ESG Validation

ESG Lab Validation: Agile and Efficient Software-defined Storage from Acronis

Introduction

ESG Lab validated Acronis Storage, including Acronis CloudRAID and Acronis Notary, with a focus on the solution’s ability to deliver the ease of use, flexibility, and efficiency of public cloud storage. Also of interest was its ability to effectively support block, file, and object storage workloads with a single hybrid cloud storage solution.

Background

Traditional storage systems can be expensive to deploy, manage, and maintain, and even more expensive to upgrade or replace. Their monolithic design makes them hard to scale, and reconfiguration often requires service interruptions. Many organizations are looking at software-defined storage solutions to overcome these challenges. In fact, as shown in Figure 1, ESG research indicates that current and potential SDS users are drawn to the technology’s potential to contain both operational and capital expenditures, with simplified storage management/deployment and solution agility not far behind cost containment as key considerations for deploying SDS solutions.[1]

Figure 1. Factors Responsible for Consideration of Software-defined Storage

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2017

Acronis Storage

Acronis Storage is a universal and cost-efficient scale-out software-defined storage solution that combines block, file, and object workloads in a single solution leveraging commodity server hardware and Acronis Storage software.[2] It is built on a proven architecture that has been in production for more than six years in 17 data centers worldwide, managing over 100 PB of customer data. It incorporates Acronis CloudRAID for reliable data protection and Acronis Notary with blockchain technology to ensure data integrity. The storage in an Acronis cluster can be configured and provisioned to easily support different architectures and workloads. As shown in Figure 2, Acronis uses a distributed server approach so that as the cluster grows in capacity, so too does the compute power. Each cluster node can be configured to deliver any combination of services, including metadata services, storage services, and client services (e.g., iSCSI, Acronis Backup Gateway, or S3). This means the solution does not require dedicated nodes to deliver storage access.

Figure 2. Solution Overview

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2017

Key Acronis Storage features include:

Speed: SSD caching, automatic load balancing, and parallel self-healing combine to deliver the performance required to handle multiple real-world workloads.

Universality: Block, file, and object storage combined in a single software-defined scale-out solution support hot and cold data use cases, including server virtualization, data protection such as Acronis Backup, and cloud workloads.

Efficiency: Acronis is designed to work with off-the-shelf commodity hardware and offers flexible licensing. The intuitive GUI makes it easy to manage and maintain, and the agile architecture allows flexible deployment. Acronis’ use of erasure coding stores a small amount of parity information, unlike other SDS systems that use replicas for redundancy.

Safety: Acronis CloudRAID efficiently manages overhead and compute time for data integrity and data rebuild operations. Acronis Notary with blockchain technology provides data immutability and authenticity verification.

ESG Lab Validation

ESG Lab performed remote hands-on validation and price/performance auditing of the Acronis Storage solution from the Acronis corporate facilities in Burlington, MA. Testing was designed to demonstrate the solution’s ability to deliver the ease of use, flexibility, and efficiency of software-defined storage using industry-standard tools and methodologies. Also of interest was its ability to effectively support block, file, and object storage workloads with a single hybrid storage solution.

Solution Agility

This section of the validation report explores the software and infrastructure agility inherent in the Acronis Storage architecture. To demonstrate Acronis Storage agility, ESG Lab walked through the code installation process, audited duration and throughput metrics for disk drive rebuilds, and navigated the procedure to add a node to an existing cluster.

ESG Lab Testing

ESG Lab started validating solution agility by navigating through the node installation process on a commodity bare-metal server. For this demonstration, we chose to add a storage node because we already had a running four-node cluster. The bare-metal server was powered on, connected to the network, and had the Acronis Storage software image loaded in the DVD drive. When doing an install, three different software components are available. These components include Management Panel, Storage, and Management Panel and Storage. As shown in the configuration wizard in Figure 3, ESG Lab selected the Storage component option because we already had a management server configured. Then we simply pointed to the IP address of the management server, added the Acronis Storage authorization token, and selected the first of three disk drives in the server for the OS install. In a few minutes, we had a new unassigned node ready to be added to a cluster.

