Apr 6, 2021

Disaggregating to Create the Infinite Storage Lifecycle


Posted by

Howard Marks

When VAST released the VAST Data Platform a little over two years ago, we knew that the disaggregation at the core of our DASE architecture solved a lot of the architectural challenges that had been constraining storage systems for generations. DASE allowed users to run asymmetric clusters across multiple generations of VAST servers and VAST enclosures over many years — but we bundled our software with the hardware in a rather conventional way.

Gemini Disaggregates The Storage Business

With Gemini subscriptions, VAST is taking the second step towards what we like to call the Infinite Storage Lifecycle — turning VAST clusters into immortal Ships of Theseus. Customers can upgrade and replace components over time based exclusively on hardware considerations like performance, density and power consumption while licensing the storage software based on the capacity they’re using.

Like the Ship of Theseus, the VAST cluster remains the same VAST cluster even 20 years later when its hardware has been replaced several times. Unlike the Ship of Theseus, the VAST cluster keeps running through the process of eliminating all the complications of fork lift upgrades, or even pool to pool data migration.

From the very beginning, we at VAST recognized that disaggregation was the key to creating the infinite storage lifecycle and for VAST that started with the DASE architecture and its support for asymmetric clusters. With DASE we solved the technical parts of the problem: letting customers add and evict protocol servers and enclosures of multiple generations from a cluster while maintaining a single storage pool and namespace.

Gemini addresses the commercial impediments to the infinite storage lifecycle by breaking all the commercial bonds of aggregation between storage hardware and the software that makes it run. Software defined storage promised to disaggregate storage software from the underlying commodity hardware. That limits SDS developers into a least common denominator relationship with the hardware, limiting innovation and shifts the responsibility for integration to the customer limiting SDS to niche markets outside HCI.

Under Gemini, VAST customers buy the same hardware we’ve been selling the under the conventional appliance model, fully integrated by our manufacturing partner, with white glove installation and the co-pilot driven support experience from VAST. The user experience is like our old appliance model, what changes is how they pay for it, and the aggregated hardware/software model.

Gemini Disaggregates Storage Hardware from Storage Vendor Markups

Instead of buying protocol servers, enclosures full of SSDs and network switches from us with our markup added; customers, through their VARs, buy that same kit directly from our manufacturing partners, at the cost we negotiated with the suppliers based on our purchasing volume.  Customers, like hyperscalers, that have even more bargaining power than we do can buy SSDs at the price they’ve negotiated with our SSD suppliers (Currently Intel) and still get fully integrated VAST enclosures, tested complete with the SSDs, from our manufacturing partner.


Either way Gemini disaggregates the storage OEM markup right out of the process passing our costs onto our customers. This also means that when our SSD suppliers reduce their prices, those price decreases will pass on to our customers immediately and transparently not as a slightly higher discount from a storage vendor several months later.

Capacity Licensing Disaggregates Storage Software Cost from Performance

Unless the software is actively limiting performance as a licensing or quality of service process, storage system performance is determined by the underlying hardware. With legacy software licensing models, the customer would have to license the full capacity of their system, whether they use it or not.

Gemini subscriptions are based on the useable capacity the customer consumes, not just the total capacity of the system. Users can provision hardware based on their performance needs and software subscriptions by their capacity requirements. Since licenses are based on consumed capacity, that’s the size of the data after its reduced by our similarity based global compression and the benefits of that reduction go entirely to the customer.


Capacity Licensing Provides 3 PB of performance with only 1.5 PB Gemini Subscription

Capacity based licensing also reduces the entry point for a VAST system from a 675TB enclosure delivering just under 550 TB of usable capacity to that same enclosure with a 100TB Gemini Subscription. Customers can license additional capacity as their data grows by adding additional 100TB subscriptions.

Is Five Years Really Perpetuity?

Legacy storage vendors call the software licenses they sell with their systems perpetual licenses — but storage software license aren’t like the perpetual license for SQL Server you can transfer from one server to another. When you bought a “perpetual” 200 TB snapshot license, that license only allows you to take snapshots on the hardware you bought that license for. Since most legacy storage vendors will only write support agreements on their hardware for five years, and running a large-scale storage system without support, and software updates is foolish, those perpetual storage licenses are for a perpetuity of five years or less.

That 5-year support limitation made sense in the hard drive era, with all those precision moving parts hard drive failures increase dramatically after four or five years and storage vendors didn’t want the increasing costs, including reputational costs, of increasing drive failures.

This OEM licensing model means customers have to re-buy all their storage software every time they upgrade hardware, increasing the cost of each upgrade and discouraging users from taking advantage of the latest technology.

Gemini Disaggregates Software Licenses from Hardware

While every VAST enclosure in a cluster must have a Gemini subscription to license its software those subscription licenses are not locked to specific enclosures like OEM appliance licenses, when a customer retires an enclosure the license can be transferred to a new enclosure eliminating the cost of re-buying OEM licenses to the same software and the pressure to keep obsolete gear in service it creates.

When VAST customers retire today’s enclosures with newer, faster, denser generation 3 or generation 4 enclosures, they can transfer whatever pre-paid subscription period is left on their license to the new enclosure taking full advantage of their new hardware without rebuying any software.



We at VAST are big believers in the infinite storage lifecycle and that disaggregating storage from the engagements of traditional licensing models is the best way to reach it. 

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