much faster activity than to read the same data from mechanical disks, especially regarding latency. 

Infinio put a high priority to ease of use: you can download the installer from their website, and pass to it your vSphere credentials. It will go and check all the prerequisites (RAM and CPU amounts, and maybe some wrong configurations) and it will deploy a VSA for each ESXi server in few minutes. They will use automatically the vMotion network, and by looking at what IP subnet your vmotion is using, it configures all the VSA with a different IP subnet so it can share the same network without problems. As in other products, the choice of vMotion network makes sense: it’s not affected by other types of traffic, it’s not uses 100% of the time, and if you designed it following VMware best practices, is a flat network without routing in between slowing communications. Infinio does not even require a 10G network, since cache distribution among the VSAs is asynchronous, and if the network is congested a VSA starts acting locally without using the remote portion of the cache, until the congestion is over.

The management console is really simple and easy to use, with the main informations all available: latency, saved I/O on the backend NAS, and there is a nice box showing you how many HDD and SS you did not have to buy thanks to Infinio.

Right now Infinio is at the Public Beta phase, and you can freely test it. When it will be generally available, the price will be 499 USD per vSphere socket. It’s a really low price, especially if you compare it to other competitors, and it will be surely interesting for many customers. It does not accelerate writes, it does not support block storage (it’s in their roadmap), but if your environment is a use case for Infinio, it can really be an effective and cheap solution for you.I liked their focus: they do not want to do everything for everyone, but they offer a product that surely has some limits (NFS only, and only read caching since they use RAM) but it would be nonetheless interesting for many.

Also, there is a business reason behind this choice, well explained by Peter Smith during his presentation: all the new features like vFlash or VSAN from VMware will be available only in the upcoming vSphere 5.5 release, and probably only in the highest editions like Enteprise Plus. But many customers do not have those editions, and many of them did not even upgraded to 5.0. So, a product like Infinio being able to support every edition of vSphere from 4.1 onward, can really be a viable solution.

If you are interested, this is the complete video of the presentation:  


[This post was originally written by Luca Dell’Oca, and published on the blog ]