Figure 3. Storage Node Installation

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2017

Next, ESG Lab examined how the Acronis architecture handles data reliability and availability. Unlike traditional storage arrays, which add storage without increasing processing power, an Acronis Storage cluster adds hosts as it adds storage. The result is that as more hosts are added to the cluster, processing gets faster. As shown in Figure 4, rebuilding a failed disk drive in an Acronis Storage cluster with multiple hosts is significantly faster than completing a similar rebuild in a traditional array. ESG Lab testing verified that it took nearly three hours to rebuild a one terabyte drive in a traditional storage array, while Acronis Storage accomplished the same task in as little as 20 minutes. The detailed results of the performance testing can be found in Table 1.

Figure 4. Acronis Distributed Rebuild Performance

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2017

Table 1. Detailed Results Comparing 1 TB Drive Rebuild Times

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2017

Acronis Storage uses configurable erasure coding to protect its disks, rather than traditional RAID. Erasure coding is a method of storage protection that involves spreading chunks of protected data across multiple disks on multiple hosts, thus spreading the processing load and ensuring better performance. It’s a technique that is gaining favor in public cloud storage, and it has recently begun to appear on in-house storage solutions.

Finally, ESG Lab explored the cluster scalability capabilities of Acronis Storage. We demonstrated this capability by adding the previously installed node to the cluster. The upper left side of Figure 5 shows the unassigned node in the red callout box. The upper left dropdown box in the Acronis Storage GUI allows users to select which cluster to join. In this case, we only had one option, a single cluster in the test environment called testx. On the join cluster page, we added the IP address of the management server and clicked join. We also selected one of the SATA drives on the new node to present as storage. Other options for the drives on each node include metadata, cache, metadata + cache, and unassigned. The bottom right side of Figure 5 shows the new node joined to the cluster. There were no client services (e.g., iSCSI, Acronis Backup Gateway, or S3) assigned to this node.

Figure 5. Add Node Cluster Scale-out Process

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2017

Why This Matters

Despite vendor promises, implementing a new solution does not always go as seamlessly as planned. And it’s often an unexpected component that causes the most grief. For instance, a complex hardware configuration could limit the benefits a customer can achieve from an efficient and well-aligned software solution that meets their business goals.

ESG Lab validated that Acronis designed the kind of agility into its storage solution that helps customers achieve successful deployment, operations, and scale. Acronis Storage leverages standard Intel-based servers, which are intuitively familiar to the IT professional as hardware building blocks for the solution. Each server component, network, storage, and compute is presented as a group of resources for the solution. Then, Acronis Storage software orchestrates the resources and delivers them as storage services.

 

Ease of Use

This section of the validation report explores how the Acronis Storage administration GUI makes the software-defined solutions easy to manage. To demonstrate ease of use, ESG Lab walked through the configuration of three different components of the unified solution. This included configuring an iSCSI service, an Acronis Backup Gateway service, and an S3 type object storage.

ESG Lab Testing

ESG Lab began ease-of-use validation by logging into the Acronis Storage GUI and selecting the Services Tab in the left-side pane. The public network setting on the selected cluster was previously configured through the Acronis Storage GUI for iSCSI support. As shown in Figure 6, ESG Lab started with the Add target screen. We entered the target name, selected the cluster node we wanted the service to run on, and entered the target IP address. It should be noted that, at this point, CHAP can be easily enabled and configured from within the GUI for customers who want to use authentication. CHAP is used to restrict access to iSCSI volumes and snapshots to only those users who have the right account credentials.

Figure 6. Acronis iSCSI Management

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2017

ESG Lab then moved on to the Add LUN screen. As shown in Figure 6, we selected the LUN number we wanted to present (in this case, LUN number one at initiator zero), and assigned it a size of 4 GB from the cluster disk resources. Then we selected the redundancy level. ESG Lab chose to configure two replicas (equivalent to clustered RAID10) for the LUN. It should be noted that the level of redundancy is based on performance and availability requirements as well as the disk resources available in the cluster configuration.

Next, ESG Lab navigated through the configuration of an Acronis Backup Gateway service. The Acronis Backup Gateway enables customers to create their own cloud backup repository for applications such as the Acronis Backup 12 application. Once configured, storage in your own data center or at your favorite managed service provider can be registered in and presented through the Acronis Storage 2.0 web portal just like data managed in any of the Acronis Cloud data centers. To the backup administrator, it is presented in the backup application the same way Acronis managed storage would be. However, in this case, the local storage administrator maintains complete control of her own Acronis Storage cluster solution. As shown in Figure 7, ESG Lab selected two cluster nodes to include in the Acronis Backup Gateway configuration. All nodes run the Backup Gateway client service and their network adaptors have been configured for the Acronis Backup Gateway network service.

