Tintri has been delivering VM-aware storage for a while now. This feature has created a nice niche market for Tintri over the past few years with all of their storage taking place at the VM level (instead of the data store or LUN levels). It seems they had a pretty good idea since VMware announced something very similar at VMworld 2015. They announced new VM level storage features in their vSphere 6 release of vVOLs. Needless to say that has made Tintri a little nervous and has caused the storage start-up to lash out a bit. They claim to have a much more robust solution then the new vVol offering and some of their points are definitely valid. Tintri’s VM-aware storage management has a lot more features then the new vVol 1.0 release from VMware though there are a lot more similarities between the two then Tinri would care to admit. Some of the biggest being around snapshots, clones, replication, and QoS.
VM Level Snapshots: Tintri and vVOLs both support VM Level Snapshots. This provides the ability to snapshot at the VM Level versus the data store level. The only difference lies in that vVOLs will leverage whatever Snapshot technology is available to it on the storage side. Tintri is completely pointer based snapshots, providing what they claim is zero-overhead, Unity can provide similar snapshot technology.
VM Level Clones: Tintri and vVOLs both support VM Level Clones. This too (like snapshots) moves cloning from the data store level to the VM Level. Like with snapshots, there are different implementation of cloning. Clones in Tintri’s world are just writeable snapshots.
VM Level Replication: This is where you start seeing some difference between vVOLs and Tintri. Tintri supports VM Level Replication. The ability to replicate at the VM level is a nice feature for more granular fail-over of VMs and allows for more tightly control RPO/RTO. With vVOLs you can replicate at the vVOL level which a first glace might seem to be the better option. However, if you think about it. This is where you could run into issues from a storage management perspective. In most cases you want to keep the same RPO/RTO for an entire VM. Replication at a per vVOL level could have some advantages depending on use cases.
VM Level QoS: Tintri has full support for VM Level QoS. However, vVOLs don’t have any ability to control QoS or add that functionality to storage array. Storage QoS is still a fairly new features and is not supported by all storage vendors and the ones that do support it are LUN or Volume bases. With that said, there are some inherent advantages to VM Level QoS. Each QoS policy can be fine tuned for each VM in a Tintri solution but there could be some advantages to LUN level as well. It all depends on the customer’s needs.
Tintri supports vSphere 4, 5 and 6. vVOLs are in vSphere 6+ which will require an upgrade of your VMware environment if the customer is supporting legacy installs and potentially some kind of hardware and/or software upgrade to your storage environment.
So it is fair to say their niche is safe for now but it is safe to say that the door is closing on them quickly. Up until last year, Tintri only supported VMware vSphere neting them a little over $100 Million in revenue, while VMware spends 3x that in R&D every year. Between the massive investment from VMware (as well as players like EMC, Dell, and HP) in vVols, the potential for industry adoption of vVols will be staggering. As these enterprise storage players move to vVols you will quickly see these niche players like Tintri struggle to keep up until they are eventually bought or put out of business sadly. I am hoping Tintri will find success with taking their technology to Hyper-V customers but it is likely only a matter of time until Microsoft a similar storage method to vVols as VMware has already done.