A few days ago I spent a couple of hours with Syneto, a small European storage vendor who is developing ZFS based storage appliances. I have to admit that I was skeptical before this meeting, but eventually I really enjoyed the conversation and the product demo under many aspects.

First of all, European!

syneto-logoSyneto is based in Europe with offices in Italy and Romania. The CEO, Marco Lorenzi, is in Italy with sales and marketing teams while the R&D is led by Dan Văcta (CTO) and, Vadim Comănescu (VP of engineering) in Romania. We are talking about a small company with less than 20 employees but with operations in most important european countries.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 16.00.24Syneto’s story is not that short, but the first part of its life was devoted to the development and commercialization of an UTM (Unified threat management) solution no longer in use. Lately, in 2009 to be precise, Syneto started the development of a ZFS based storage solution built on top of OpenSolaris (which later became Illumos).

Syneto has sold more than 3000 appliances so far and, with recently added features (not to speak about the roadmap) they are set to do even better in the near future. The product is available through channel partners or via OEMs.

The list of available appliances ranges from very small ROBO NAS boxes to dual-controller Petabyte-sized multi-protocol enterprise storage systems. The characteristics (and price) of the solution vary in function of the activated functionalities and the power of the hardware beneath.

What I liked

Most of Syneto’s efforts are spent in the development of the Storage OS but the product is usually available as a hardware appliance. The choice to sell appliances instead of software packages lies in the commitment of the company to provide a good user experience (Illumos HCL is very poor and SMB end users aren’t that skilled) but the software license is perpetual and the customer can reuse it in the case of hardware upgrades.

Even though you won’t find many differences in the Syneto Storage OS when compared to other ZFS based storage systems, the company spent a lot of time developing a very nice, and easy to use, GUI alongside HA features and VMware integration.
All the features you can expect from a product like this are available: all common file and block protocols, as well as thin provisioning, snapshots, replicas, compression, deduplication and so on, but most of them need a separate license to be activated.

Beside the usual stuff, the part of the product that I liked the most is virtualization.
From the enterprise point of view, virtualization means integration with VMWare and Syneto can show an interesting set of features here. I was impressed by the clever management of ZFS snapshots, a kind of snapshots/clones granularity usually found on much more expensive storage systems.
At the same time, for the small business organizations, the end user can take full advantage of the KVM hypervisor provided by Storage OS and spin up VMs into the appliance. The internal hypervisor doesn’t have HA features or live migration capabilities between the controllers at the moment (expected in a future version), but it could be useful in some circumstances: for example, just think about a small remote office with a little NAS box that runs a bunch of small VMs for some local applications, all backed up and replicated to a central site.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 16.01.21Software support is another jewel in the crown, instant chat capability and the functionality that allows support engineers to take control of the GUI are really awesome, especially when the end user is not very skilled.

What I didn’t like

The licensing model is a little bit too complex, there is an activation key for almost every single feature, for capacity and, eventually, for performance! On the contrary, I would like to see fewer license types. I understand the economic of having a similar licensing model (especially for very small end users with few needs) but, at the same time, every new functionality (even if you need it sporadically or for a limited lapse of time) requires a new purchase.

The hardware support is all but satisfying. In fact, Syneto’s hardware support program has only a “next business day, parts exchange” option at the moment. This could be good enough for a certain type of customer but it is not applicable to end users with mission critical environments.

Why it is important for you

Syneto, as I wrote in the title of this post, it was a pleasant surprise to me. They have a very nice product, an interesting roadmap and some really cool features which are usually available on more expensive storage systems.
Ease of use, ZFS backend, affordable prices and quality of support services are their strengths, for sure. It sounds just brilliant for SMB end users.

On the flip side the major weakness comes from the hardware support and it should be improved as soon as possibile with on-site repair options if they want to aim higher.