An interview with StarNet’s CTO and co-founder – VMstore’s biggest fan.
StarNet Solutions provides in-depth, technical consulting for all types of computer networking, from server installations and support, to the deployment of corporate LANs and WANs. We recently interviewed Lou Melograna, CTO and Co-Founder of StarNet Solutions, to see what he has to say about Tintri’s products and our technology partnership.
Q. Can you tell us a little about StarNet Solutions?
A. When we first started out in 2001, there were only two of us. All we were going to do was wide area networking and assist people with firewalls and routers. After driving around 16 hours per day from New York to Philadelphia, answering the phones, and my business partner, Stella Skinner doing all of the administrative paperwork and accounting, we decided to grow the business to about a dozen people. Most of the employees here are engineers. We don’t have any dedicated salespeople at this point, because everyone that goes to a customer site or picks up the phone becomes a salesperson for us.
We are very skilled in troubleshooting. We receive a lot of calls from our customers, asking us to solve problems and eliminate all of the finger-pointing that comes from working with multiple vendors. Our mission is to give all of our customers a very honest assessment of what they really need and what’s available, not just what our technology vendors want us to sell them. So if we’re approached by vendor A to sell product B—and that’s a big moneymaker for the month—we won’t push it just to make more money. That’s been our mission for many years, and we’ve generated a lot of loyalty from our customers as a result. Approximately 99.99% of our business comes from referrals. We strive to make sure that all of our customers are well taken care of!
Q. How did you get introduced to Tintri VMstore?
A. I first encountered VMstore a few years ago when one of our customers invited me into his datacenter in Newark, New Jersey. This customer had a series of Dell EqualLogic systems and was using Citrix. Unfortunately, they were having a lot of problems with performance and reliability using that platform. After a lot of troubleshooting from both Dell and Citrix, the customer decided to purchase a VMstore.
The customer told me how this new Tintri VMstore SAN would be able take over their Citrix farm and everything else. I’d never heard of Tintri, so I figured it was probably never going to work, but I decided to take a look. I must admit, I was very pleasantly surprised! The Tintri engineer configured the VMstore system in just six minutes, and said, ‘Okay that’s it. You can move your servers over and you’re ready to go.’ I thought to myself, that’s impossible. I’ve worked with a variety of EMC systems and Dell EqualLogic storage, which is known as ‘the easy man’s SAN.’ The EMC systems would take days or even weeks to deploy, and even with the ‘simplicity’ of the Dell platform, it always took multiple hours to deploy the EqualLogic systems.
About a week later, this customer was experiencing some problems at their data center. Seven of us got on the phone to troubleshoot the problems, looking at all of the switches, servers, Citrix, and storage systems. Then someone said, ‘We should just call Tintri Support and they’ll tell us where the issue is in two minutes!’ So we called Tintri Support, they jumped on the conference call, and a minute later said, ‘Hey look, there’s your problem–it’s the CPU on this VM!’ We were shocked at how quickly they were able to diagnose the issue.
So at that point, I called Tintri and said, ‘I met you guys a couple of weeks ago. Could you come down to my office and tell me more about what you sell?’ Our Tintri relationship grew exponentially from there. I was, and continue to be, incredibly impressed with the Tintri VMstore systems. The VMstore technology is absolutely ingenious—it’s a revolutionary product. I’ve never seen anything like it. I enthusiastically told my team, ‘We need to do more of this!’ We all have complete confidence in the solution. That’s why we can easily sell it customers, even if they’ve never seen it before.
Q. Can you describe the biggest benefit of moving to VMstore?
A. I don’t want to say that VMstore is ‘the simplest SAN’ on the market, because that’s a terrible way to describe a box with so much advanced functionality. But I couldn’t believe how easy it was to install and manage. When I first met with Tintri, I listened to their presentations and watched a couple of installs. It was so easy to work with, I knew that I could teach anyone on my team to install the systems. It’s simply unbelievable.
Q. What is your opinion of Tintri technical support?
A. We tested Tintri’s tech support before we decided to become a partner. We called them with a bunch of test questions to find out what they knew and how quickly they could respond. They were always very informative, and had fast answers to all of our questions. When we call support, there are no delays. They always jump in right away and have the answers at their fingertips.
Q. Have you received any feedback from your customers on VMstore’s performance?
A. I can tell you with a lot of first-hand experience, the VMstore systems are flying like crazy. One of our biggest customers is a large utility company based in New Jersey. They absolutely love their VMstore system. To give you some background, it took nine months for me to get them to even look at the box, because they were a big EMC shop. But they had been complaining about the slow performance and response time of EMC support, and how complicated the platform was from a management perspective. So we brought in a VMstore system for them to look at it. They spent three months searching the Internet for one bad thing said about Tintri, but they found zero complaints.
