We recently announced that one of the leading global IaaS providers CloudSigma chose StorPool Storage as it’s mainline compute block storage solution. CloudSigma was using 3 different storage solutions which were migrated to a StorPool based storage solution which now services critical workloads of the cloud provider. StorPool’s CEO, Boyan Ivanov recently had an interview with CloudSigma’s CEO, Robert Jenkins which includes interesting insights about the industry, why CloudSigma chose StorPool and what were the distributed block storage benefits for them.
Boyan: Who are CloudSigma?Robert: CloudSigma is public Infrastructure As A Service (IaaS) provider. Besides many smaller businesses, our customers include very large companies like, Deutsche Boerse, European Space Agency, a very large German conglomerate in the industrial space, plus a number of others we are not allowed to name. They all have very demanding computing needs and they really push things in terms of what’s possible within the cloud. Our customers are using CloudSigma for production services, so they care about performance, but also reliability because they indirectly impact their revenue and their ability to win and retain customers.
We also have a strong customer base in high performance computing and big data, who need really fast storage and fast networking. For example in the case of the European Space Agency they are processing satellite data, they are doing visualisation and other tasks intensive on the compute side, so they actually care and notice the performance. Some of our competitors would be giants like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google and it may surprise people that they’ll usually get higher performance from CloudSigma than by using larger clouds.
Boyan: What were your pain points before adopting StorPool and how the things changed after deploying StorPool?Robert: Storage is critical to the cloud, it is the biggest challenge. It is very difficult to get a very good block storage system that’s able to deal with the demands of all different customers in parallel and it’s a very different operational model to traditional storage requirements for a block storage system. That creates a lot of challenges. Storage is also an environment which you just can’t take down. We needed a block storage vendor that understands that and is able to deliver an „always on” environment.
Also previous vendors that we tried weren’t set up for that model and they lacked the technical skills. The storage product is integrated into the networking, into the compute and what we found is when problems occurred others generally did not have an idea of what was going on. One of the attractions of StorPool was that it is a very technology focused company and has highly talented individuals with experience and deep knowledge, not just of storage but also networking and general computing. We are confident, not only that the product was the right product because of the design and the architectural aspects but also that the team behind it was very engaged and had the skill and ability to support a service provider.
Boyan: Let’s get some practical points: Why did you choose StorPool?Robert: One of the unique abilities of StorPool is the flexibility of deployment model. CloudSigma is able to tailor the deployment model to the use case requirement because we have locations in various places in the world and we have different requirements in terms of power density and all those kind of things. So in a high power density environment we can create a different setup than in a lower power density environment. That’s exactly what we are able to do with StorPool – it allows us to integrate storage very tightly in the networking and computing aspects of our cloud and that’s how we can gain a lot of efficiency over and above a product that we might buy as an appliance. Even the products that do not require an appliance usually do not integrate into the rest of the fabric so flexibly, so those still have a separate cluster of storage boxes.
Boyan: So your setups are customized per location?Robert: The setups we have are very tailored – for example in Zurich, our largest cloud location we have a semi-converged setup which combines on compute node SSD with HDD drives on dedicated boxes. In other locations where the power density is lower the optimal setup is different and in that case we use a fully converged setup. That’s why we like StorPool, because we can essentially tailor it to the specific operational parameters of various locations and actually we can stay with the same vendor in every location; we can compete and have an efficient service under many different conditions. So this is really important thing for us.
Boyan: OK, but what were the reasons that made you look for a new storage solution in the first place?
Robert: At CloudSigma we experimented with a number of storage systems in the past. What we needed was a storage system that is focused towards a service provider, not some sort of re-purposed enterprise storage system. Something that can support a resale model in a multi-tenant environment and something that is really efficient, because we work in a very competitive market. On that basis a lot of systems don’t compete very well, they just don’t work commercially. This is the background.
