Product Review: FreeStor
In the face of the coming plague of uncontrollable and unceasing data production, most IT departments must find themselves wishing for a magic wand out of Harry Potter. Such a tool would conjure the perfect solution for combining all the deposits of data into one seamlessly combined pool. A place where flash storage to clouds of all types to software-defined storage to hardware arrays are all combined into the Fountain of Manageable Data, with infinite capacity and management tools to sift through the volume.
FalconStor aims to create that magic wand, a technological tool virtualizing all possible storage resources into a single pool where common data services apply. FreeStor has replaced IPstor in FalconStor’s catalogue; FreeStor unifies all a companies’ data services across physical and virtual storage running on multiple storage arrays or subsystems.
Intelligent Abstraction is the secret sauce that sets FreeStor apart. It creates a layer that separates the hardware from the control panel, which divides the storage hardware from the software that manages it. It allows the administrators to be manage multi-tenants but keep them isolated from one another as well.
FreeStor’s horizontal architecture approach unfurls a new world of storage opportunities, which allows IT managers Managed Service Providers (MSPs) and Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) to maximize efficiency and lower costs. All this without having to replace or exclude the use of the public cloud, hybrid cloud, flash storage, and software-defined storage.
FreeStor is based upon the concept of a data engine— an agile and intelligent core—flanked with layered data services that can be customized per the enterprise needs. According to the website, FreeStor enables customers to migrate, recover, protect, and deduplicate data, on or off the cloud, without tying the business to specific hardware, networks or protocols.
To achieve the data engine model, FalconStor’s Intelligent Abstraction technology seamlessly connects data services across the existing businesses’ storage infrastructures, thereby, extending the life of existing hardware—the data center, arrays, hypervisors, servers, and clouds—without causing the company to invest in new hardware and cutting overall costs. Intelligent Abstraction is the secret sauce that sets FreeStor apart.
Intelligent Abstraction creates a layer that separates the hardware from the control panel that divides the storage hardware from the software that manages it. It allows the administrators to manage multi-tenants but keep them isolated from one another as well.
Additionally, the created storage pools can be dictated and isolated to the purpose for which the physical device they are dedicated to will be used—for example, journaling, snapshot resources or more. If a virtual device reaches a capacity threshold, then a manager can order the storage server to automatically allocate storage from a dedicated storage pool.
Not only will FreeStor allow data migration between all types of storage solutions, regardless of age, but also customers should see significant performance improvements (over one million IOPS per IO cluster). FreeStor uses centralized management GUI (though the web, tablets and smartphones) with enhanced REST API. FreeStor’s increased deduplication and backup efficiencies improve storage utilization; there can be up to 128 FreeStor storage servers. Furthermore, WAN optimized replication and data movement can reduce costs by as much as 95 percent.
There is a single management facility for storage provided by FalconStor. Most existing storage infrastructure can be virtualized and managed by FreeStor and can be accessed through a REST API.
CEO and president of FreeStor Gary Quinn claims this is “the first true horizontal software-defined storage platform that converges and unifies data management services with predictable pricing and performance.”
FreeStor benefits include:
- Totally open heterogeneous storage that directs traffic to, from and across the cloud – FreeStor’s converged data management services provide an efficient way to shepherd and protect data between organizations’ current on premise IT infrastructures and private, hosted or hybrid clouds
- Modernize legacy infrastructure with new, simple cost-effective tools that perform seamlessly on and across most platforms and data types while leveraging and updating existing hardware to further help organizations break the cycle of vendor and hardware dependency
- Always-on business continuity – improved, enhanced local or multi-site high availability ensures files, applications, systems and even entire sites are consistently available
- Predictable, simple, flexible pricing with no surprises – all data management services are provided in an annual subscription-based price-per-terabyte model with 24 x 7 support and bi-annual enhancement updates as well as patch updates forthcoming every couple of months to keep the software in top shape
According to an interview with FreeStor Product Manager, Surajit Sengupta, “FreeStor is one of the very few storage vendors with agents for both Linux and Windows systems. In fact, we have experts for all kinds of applications to help enterprises exploit the extensive benefits of FreeStor’s platform.”
