FalconStor launches FreeStor
FalconStor launches FreeStor

FalconStor has released FreeStor a software defined storage layer that the company claims will deliver unified data services. First announced back in February,  FreeStor is being released in two phases.

The first phase sees the product being rolled out to select distributors in key geographies immediately. General availability of the product will happen on 3rd June when it will be available from the entire FalconStor channel.

According to Tim Sheets, Vice President, Marketing, FalconStor: “We are addressing the four core dilemmas that affect enterprise storage today.” Sheets defines the challenges as:

  1. Proliferation of new storage to address demand such as big data.
  2. Location because IT has moved from onsite clusters to cross site clusters. With the arrival of cloud they now have site to cloud clusters and increasingly have cloud to cloud clusters.
  3. Toolsets are not consistent across vendors making it increasingly difficult to manage storage. Interoperability is a major problem when rolling out heterogeneous storage.
  4. Pricing models are skewed towards the vendor not the customer. Some systems start cheap but renewals and maintenance get more expensive over time with vendors offering upgrades to their own systems to lock people in.

Software Defined Storage resolves some of this

Sheets believes that the solution to the problem is greater use of Software Defined Storage (SDS). The ability to address all the underlying storage as a single pool and the introduction of common policies for control and access are all part of the SDS promise. The problem here is trying to define what SDS means to different vendors. Just as with cloud there are almost as many definitions of SDS as there are vendors selling solutions.

According to Sheets, this creates a major problem for customers who are not sure which vendor they should go with. They are confused by conflicting claims, are concerned about what it means for existing storage investments and are not yet convinced over the reduction in prices that are promised.

FalconStor want to be the independent abstraction layer

As a result, Sheets says that FalconStor wants to be seen as something different to the rest. Rather than push its own architecture it is positioning itself as an abstraction layer that will sit between applications and servers at the front end and all the enterprise storage resources as the back-end.

This is not just about sitting inside the data centre trying to simplify existing storage architectures. FalconStor are targeting cloud storage as much as they are targeting existing physical storage inside data centres. In the first phase they are targeting storage that the enterprise knows about rather than cloud storage acquired by business units.

What is the FreeStor platform?

The FreeStor platform consists of the FreeStor Management Server (FMS), FreeStor Storage Server(s) (FSS) and the FreeStor Dedupe Repository (FDR). They provide services to the servers and applications at the front-end and the storage at the back-end through the use of a set of APIs that use built-in discovery tools to detect storage calls and storage objects.

Sheets says: “What we are doing is something that is a bit unique . We are enabling IT to pull all parts of an array into this pool and apply data services. They can then orchestrate to the applications and the operating system. They don’t have to care about the storage architecture.”

One of the challenges here for FalconStor is making sure that the APIs can detect everything in the environment. As other vendors are discovering, delivering APIs is easier than getting customers to use them. Many customers lack the knowledge and skills to integrate APIs from different vendors. Instead, they want out of the box connectors that will easily locate, detect and configure themselves to work with common storage solutions.

Sheets accepts that they cannot put a huge load on IT to use the APIs to integrate different products. Where he does see an opportunity is with service providers. He points to the REST API that FalconStor have developed and says that several service providers are keen to use this to make their systems accessible to the storage pools created by FreeStor.

To encourage vendors and third-party developers to get involved with FreeStor, the REST API has been made public and FalconStor are looking at how they can increase involvement with a wider community.

Eventually the goal according to Sheets will be to deliver the whole thing as self-service for users inside an organisation. They will no longer need to know where the storage is, on-premises, corporate data centre or cloud. What they will be able to do is to define their own requirements such as security, access and control.

Still more to do

This is a version 1 release and Sheets accepts that there is much left for FalconStor to do. For example: policy management as to where data is stored will be manual in this release. In a later release, Sheets wouldn’t be drawn on when, IT security and compliance teams will be able to create rules covering the storage of certain types of corporate content. When users then look to create their own storage pools these rules will limit what storage is available to the user.

To get there FreeStor will need to be integrated into a number of different compliance and management tools. This is something that Sheets says FalconStor are actively looking at but have yet to write. However, he does say that the underlying architecture of FreeStor makes it possible to plug these in.

Perhaps the biggest issue that FalconStor needs to address is encryption and in particular key management. A decade ago companies didn’t want control of their own keys because it was too complex. Cloud storage vendors are also reticent to give keys to customers because many of them are on multi-tenant systems creating issues with the way they were doing key management.

According to Sheets: “We had encryption at rest coming in but it wasn’t a good approach when we looked at key management. It had got too complex and we need a more elegant solution. The Managed Service Providers (MSPs) are saying let us handle it today. We is going to have to be a fundamental shift as to how those keys are managed in the future.”

Changing the pricing model

FalconStor have decided that FreeStor will be a yearly model rather than a perpetual licence with updates. Sheets believes that this enables them to lower the price substantially to customers and by not locking them in for a long period thinks that this appeal to IT departments who are short of cash.

Customers licence what they are using but rather than have pricing jump up and down over the year, Sheets says that they will allow customers headroom. This means that they will be able to burst above the storage capacity they have purchased and only pay for what they have in the intelligent capacity pool at the end of the year.

Of course, this opens up the door for customers to remove storage just before their licence renews. To remove any risk of this happen, Sheets says that FalconStor will know what is being used inside FreeStor and while they won’t use this to penalise customers they will question any large scale reduction just before renewal, especially if it is added back again later.

For those who are taking on the solution the pricing is based on them starting with 100TB of storage at a price of US$350/TB.


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