Before they tried the demo system, we got together to talk about a solution for their datacenter. There were 16 of us in the meeting, including two from Tintri, two from StarNet, and 12 from the utility company. Everyone loved the VMstore system. They told me that this was the only meeting they’ve ever had where every single person in the room agreed that the product was exactly what they needed. Afterwards when their CIO saw it, she loved it too. She was impressed with the analytics, and the ability to predict how much time they had before they would run out of storage. Everyone at the utility company raves about the VMstore box, how fast it is, and how easy it is to manage. It was so easy that when we went back to their datacenter the next day to finish setting up replication, they had already taken care of it themselves—even though they had never worked with VMstore before.
During the VMstore POC, the utility company’s EMC SAN crashed. Microsoft told them they needed to move all of their Exchange data to an entirely new mail server in order to fix the corruption. They called me for help on a Friday night. I told them that the only way I was going to do it was if they moved their mail servers from EMC to VMstore—I wasn’t willing to put it back on hardware that would keep crashing. They already reached this decision themselves, and we agreed to move everything over. If they had stayed with the EMC systems, it would have taken 3 to 5 days just to move the data. We were able to move all of the data off the EMC to the VMstore all-flash system in less than 22 hours.
VMstore is ridiculously fast – everything just went through the roof on their performance metrics. Once they moved the mail servers from EMC to VMstore, the first thing I heard on the speakerphone in the conference call was, ‘Holy smoke! I can’t believe how fast this is! We opened Outlook, it connected to Exchange, and it’s opening my profile. I just clicked on the Exchange icon and my mail showed up instantly!’
We also had great success with VMstore at another one of our customers; a large construction company. They were using Veeam as their backup solution. Once we put the VMstore in, I told this customer that VMstore was going to be fast, but I wasn’t sure how fast. He called me up the next day and said that his Veeam backups were 60 to 80% faster than before.
We recently ran a POC for another large customer. Throughput was just 166 Mb per second on their Dell EqualLogic systems, even with a lot of tweaking and help from Dell. We put the VMstore in, and throughput immediately increased to 472 Mb per second. He emailed a few minutes later and said that he forgot that they also had the load generator running 22,000 IOPS. We were putting a huge load on the box and he was still getting four times the throughput on VMstore.
Every customer we have loves VMstore. None of them can believe how fast it is, everything they do is now instantaneous. Another customer reported that they can boot an Exchange box in three seconds with VMstore, where it was taking 90 seconds on their previous SAN.
Q. Are any of your customers running VDI on VMstore?
A. Yes, VMstore is also doing amazing things for our VDI deployments. It was taking 70 to 90 seconds to boot the virtual desktops for one of our customers. I suggested that he try VMstore, but he bought some all-flash for his Dell Compellent instead. I told him that I didn’t think it was the right move, but they did it anyway. They spent $250K on the Compellent upgrade, and it still took 70 seconds to boot. They eventually moved to VMstore. It now takes just 17 seconds to boot their systems.
Q. Why did you choose to partner with Tintri?
A. Virtualization is in Tintri’s DNA. Kieran Harty, Tintri’s CTO & Co-Founder, was basically in charge of creating VMware ESX and ESXi. Who better to make a SAN then the guy who created the VMware ESXi hypervisor?
Q. How do you introduce VMstore to customers that are unfamiliar with the technology?
A. Not all of our customers have heard of Tintri yet, so the first thing I say to them is, ‘you may not know who these guys are, but let me explain a few things to you. First, it’s the fastest SAN you’re ever going to see. It can outperform any all-flash systems you already have, even with a hybrid box. There isn’t another SAN on the planet that can QoS a single VM. All of the other solutions still deal with LUNs and volumes, and they’re extremely difficult to manage. If you give VMstore a try, I am positive that you won’t be disappointed!’
Q. Any final thoughts?
A. A lot of vendors try to convince me that their products are better than VMstore, but not a single one has been able to step forward and show me anything that’s better. Tintri is still building and growing, and we want to keep growing with them. I wish I sold every single VMstore in the world! The more VMstores I see in the field, the easier it is for me to deliver it to every customer. That way, I don’t have to validate the solution every time we come up against the competition. Every time I walk into a new customer, I know VMstores’s going to win. I’m confident that I can put a hybrid system out there, and still kick the pants off most of these all-flash systems that they’re already running.
Tintri is not just a “money maker” for us as a partner. We probably could have made a lot more money over the years, selling other vendors’ solutions that aren’t as good as VMstore. But our mission is to make sure people are getting exactly what they need, not what will make us rich. VMstore helps me sleep at night, it keeps my conscience clear, and it ensures that all of our customers know we are providing reliable solutions!