Citrix Summit Stored up announcements on Sanbolic and Atlantis Computing
Two important announcements have been stored up and delivered at Citrix Summit focused on optimizing storage for Citrix solutions. First up, was the announcement that Citrix has acquired Sanbolic, and the second, tied in back of the new Citrix XenServer 6.5 release, was Atlantis Computing's announcement of an industry first with the Atlantis USX™ hyper-converged solution for Citrix environments.
Isn't that a crossover? Shouldn't those announcements be somewhat at odds? Why acquire a company focused on storage and team up with a leading Software Defined Storage vendor? On XenServer 6.5? Isn't XenServer dead anyways? And hang on, storage? Isn't storage just a bit boring?
XenServer 6.5 - XenServer isn't Dead, and it wasn't just resting.
I was in the minority at being quite keen about the leaner and fitter XenServer 6.2. Like when your friends see you've probably been to the gym too much and offer you a pie, many decried the loss of enterprise features and enterprises.
But, while there were exits and moves to other hypervisors, many still stuck by XenServer for its simplicity and low cost. XenServer 6.5 has come back with a number of updates including:
- All 64-bit
- Significant performance improvements
- 50% increase in GPU density
- Numerous usability enhancements
- The return of the popular Workload Balancing (WLB) appliance
In addition, in terms of storage, there is the new In-Memory Read-Cache feature intended to improve boot and run time performance of XenApp/XenDesktop use cases. You can read about what you need to know on XenServer 6.5 by Marc Trouard-Riolle
XenServer 6.5 is an important release for Citrix it offers a much improved platform that has seen growing demand (especially over the past 6 months) due to its market leading graphics capabilities and low cost. XenServer's simplicity and improved performance may well see it used to drive more solutions.
Citrix doing Storage? Don't Citrix do Apps?
Historically Citrix have just done "applications". Glossing over the "mobility" ethos, that "application" delivery could be broken by a whole range of things including, but not limited to and no particular order:
- Network connectivity
- Network performance
- Application migration (i.e. from physical to a virtual environment)
- Storage proximity (data of the application to where the app is running from)
- Storage capacity
- Storage performance
- Client type
- Users in general
Citrix historically have a goal to be able to deliver all the pieces for delivery of apps and data for their Platinum-license-level buying customers. Of course, it is often the case that third parties either fill blanks or extend the core functionality to better fit customer requirements.
Obviously users, <insert deity of choice> bless them, can't be gotten rid of: although we all secretly admit life would be much easier if they weren't so damn demanding.
While networking, printing, app migration have been dealt with, storage has been a peripheral. From a storage perspective Citrix have looked to solve :
- Storage Capacity with the likes of PVS/MCS . This is is fine for images and works well, but images are a small piece of storage requirements when looking at a virtualised desktop delivery environment.
- Storage Performance with the likes of Intellicache, PVS' RAM caching options. Typically the services optimise read performance but not write: and there is typically more write activity than read in a virtual desktop environment.
In the past, with "storage proximity" it was pretty much, “you’re on your own”. Getting proximity right, getting capacity down, getting performance up are all Hard Things to Do but key in a successful XenDesktop/XenApp delivery.
Benefits of SanBolic Acquisition
At the core of SanBolic technology was an 64-bit symmetrical cluster file system called Melio FS. Melio FS could provide multiple Windows servers (it requires a Windows OS) with simultaneous read/write access to one or more storage partitions or Logical Unit Numbers (LUNs) on a storage area network (SAN).
While this offered a range of options for SQL or App Clustering, many Citrix customers used the technology to help provide replication for their PVS gold images finding benefit in no more read only LUNS
Citrix could leverage the technology as an enhancement for PVS to reduce time and storage space for HA setups: either as a core service used by all customers (unlikely), or as an option for Enterprise (possible), or for Platinum customers (likely). Perhaps a consideration for integration with UPM to allow profile replication; or even as a change to the way MCS delivers gold images across storage volume more efficiently. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on that.
Citrix have been quick of the mark to put their SanBolic investment to work. The SanBolic code piece is part of the new pre-packaged offering that includes integrated compute, storage and networking to allow application delivery - the first of which was WorkspacePod powered by HP. The intention is that Workspace Pods can be deployed as standalone or in a mesh configuration for data centers, as well as in remote regional or branch offices. Blade pc configurations (as Moonshot is) relies on PVS for OS delivery. A difficulty without the SanBolic technology would be providing a scaleable and highly available PVS environment within each Pod. Given it is a vital component to having another shot at blade PC deployment, no wonder Citrix brought the small software company's technology in-house
Great for image management, possibly for some application data. But there are still capacity and performance challenges for persistent images, for write cache files outside of a blade PC infrastructure, and for supporting service VMs. That said, the replication functionality could have wider uses but is currently limited to running within a Microsoft OS.
Benfits of Atlantis USX for XenServer
Atlantis Computing has announced the First Hyper-Converged Solution for End-to-End Citrix Environments. Atlantis USX™ is a software-defined storage solution. Atlantis USX 2.0, Best of VMworld 2014 for Storage and Backup, allows you to pool any SAN, NAS or DAS storage and accelerate its performance, while at the same time consolidating storage to increase storage capacity by up to 10 times. With Atlantis USX you’re creating pooling, abstraction, IO acceleration, and data mobility capabilities.
Atlantis USX has, to date, only been available on VMware ESX. This announcement show that Atlantis USX will offer a software storage platform that allows you to manage and consolidate storage across ESX and XenServer estates, managed from a single interface.
In addition, Atlantis have taken the XenServer 6.5 release and are combining it with verified hardware configurations from a variety of vendors to allow the creation of
- Industry-first optimised storage appliance using Citrix XenServer.
- Industry-first all-flash hyper-converged solution for Citrix technologies.
USX can not only be used to optimise the performance of XA/XD VMs but reduce the storage capacity required to host those services through its patented hyperdup technology. The abstracted storage services can also benefit other technology services that support a virtualised desktop infrastructure such as on-premise instances of Citirx Sharefile, Microsoft Exchange, File Services and Microsoft SQL.
Does the SanBolic acquisition not sit at odds? The Melio FS does indeed provide a data replication service that can be of benefit in a PVS environment, but the Melio FS sits within a Windows Server OS. Atlantis USX is an appliance that provides a storage platform that optimises the storage layer utilized by the Windows VM by providing additional capacity and performance using HyperDup.
In addition, there is an increased demand from customers and service providers to provide solutions that can be used as building blocks to increase capacity and performance as an organisation or demand grows. The Atlantis USX storage appliance and hyper-converged solution is going will give partners and customers the opportunity to deliver scaleable solution on XenServer.
The SanBolic acquisition allows Citrix to include a well used service to provide additional value to customers. With the new features and improved performance in XenServer 6.5 release, the hypervisor will likely gain new and renewed following, timely given the improved graphics performance coming with ESX. The Atlantis USX for XenServer announcement builds on that renewed XenServer vigour to offer storage capacity and performance enhancements across the Citrix solution portfolio. It will be interesting to see how others, Citrix included, build on that platform.
I'd say far from boring, what would you say?