Boyan: What were the results of deploying StorPool?Robert: Once we deployed StorPool we found that we indeed surpassed the efficiency gains that we had hoped for. By using StorPool we achieved over a 15% increase in our gross margin and that is huge for a service provider! To be able to increase our gross margin by adopting a new storage system and at the same time increase performance significantly, that’s really a major change. From a commercial perspective after adopting StorPool we’ve been able to adopt a much more efficient fabric that’s allowing us to sell more services on the same hardware.
So we increased our gross margin, we’ve increase performance, we’ve reduced customer churn. We are very happy and finally I can say, the liaison we have had with StorPool has been excellent and we’ve been very happy with the reaction of their operational team both in terms of managing the solution and expanding it but also in terms of dealing with issues and working together generally. We have found StorPool to be a great partner in terms of our service delivery.
Boyan: Were there any other distributed block storage benefits?
Robert: We made a strategic decision when we decided to use StorPool. Before it we had 3 systems – an internally developed solution, based on ZFS, an all-flash array and several scale out magnetic type deployments. For the most part we were using the internal product which we developed out of frustration with the other two vendors we worked with – they over promised on performance, they were too expensive and they didn’t operationally know what they were doing.
Storage is a very big area to be keeping up with and we wanted to focus on our core business. So when we adopted StorPool we made a strategic decision not to invest our resources internally on both day to day management and the development of the storage. So what we did was to focus more. Now the operations team is very focused on the cloud management and they are less involved in de-bugging storage issues that might occur and the development team is focusing on cloud features and features for customers much more than maintaining a storage solution. The main impact was the ability to focus on the thing we feel we can add the best value at and that definitely didn’t include storage in our case.
Boyan: Are there any specifics in the workings of service providers and how they choose storage?Robert: From a service provider perspective the storage vendor you choose is really critical and especially in the cloud space a lot of the traditional vendors and approaches that they have don’t work very well. There is a disconnect between a lot of the vendors and cloud service providers.
The primary focus of StorPool is building block storage systems that support service providers and this is why we chose them. StorPool team is not surprised by the things we asked, because they understand service providers and the prism that we are looking through and that is really different from a lot of vendors who are just completely confused by a lot of the things we might ask them and they have no understanding of the economics of a service provider, which is directly applicable when you are choosing a block storage solution as a service provider.
Boyan: Do you think that service providers are the kind of customers who adopt new technologies first? Are they innovators in a way?Robert: If the technology does not work, they really do not care about innovation at the expense of availability. They do not care about additional functionality. It must work. This is the conservative side of things. On the other hand – there is the commercial pressure, where customers want better prices, higher performance, etc. You want to adopt things that make your business more competitive as soon as it is safe to do so, because that is going to give you a commercial edge. Service providers operate in a highly competitive environment where there is a commercial benefit to adopting innovation. Because of this service providers are more likely to adopt innovation earlier than pure enterprises, because the pure enterprise does not necessarily have that direct commercial pressure that the service providers have. In that sense, yes, the service provider will adopt innovation ahead of the traditional enterprise market.
Boyan: Would you recommend StorPool to others?Robert: Yes, I would for all the reasons I just said. We feel that StorPool is a very good choice on storage. Maybe StorPool still doesn’t have the brand recognition that it deserves to have, but that is fine because it is a relatively new company and a new product, an innovative product. Yes, we would be happy to recommend StorPool to various types of customers because of the flexibility, both on a commercial and an operational basis it can be beneficial to that service provider and even for other enterprises that might be running services on top of it. When you are choosing a block storage product, to an extent you are outsourcing the R&D of storage to that vendor and as I said we’ve been very happy with the relationship.
Boyan: Any final thoughts or takeaways?Robert: We feel we made the right decision and timing with StorPool and that it is very ready to be put into production with our most sensitive clients – we are running 100% on StorPool and we are very happy. The reaction of the teams and the ability to fix things on the fly and minimize the problems left us with a very good impression. The system has been running stable, performing very well, we haven’t hit really major issues and the product road map is coming in with different features that are going to have a commercial benefit for us.
Boyan: Robert, thank you for this interview.Robert: It’s been a pleasure, thank you as well.
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