Last week I attended SFD10 and I met with a lot of interesting storage startups. Most of them have a good level of integration with VMware (who doesn’t today?), but one in particular built its entire strategy around it: Tintri.
After their presentation I started wondering about this company, its product and its success in the market and I came up with a few considerations that I’d like to share with you.
Tintri and its VM-aware storage
Without spending too much time talking about the company itself (you can find all the info on several different websites, like The Register or CrunchBase), I’d like to talk about the vision and the product.
Tintri started in 2008 with the idea to provide a storage system particularly optimized for virtualized environments.
The company started in 2008 with the idea to provide a storage system particularly optimized for virtualized environments. At the beginning it was VMware only, but now it also supports Microsoft Hyper-V and KVM (RedHat and OpenStack) with a similar set of functionalities. As far as I know, Tintri has been the first to provide VM granularity for almost any feature available on its storage system (Snapshots, replica, QoS and so on)… forgive me for the oversimplification but it was like having VVOLs before VVOLs were even conceived. Furthermore, a few weeks ago, the company made one of the most important announcements of its history by adding “scale-out” functionalities, much improved analytics and self-optimization capabilities to get the most out of your Vmware infrastructure.
I wrote “scale-out” in quotes because it’s not a real scale-out storage system (as it is for other vendors like Solidfire or Isilon). This is more like a federation of different storage arrays managed as a single system and with the addition of smart data and workload placement features to help keep it balanced and efficient – resembling VMware DRS on the compute side. Don’t get me wrong, the product is very well designed and offers some very neat features, it’s just that I don’t think about it as a scale-out solution. In any case, marketing and details apart, Tintri has done an amazing job and I really like it (you can watch a demo here). It eases up the sys admin workload and simplifies his/her life without particular limits or constraints.
The product is very well designed and offers some very neat features, it’s just that I don’t think about it as a scale-out solution.
I’m not saying it’s perfect though, a 1.0 version is still 1.0, and some automations and other optimizations will see the light with subsequent releases. To be honest, this is also to be expected, no one would trust the system enough to give it complete control over data and workloads before spending some time to understand how it works…
Tintri is 90 – 95% of what you need
Like I said, Tintri has a fantastic product and it can be considered a great solution when it comes to Virtualized infrastructures… but I think it’s also its biggest limitation!
The VM-aware functionalities available on a Tintri system are now common ground for many other players. We could argue that Tintri does it better, but most of the vendors are catching up very quickly. Also, the Analytics part is no longer news and many vendors offer similar features (or even more if we think about Nimble Storage InfoSight for example). And what about scale-out? Nearly all HCI vendors offer it. On the other hand, Tintri doesn’t support non-virtualized workloads which can be a limit for external storage.
In the last 4 to 5 years, we’ve seen several new startups doing very well in the hyperconverged infrastructure space. They offer a seamless user experience and similar granularity to what Tintri promises… And, if you look carefully, Tintri offers most of the HCI benefits through a separate box but, to the end user, the idea to further simplify the infrastructure by having fewer boxes is even more compelling.
At the end of the day Tintri has two types of competitors: HCI vendors on one side, which offer a similar experience but with less complexity, and external storage vendors on the other, which offer more flexibility in terms of OS and workload support. All of them are now capable of offering VM-level granularity for the vast majority of the features and/or cloud-based analytics.
At the end of the day Tintri has two types of competitors: HCI vendors on one side, which offer a similar experience but with less complexity, and external storage vendors on the other, which offer more flexibility in terms of OS and workload support.
The VM-aware storage (sales) dilemma
VM-aware storage also has another problem: the interlocutor. Who is Tintri’s first interlocutor? The Storage or Virtualization team? Storage people don’t like limited scope storage systems, they want flexibility, parity of features between different OSes and a system that can provision storage resources when and where needed. Virtualization people adore VM-aware storage but HCI goes a step further for them… why buy an external storage if they can have everything they need directly from their servers?
Virtualization people adore VM-aware storage but HCI goes a step further for them… why buy an external storage if they can have everything they need directly from their servers?
Customer size is another issue. If a small customer buys an external system today they buy only one and they want it unified (multi protocol and multi purpose) or they go for HCI 100%. Single purpose storage systems are for larger organizations… but, in this case, we fall back to what was discussed above.
Closing the circle
I’m really keen on Tintri and their storage system and, as far as I know, so are their customers. But VM-aware is now one of the many features required in order to be competitive. Tintri has the best in class implementation regarding VM-aware functionalities, but it’s not enough for today’s needs. If the goal is simplification, hyperconvergence is perceived as a further simplification when compared to external storage. In the other cases it lacks the features to be compared with other external storage systems. I think this says a lot about VM-aware storage, doesn’t it?
I want to close with a small comparison here. Last week I also met with Nimble Storage, but the same argument can be applied to Tegile and others. Nimble has a wonderful analytics tool (probably still the best on the market), transparent migration functionalities similar to what is possible with Tintri (here demo recorded at SFD), scale-out and a not-so-distant VMware granularity for their features.
I’m using Nimble as an example because they started in the same year (2008). Today Nimble has more than 8000 customers and, if I understood correctly during the SFD session, Tintri has only 1000. I have to say that Tintri is pushing much harder on sales now than in the past, but it’s also true that if the market thinks Nimble struggles at times, then what to think about Tintri?
[quick disclaimer: I did some work for Nimble last year]