Figure 7. Acronis Backup Gateway Management

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2017

The next test that ESG Lab performed in the ease-of-use section was setting up an S3 storage bucket on Acronis Storage, making it available to users, and adding some files into the bucket. The full process is similar to configuring the Acronis Backup Gateway service and begins on the Buckets screen in the Acronis Storage GUI, where we clicked on the Add Bucket button, gave the bucket a name, and designated its size. Figure 8 shows three key views ESG Lab used during S3 testing. Acronis Storage buckets are S3-compatible, which means that once they’ve been created and populated with data, they can be moved or copied to and from any other S3-compatible storage as needs change.

Once the bucket was created, the next step was key management. Users access storage buckets by having the S3 Access Key ID and Secure Access Key, which are long strings of hexadecimal digits that are generated when the bucket is created and are accessible by the Acronis administrator as needed. Acronis key management is designed to be very much like key management in Amazon Web Services S3. ESG Lab used a key to log into the end-user interface and gain access to a test bucket from a laptop endpoint device. As shown in the middle of Figure 8, we browsed the laptop directory structure to select and upload the avg_chart.pdf file to the bucket.

Figure 8. S3 Management

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2017

Finally, ESG Lab explored the Acronis Notary feature available in the Acronis Storage solution that leverages a distributed ledger and trust infrastructure for data and transaction immutability and authenticity called blockchain. Blockchain technology was first capitalized on by the financial industry to record and validate transactions in a permanent way. It is quickly becoming a world-wide standard across industries such as finance, banking, supply chain, and manufacturing for validating and auditing data immutability. Acronis Notary uses blockchains to ensure file validity with timestamp fingerprints and links to previous blocks in the chain.

Acronis Notary use cases include the ability to validate and audit chain-of-evidence for court documents through its validation and certificate process. Acronis Notary will confirm with a certificate of notary that a document exists in its original state, or that it has been modified and when that modification occurred. This same process can be used to verify medical records, property registration documents, intellectual property assets, archive data, and even police or security camera video files.

As shown in Figure 9, ESG Lab used the Acronis S3 user interface to quickly and easily verify a document in the test environment. We simply clicked on a file in the S3 storage bucket and selected Validate from the right-side list of action options. Once Done was clicked, a certificate appeared, verifying that the file was validated and that it now had a unique fingerprint in the blockchain ledger.

Figure 9. Object Notarization

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2017

Why This Matters

You hear the phrase “ease of use” a lot, but what does it mean to an IT professional, a CIO, or a director of IT? It may not be at the top of each professional’s list of must haves. However, it’s a concept that might warrant a little more attention, because true ease of use can be a powerful tool. And it can be instrumental in helping reduce operational expenses, an important consideration when it comes to justifying IT investment.[3]

ESG Lab confirmed that Acronis Storage delivers true ease of use in the complex landscape of unified storage. The vendor accomplishes this by bringing a familiar look and feel to each component of the solution. The iSCSI specialist will quickly recognize the process within Acronis Storage, as will the cloud administrator and the data protection specialist. This approach helps organizations simplify procedures, which improves speeds of return on IT investment.

 

Price/Performance

A great number of high-tech products are easy to use, and offer agility and many other important features. But those products must be reasonably priced and they must also deliver production-caliber performance, otherwise they will be rejected in the marketplace before their features can be considered.

ESG Lab Testing

ESG Lab began price/performance testing by examining pricing for both cloud-based and traditional in-house storage products that Acronis Storage competes with. The results are summarized in Figure 10. The conclusion is that despite all the features that are built into Acronis Storage, it is a much less expensive solution than either public cloud or traditional storage technologies.

Figure 10. Cost Efficiency

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2017

In all cases, the examined systems were configured with a petabyte of usable storage in a highly available configuration and included hardware, software, and support costs. All product options were selected to support a balanced workload. The Acronis Storage price is based on an average of its price for hot, active computing, storage, and cold, backup/archive storage.