Over a year after FreeStor’s market release, FalconStor enhanced the support for the software platform by adding FreeStor Analytics. Released in April 2016, this feature combines predictive analytics capabilities with the data available from the Intelligent Abstraction technology to aid managers as they track the performance and capacity of their storage environments. FreeStor Analytics adds an Intelligent Abstraction layer that rests in the data path between the application servers and storage.
In a quote regarding the release of the analytics, Tim Sheets, vice president of global marketing for FalconStor, noted that storage vendors “give [businesses] really good data points on their platforms,” but what is lacking in those services is context. The analytics provide a big picture perspective for the IT administrator as they control, understand and utilize their data storage.
Sheets adds, “as enterprises move to adopt a software-defined storage approach, it means they have to move across silos of multiple arrays and multiple sites. As people try to optimize their workloads, we [FreeStor] peel back the layers of the onion to expose what’s happening, from end to end, with the storage. We let you drill into the infrastructure and make intelligent decisions on it.”
FreeStor Analytics provides both historical and predictive real-time statistics that stretch across an enterprise’s entire storage infrastructure. It is all consolidated into a single dashboard; this data enables storage administrators to fine-tune their application performance optimization efforts, manage capacity thresholds and monitor the integrity of their data availability services.
Along with the new analytics capabilities, FreeStor’s interface has been fine-tuned to be incredibly user-friendly with the capacity of customizable dashboards. Users can access real-time performance statistics, inventory counts and healthy statuses of their systems that reach to all corners of the storage infrastructure.
The FalconStor FreeStor Analytics and subsequent updates integrate code from startup Cumulus Logic. The Cumulus code pulls information from FreeStor storage servers that is gathered from the data from storage arrays. Customer analytical data is maintained in a FreeStor database and exposed via a REST-based API.
Now certified for SAP HANA, FreeStor also empowers service-level monitoring, complete with proactive alerts with smart rules. A REST application programming interface (API) makes it easy for administrators to access custom reporting, application monitoring and billing tools.
A new Cinder driver helps enterprises more seamlessly integrate FreeStor into their OpenStack cloud environments. Additionally, new iPhone and Android apps allow administrators to remotely monitor their storage environments.
Individuals concerned about FreeStor’s security should note that each storage pool belongs to a tenant and is secured through password implementation. The data replication is also encrypted; all internal device management communications happen via remote procedure control (RPC). Additionally, for the management software to send RPC requests to FreeStor Servers (FSS), the correct credentials must be confirmed. Finally, FreeStor utilizes resource isolation based on user role, so everything is secured regardless of where the machines are.
For individuals curious about similar offerings, look no further than hardware-free Software Defined Storage (SSD) platforms like Data Core’s SanSymphony software, which boasts high availability and performance by creating data pools to store hot to cold data and more.
Additionally, there are other alternatives in Nexenta’s product family that covers everything from analytics (NexentaFusion) to block and file storage management (NexentaStor). All the puzzle pieces work together to create a unified, seamless experience for customers. Finally, options like StarWind’s Virtual SAN offers options between nodes of data storage management to hyperconvergence on existing storage infrastructures.
Not all of the above companies are completely hardware free, but all offer Software Defined Storage (SSD) Platforms, and there are many, many more vendors out there under the SSD umbrella.
FalconStor’s FreeStor has now won 10 product awards in the past year and has been recognized by several respected industry publications and groups. Those awards include ICT Management Product of the Year and runner-up for the Software Defined Storage Product of the Year at the DCS awards, Storage Product of the Year by Network Computing, Virtualization/Software-Defined Storage Product of the Year and runner-up for Company of the Year at the SVC awards. Most recently, FreeStor won Storage Virtualization Product of the Year Award at the Storage Awards.
Pricing for FreeStor is $350 per terabyte of storage, including data services and maintenance. Cloud services providers and hyperscale data centers are FalconStor’s main target customers. Since launching FreeStor in May 2015, FalconStor claims to have signed more than 170 enterprise customers, totaling more than 11 PB under management.
For the best fit for enterprise businesses, companies should pay special attention to the application support offered, what partners the SSD platform vendor has, and the price of ensuring that all pieces of the management system are included for what is needed to update their data storage environment.