Storage start-up Tintri launches with $17 million

Emerging from stealth mode after two and a half years, Tintri is aiming big with a storage solution designed to be virtualized.

Tintri this week is coming out of stealth mode with a new storage system designed to solve the unique storage problems of virtual machines (VMs). Founded by the former head of VMware R&D, the company is also announcing it raised $17 million from venture firms NEA and Lightspeed Partners.

Storage has long been a lucrative market, heavily dominated by just a few players. The introduction of a virtualization-oriented solution brings new blood and a new approach to a rather stagnant industry. And, considering the enormous growth of virtualization, an approach that IT staff should certainly be interested in.

In a Q&A with CNET, Tintri founder and CEO Kieran Harty told me that managing storage in virtualized environments can be quite different than traditional storage scenarios. There are a number of factors to take into account, including VM input/output, disk integration, deduplication, and compression capabilities when considering a virtualized storage solution.

A Q&A follows with questions I asked Harty via e-mail.

Q: Being stealth for two and a half years is an amazing feat. Why so long?
Harty: We were building a storage appliance from the ground up. We knew that our approach to solving the VM storage problem would require a new file system--a substantial undertaking we knew would likely take at least two years. We chose to work in stealth because we wanted to be first to market and have a significant lead on any competition.

What exactly do you mean by "storage for VMs," and how do you expect users to consume your software?
Harty: Tintri VMstore is a hardware appliance that is purpose-built for VMs. It uses virtual machine abstractions--VMs and virtual disks--in place of conventional storage abstractions such as volumes, LUNs, or files. By operating at the virtual machine and disk level, administrators get the same level of insight, control, and automation of CPU, memory, and networking resources as general-purpose shared-storage solutions.

We have customers running a variety of workloads, including production applications like Oracle Financials. They either had applications that couldn't easily be virtualized because of storage constraints, or wanted to simplify storage provisioning for virtual environments. Several of our beta customers have also virtualized applications that were running on physical servers with direct-attached storage.

Tintri's success appears to be tied to the continued adoption of virtualization in organizations. Sooner or later users will plateau; how do you address the challenge of VM stall?
Harty: Our approach removes one of the key obstacles that causes VM stall today: traditional storage that is complex and expensive, yet can't consistently deliver performance in virtual environments.

Many customers have struggled to virtualize production applications because storage has gotten in the way. For example, at TIBCO, the IT staff had attempted to virtualize an Oracle Financials application with an expensive SAN array on the back-end. Performance was so poor that the project was canceled. With Tintri VMstore, TIBCO was able to successfully virtualize the application.

How do all of these changes in virtualization affect the way users build private cloud environments?
Harty: The concept of a private cloud environment relies on rapid provisioning across the entire infrastructure. Storage complexity often limits flexibility today. A VM administrator can easily add new server resources by simply adding more blades or servers to a hypervisor cluster. Adding storage is much more complex and time-consuming.

How do you compete with the entrenched storage vendors who have dominant positions in IT environments?
Harty: Tintri is focused exclusively on virtualization. Existing vendors provide general-purpose storage that was primarily designed in the 1990s before server virtualization came to market. Though these products are often "optimized" after the fact for virtualization with bolt-on management layers, the overall solution remains very expensive and still requires significant expertise to map the storage and virtualization layers.

Because we're focused specifically on virtualization, we offer a substantially better experience that doesn't require deep storage expertise. Our team also brings a unique perspective with strong backgrounds in both virtualization (from VMware, Citrix) and storage (from Data Domain and NetApp).

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