Public cloud storage has different costs than traditional storage. To calculate the cost of onsite storage, capital expenses for storage and networking must be combined with operating expenses for power and cooling, along with storage, support, and administrative personnel costs. Cloud storage has no capital expenses or direct costs for power and cooling, but does have costs for storage, network traffic, cloud-based operations, network connectivity to the cloud, and administrative personnel. Some cloud providers also charge for retrieval and deletion workloads.

Having established a low price point for Acronis Storage, the next area to consider was performance. ESG Lab examined block- and object-based performance. For block storage, as shown in Figure 11, five different types of traffic were compared—sequential read and write, random read and write, and sets of 32 random writes, which emulates common storage use patterns seen with database applications—each using one, four, and 16 threads, for a total of 15 tests.

Figure 11. Acronis vs. Traditional SAN Block Storage Performance

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2017

What the Numbers Mean

The graph on the left side of Figure 11 has several names, including kiviat graph, radar graph, and spider graph. Although it resembles a circle, it is actually a pentadecagon or 15-sided polygon. The line from each of the 15 vertices to the center is an axis, and data is graphed on each of the 15 axes.

The performance depicted on each axis is normalized so that the outer “ring” represents 100% of the measurement for that test, allowing for comparisons between widely differing quantities. The other value on each axis depicts the other product, and how its performance compared with the one at 100%. For example, the bottommost point on the graph (and slightly to the left) depicts random writes with 16 threads. On this test, Acronis achieved 100% of 3,624 megabytes per second (MB/s) of throughput, while the SAN hardware achieved 70% of that amount, or 2,536 MB/s.

The graph on the right breaks out three of the axes into a more traditional bar graph that compares performance on sets of 32 small random writes. This test closely matches the write pattern of a typical database product where many small writes are collected in a cache or logged before being written to disk all at once. Acronis offers significantly better performance in this test as compared with traditional SAN hardware.

The Acronis vs. traditional SAN block storage tests were performed using an Acronis Storage system with ten compute nodes and 30 2-terabyte, 7200 RPM Seagate SATA disks, plus ten Intel SSD 520 disks, on a 10Gb network with a Brocade SuperX switch. The SAN hardware consisted of a single storage array running 48 1-terabyte 7200 RPM SATA disks on a 10Gb network with a Dell Force10 switch.

Next, ESG Lab tested block storage performance between Acronis and Ceph. Identical hardware was used for both environments: ten compute nodes; 30 2-terabyte, 7200 RPM Seagate SATA disks; ten Intel SSD 520 disks; and a 10Gb network with a Brocade switch. This was the same test harness used for the Acronis infrastructure when comparing its performance to a traditional SAN solution.

Figure 12. Acronis vs. Ceph Block Storage Performance

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2017

What the Numbers Mean

In the radar graph in Figure 12, the highlighted region calls out three tests that once again look at how many sets of 32 small random writes can be written per second by Acronis Storage and by Ceph. The graph makes it evident that Acronis completes these writes at a much higher rate than Ceph. When those three results are placed into the bar graph on the right, the specifics can be easily seen; for one, four, and sixteen parallel execution threads, Acronis outperformed Ceph 10 to 1, 6 to 1, and 4 to 1 respectively.

Overall, Acronis outperformed Ceph in 14 out of the 15 tests, and did so decisively in nearly all of them. In the one test where Ceph was faster (the 16-thread sequential read test), it was less than 10% faster.

The final test compared object storage performance between Acronis Storage and the open source object store, Ceph. The test was an 80% read and 20% write test running 256 parallel threads on identical hardware. Four tests were run, each with a different block size. The results, which are shown in Figure 13, clearly show that Acronis Storage outperformed Ceph by between 100% and over 300% depending on the block size used in each test.

Figure 13. Object Storage Performance Testing

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2017

Identical hardware was used for the object performance testing of both Acronis and Ceph: ten compute nodes; 30 2-terabyte, 7200 RPM Seagate SATA disks; ten Intel SSD 520 disks; and a 10Gb network with a Brocade switch. It was the same hardware used in the Acronis block performance testing.

