Virsto gets $12 million boost to help push virtualized storage beyond Hyper-V

Virsto has announced they have secured $12 million in Series B venture capital funding. In addition, Virsto has revealed it has acquired EvoStor, a company specializing in storage virtualization technology for VMware environments.

Virsto developed the first hypervisor-based storage solution built for virtual machines which we’ve spoken about in the past. At present, Virsto’s solution is for Microsoft Hyper-V implementations only. Yet Khaled Nasr, partner at InterWest who joins Virsto’s board of directors, is obviously excited about the prospect of not only expanding Virtso’s potential for Microsoft Hyper-V,  but developing new markets:

“Storage virtualization is a $30 billion market that is ripe for disruption. Virsto stands out because the company takes a differentiated technical approach to tackling a thorny problem – an approach that has already shown traction with customer and partner validation. The promise of the core technology combined with the management team’s track record make this a compelling investment opportunity.”

Access to storage in terms of performance and capacity is a core requirement for the success of any virtualization project. Certainly, storage issues are often a fundamental part in the failure of VDI implementations to move beyond pilot to production.  Where can this investment put Virsto, and will these announcements re-energize virtual server and desktop projects stopped cold when full storage costs were put in front of the board?

I, O, P  and S – four letters to undo a VDI roll-out

Many VDI pilot projects fail as they scale to production. During the pilot, a shared storage infrastructure can deliver consistent throughput and so acceptable desktop performance. However, on transition to full-scale production, storage infrastructure I/O performance can degrade as each virtual desktop makes requests of the shared storage infrastructure as if it were dedicated storage. The result? Poor desktop and application performance and increasing user dissatisfaction with the virtual desktop infrastructure.

A common practice to remedy this issue is to spread the virtual desktop load over greater numbers of drives and storage controllers. This either increases the costs beyond the original budget, or kills the project outright. Importantly, while storage performance is an issue in Windows XP deployments, IOPS has an even greater impact in Windows 7. Indeed, for an excellent analysis of the IOPS issues for VDI, I’d recommend reading Windows 7 IOPS for VDI: Deep Dive by Jim Moyle.

Which Hypervisor for VDI?

As a hypervisor platform to support VDI, VMware’s linked clone technology and memory management features meant VMware’s hypervisor offered a far better environment for hosting desktops services than Microsoft’s Hyper-V or Citrix’s XenServer. To this end, both Citrix and Microsoft have introduced features to increase hosted desktop density and performance. Virsto had already been offering a virtualized storage solution for Microsoft’s Hyper-V. In turn, Citrix introduced an IntelliCache feature for XenServer 5.6 last year and now XenDesktop 5 Service Pack 1 includes XenDesktop IntelliCache.

However, Citrix’s solution is focused on a single vendor solution. This could restrict the options for your hosted desktop implementation. Allowing a wider range of brokers and hypervisors is environment that the the likes of Atlantis Computing has been seeing success with their ILIO platform which can provide storage performance acceleration and de-duplication services as a virtual appliance running on a range of hypervisors.

A benefit of Virsto’s offering is that it integrates within the hypervisor rather than requiring a separate appliance. No additional network configuration or rack space needs to be dedicated which is an additional benefit over the relatively low cost ($2,800 for 1TB per server). That said, by integrating with the hypervisor directly there is the possibility of upgrade/management issues when managing your hypervisor estate – and it means that each hypervisor needs to be addressed separately.

Many internal IT departments aren’t adverse to mixing their hypervisor solutions – a recent surveys shows 70% of customers have or are considering multi-hypervisor data centers. While VMware is the hypervisor of choice for server virtualisation, it is fair to say there is a growing trend to consider Microsoft’s Hyper-V for VDI deployments. Still, including support for VMware would offer a wider market opportunity for Virsto’s fledgling partner channel.

Virtualised Storage Optimisation for everyone

This was the reasoning behind the acquisition of intellectual property and key team members from EvoStor. EvoStor was an early innovator in the VMware storage market, delivering easy-to-deploy, reliable, scalable and affordable solutions. Making use of the partnership between EvoStor and VMware will be of benefit to Virsto as it readies the Virsto Virtual Storage Engine for additional hypervisor platforms.

VDI Success isn’t just about Storage

It is true that reducing storage size and improving performance will improve the chances of success for a virtualization project – and especially so for delivering hosted desktops. Yet, those desktop and application environments still need to be managed. A temptation with cheaper and faster storage would be to virtualize traditional desktops directly as was done with servers. While this does allow for the centralisation of desktops and provides options for wider device access using a broker, it doesn’t make the introduction new applications any easier and doesn’t fully exploit the potential for more agile management and faster application delivery.

However, solving storage issues in a virtualised environment is a core component for success. Virsto’s funding will help them deliver on their plan to grow a channel to drive their solution to a wider Microsoft Hyper-V audience and develop a solution to complement VMware. Atlantis Computing will find there is a growing competition in a segment they have been dominating. Virsto have a longer term goal to develop into a XenServer environment; while this likely technically possibly, given the growth of Microsoft’s Hyper-V and the dominance of VMware you’d have to ask if the development of services to Citrix’s XenServer would be worth the effort.

In terms of solving your VDI performance issues today, if you’ve a Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisor solution Virsto suggest utilising their Virsto Virtual Storage Engine can reduce storage costs by up to 50%. That’s going to be a compelling message – even more so if it can be translated to VMware environments.