Stratoscale tunes its Symphony hyper-convergence software

Stratoscale Symphony pools physical and virtual capacity and exposes it as shared block storage. Symphony recognizes existing networked storage and adds it to the pool.

Storage startups usually begin by trying to grab a niche in the market. Newcomer Stratoscale is aiming higher. It wants to woo VMware customers seeking to reduce their licensing costs and OpenStack users frustrated by configuration issues.

Stratoscale in February launched its Symphony entry in the software-defined storage market. The Symphony data center stack runs on racks of industry-standard x86 servers. It hyper-converges disk and flash storage, compute, networking and virtualization with the open source kernel-based virtual machine hypervisor. The Israel-based company is a latecomer to hyper-convergence, but Stratoscale positions itself as more of a cloud-building tool -- either as an alternative or complement to OpenStack -- than most hyper-converged products on the market.

Symphony installs on a master server and automatically populates itself across other nodes in a cluster. A policy engine allows customers to add or remove workloads to the cluster.

"We built an entire software stack that sits between your hardware and your applications. The analogy we use is a hamburger: The bun on [the] bottom is your hardware, and the bun on top is your applications and services. Symphony is the hamburger patty in the middle," said Uzi Krieger, the vendor's vice president of marketing.

Hyper-convergence gains ground, but software-only models still few

Symphony aggregates physical and virtual storage in a shared pool, exposing it as block storage. Enterprises can expand the Symphony storage pool by connecting their existing legacy storage. The software's intelligence makes compute, networking and storage subsystems aware of each other.

A Symphony configuration requires 32 GB of memory, at least one 256 GB solid-state drive and two hard disks. It works across a 10-Gigabit Ethernet connection. Stratoscale's subscription model includes an annual license of $5,000 per server. Despite its emphasis on selling only software, the vendor is offering a reference architecture that bundles Symphony on Super Micro servers. 

Stratoscale executives downplay competition against the likes of established hyper-converged  pioneers Nutanix and SimpiVity. Krieger said Symphony is geared to enterprises seeking a simpler path to build and manage a private cloud.

"We don't see the hyper-converged vendors as our competitors, at least where they are today," he said. "We are software-only. We don't sell appliances. I think we're a good fit for customers [who] want to move away from VMware. We also see a lot of OpenStack disappointments coming to us."

How does a software-defined storage startup make inroads against VMware?

Stratoscale's software-only deployment model naturally pits it against VMware, said Andrew Butler, a vice president and distinguished analyst at research firm Gartner. However, he cautioned that does not mean VMware shops will start flocking to Stratoscale.

"Stratoscale creates the hyper-converged stack, but lets the buyer determine the hardware platform," Butler said. "They also have chosen to develop their own hypervisor stack. The pure software model makes sense for enterprises that are prepared to own the task of hardware integration and have little or no dependence on running applications under VMware. This usually would be user-developed software stacks."

Krieger would not disclose how many customers are using Stratoscale software. Cisco is an investor, but it has no go-to-market partnerships with Stratoscale, which has $70 million in funding. Other investors include Intel Capital, SanDisk and Qualcomm Ventures.

Projected use cases for Symphony include building private cloud storage for on-premises management. The vendor claimed it lets customers build scalable cloud storage on par with public cloud providers, but at a lower cost.

"We are a big believer in commoditization. Our key element is the capability to build a cloud without the need to spend significant capital. We run x86 server hardware. Our software knows how to identify servers that are connected to the same physical network, and knows how to deploy on top of them automatically," Krieger said.

The first release of Symphony supports scaling to nearly 200 servers per cluster. A four-cluster minimum is recommended to support replication for disaster recovery.  Symphony includes APIs for OpenStack Swift cloud storage and supports replication across multiple data centers. Krieger said support for Amazon Web Services and policy engines for managing on-premises storage are on the roadmap.

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