Why This Matters

Storage performance issues remain a key concern for organizations considering software-defined storage. ESG research shows that agility, ease of use, and overall reduction in administration overhead are some of the key reasons that organizations consider software-defined storage, but there is a sense that these important advantages bring about increased costs and worsened performance.[4]

ESG Lab validated that Acronis Storage is a cost-effective approach to software-defined storage, coming in as low as one-sixth the cost of cloud-based and traditional in-house storage solutions. ESG Lab compared the block storage performance of Acronis Storage with a traditional SAN-based storage array on comparable hardware, and found that in ten of the 15 tests, Acronis was as much as 20 times faster, depending on the type of traffic used. ESG Lab also compared the performance of Acronis Storage with the open source Ceph object store, and found Acronis to be as much as four times faster than Ceph on the exact same hardware.

 

ESG Lab Validation Highlights


ESG Lab confirmed that Acronis Storage delivers true ease of use in the complex landscape of unified block, file, and object storage.

With over six years in production and 100 PB of data under management, Acronis Storage has a proven reputation for efficiently and safely serving business-critical customer data.

ESG Lab also validated that Acronis designed the kind of agility into its storage solution that helps customers achieve successful deployment, operations, and scale.

ESG Lab validated that the cost of an Acronis Storage implementation can be as much as one-sixth the cost of either traditional in-house storage or public cloud storage.

With identical hardware used for the object performance testing, Acronis Storage outperformed Ceph by between 100% and over 300% depending on the object size.

Issues to Consider

Although this report focuses on a local deployment of Acronis Storage, ESG Lab would be interested in seeing the Acronis Storage roadmap for further extending cluster capabilities to the public cloud and remote office locations.

The price/performance test results presented in this report are based on applications and benchmarks deployed in a controlled environment with industry-standard testing tools. Due to the many variables in each production data center environment, capacity planning and performance testing in your own environment are recommended.

The Bigger Truth

Software-defined storage is disrupting the way IT organizations procure, deploy, and manage storage. As a category, technologies that leverage the SDS moniker offer a variety of capabilities, replace a wide variety of traditional storage systems, and support a wide variety of workloads. Those organizations that have deployed SDS solutions are enjoying reduced TCO, with savings to operational expenses being potentially more pronounced than those to capital expenses. Benefits to manageability and to greater IT efficiency quickly followed those to cost savings. However, the data shows that IT leaders are still reserved in their SDS deployments, focusing on specific key workloads rather than on storage consolidation.[5] The results suggest that SDS has a tremendous opportunity to capture larger shares of customers’ IT environments.

ESG Lab confirmed that Acronis Storage delivers true ease of use in the complex landscape of unified storage. The vendor accomplishes this by bringing a familiar look and feel to each component of the solution. ESG Lab also validated that Acronis designed the kind of agility into its storage solution that helps customers achieve successful deployment, operations, and scale. It uses standard Intel-based servers, which are intuitively familiar to the IT professional as hardware building blocks for the solution. Acronis Storage software orchestrates the resources and delivers them as storage services.

The advanced features for agility and ease of use might lead a prospective user of Acronis Storage to believe that there will be a tradeoff resulting in higher cost or slower performance. ESG Lab validated that the cost of an Acronis Storage implementation can be as much as one-sixth the cost of either traditional in-house storage or public cloud storage. As for performance, ESG Lab validated that Acronis Storage can be as much as 20 times faster than traditional block-based SAN storage and two to four times faster than Ceph on object-based storage transactions. These results make it clear that a tradeoff in performance or cost is not required to receive the advantages of Acronis Storage.

When it comes to deploying storage solutions that match the needs of their users, IT organizations often deal with two distinct paradigms: the one-size-fits-all approach whereby they are forced to try to fit the round peg into the square hole, or the distributed approach whereby they have one vendor for cloud storage, one for file-level storage, and a third for block solutions. Across our vast number of validations, ESG Lab has found that some of the best and most useful solutions come from organizations that realize they already have all the pieces in their portfolio to meet the next IT challenge. It’s when all the vendor needs to do is fine tune and repackage an existing offering. ESG Lab strongly believes Acronis Storage is one of these solutions.

Appendix

Table 2. ESG Lab Test Bed

  1. Source: ESG Research Report, Software-defined Storage Market Trends, to be published.
  2. ESG Lab explored the file-level capabilities of the Acronis Storage solution. However, it will not be released until the summer of 2017.
  3. Source: ESG Research Report, 2016 IT Spending Intentions Survey, February 2016.
  4. Source: ESG Research Report, Software-defined Storage Market Trends, to be published.
  5. ibid.

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Topics: Storage Cloud Services & Orchestration