Formation Data Pools Virtual Machine Storage, Makes It Available For New Uses

Mark Lewis

Formation Data Systems, a startup promising to help customers move from legacy storage systems to a software-defined storage world with high-performance and quality-of-service capabilities, has updated its software with the ability to pool unused storage across multiple servers used for VMware virtual machines.

Formation Data Systems in late 2014 came out of stealth mode to introduce plans for software that works on industry-standard commodity servers to replace storage arrays, said CEO Mark Lewis.

The company's FormationOne Dynamic Storage Platform, which began shipping in February, is a software-defined storage application that replaces customers' physical storage arrays, Lewis told CRN.

[Related: Formation Data Systems Exits Stealth, Plans Storage Industry Disruption]

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"Our view is, if software-defined storage is to be effective, it needs to do everything as if it were an array, but be more cost-effective while offering scale-up capabilities," he said.

New to FormationOne is Formation Virtual Storage Recapture, or VSR, a capability that sprang from a realization that customers needed a way to clean up hidden storage capacity caused by the growing use of server virtualization, Lewis said.

"Several customers have told us they have a huge number of virtual machines out there on commodity servers," he said. "They ended up with a lot of stranded storage capacity. With Formation Virtual Storage Recapture, we run an agent as a virtual machine on the host servers to find that storage, pool it, and provide that pooled storage to multiple servers and arrays."

Formation Data Systems has done a remarkable job of bringing enterprise storage performance and functionality to commodity servers with its software-defined approach, said Paul Evans, founder and principal architect at Daystrom Technology Group, a Half Moon Bay, Calif.-based solution provider and Formation Data Systems partner.

For the media and entertainment industry, where a relatively small part of the infrastructure is virtualized, the Formation Virtual Storage Recapture may not be a big draw, Evans told CRN.

However, enterprise customers are very interested in finding blobs of available storage that could be easily managed on the fly, he said.

"To do this in a software-defined fashion is compelling," he said. "We work with a lot of software-defined solutions, but they usually don't have the right controls for quality of service that Formation has. Formation allows storage to scale while offering quality of service and tiering in multitenant environments."

FormationOne is focused on midmarket applications, with customers that have as few as 50 TBs of storage capacity, Lewis said. "We are a genuine alternative to buying another expensive siloed array," he said.

Compared with many software-defined storage solutions, FormationOne offers the most complete solution including quality of service, snapshots and replication, Lewis said.

From a performance standpoint, FormationOne offers sub-millisecond latency, and competes well with solutions like EMC's VNX or NetApp midrange solutions, Lewis said. "We can do all-flash array storage with millions of IOPS, but a seven-times better cost-per-IOPS than all-flash storage hardware vendors."

Formation Data Systems, which Lewis said has the financial background to continue growing the company for the next few years as it builds toward cash-flow operations, already has more than 20 channel partners in the U.S.