Formation Blog

Formation: Changing HOW you Manage your data.

by Mark Lewis / February 10, 2017

I’m often asked “What is so special about Formation?”

My answer is simple. Formation changes HOW you manage your data.

Yes, we are software-defined. Yes, we can be all-flash (if you prefer).  Yes, we’re scale-out. And, yes, we replicate/compress/encrypt/de-duplicate data. But in the storage industry these are merely table stakes.


At Formation, we didn’t set out to save you 10% on storage. Rather, we embarked on a mission to dramatically transform the economics of storage – reducing storage TCO by 90%! It’s impossible to accomplish this with incremental improvements or “me too” products. So we set out to change basic storage principles, challenging four major storage paradigms. Here’s how:

1. Integrated data protection within the platform architecture.

One of the most complex areas of data management is data protection because data must be protected against a wide variety of potential threats. Specifically:

  1. User mistakes – “I accidentally deleted a file”
  2. Application failures – “My app just corrupted the data”
  3. Infrastructure failures – “My hard drive just crashed”
  4. Site (Disaster) Failures – “My datacenter is 6’ underwater”
  5. Compliance/malware issues – “I was hacked, my data was encrypted and I’m forced to pay for a key”
  6. Development and Test Needs – “I want to use my production data to test a new app”

Traditionally, the solution to each of these issues transpired as silos as customers bought specialty storage solutions for each problem. Individually, each solution made sense but, in aggregate, “swim lanes” (to quote my former employer) are insanely wasteful.  Conversely, the FormationOne system can “roll back” to any previous point in time to recover data by journaling all data writes within our platform eliminating the need for a separate local back-up storage platform. That savings alone could be 50-75% of your total storage costs!

We followed the same approach with FormationOne SafeGuard (multi-site data protection). SafeGuard creates remote site data copies that can be used to provide both backup recovery for site failures and recovery for other forms of data loss like user mistakes or malware. By integrating data protection to cover ALL use cases SafeGuard eliminates the need for separate remote site backup and DR storage platforms – providing more significant savings.

To achieve this level of convergence, we developed the architectural concept of the CADO (Content Addressable Data Object). Every piece of data stored in FormationOne complies with this format. As with a traditional content addressable storage system, the “ID” or address of a data object is based on the data itself, is always unique and cannot be changed. Using this fundamental concept, we created a high-performance data journaling capability that provides continuous data protection with no added platform or software costs – the first of its kind in a primary storage solution.

2.   No More Silos - every application and data type DOES NOT need a specialized storage silo.

For decades the storage industry proliferated by proving specialized firmware running specialized hardware for each and every data type or use case. This model evolved because storage hardware was very expensive and performance could only be achieved with specialized firmware. But times have changed. Now, storage components are a commodity and costs have fallen even faster than Moore’s law predicted. Advances in computing and standardization have made it possible to build storage systems using modern software components that provide all the performance necessary for the most demanding applications but that also make it possible to take advantage of the RADICALLY REDUCED HARDWARE COSTS.

The FormationOne Dynamic Storage Platform uses a Common Data Model (CDM) for all data stored and projects this CDM via an API called XDI (eXtensible Data Interface).  Software services called Data Connectors have been created to provide a conversion from the CDM format to many industry standard protocols such as iSCSI (block), NFS (file), SMB (file) and S3 (object). This approach provides a fast, flexible and converged data virtualization layer regardless of the type of data stored. Virtual data in the CDM format can be stored on any type of media including DRAM, NVRAM, SSD and disk as well as in public clouds via IAAS services.  Any model of protection such as RAID, replication or erasure coding can potentially be used to protect data.

This approach provides greatly improved flexibility and efficiency, as well as the ability to leverage the widest possible selection of storage devices and services. It no longer makes sense to have wasted storage in one storage system while simultaneously running out of room on a different platform.

3.   We Love the Cloud.

While these paradigms may be radically new for storage, they are mainstream in other areas of IT. In storage, specialized arrays are available for everything (Flash, disk, backup, archive, files, block, etc.) while in computing, virtualized x86-based platforms run 99+% of compute workloads. 

Today’s storage vendors follow one of two cloud strategies: Ignore the existence of cloud technologies or build a gateway to cloud storage. Both of these “all or nothing” strategies neglect the way in which IT wants to operate. At Formation we understand that cloud is an integral part of many IT environments and a storage system should provide seamless data access across both private AND public cloud environments. The FormationOne platform enables customers to create true hybrid cloud environments for DR, backup, archive or even dynamic environments where applications can run in either environment. No existing storage system offers this seamless capability.

4.   Empowering the User - We empowered the developer/user by giving the storage administrator MORE control.

AWS has fundamentally improved IT agility by giving users/developers the ability to provision resources instantly without the help of an administrator. Conversely, in most private cloud and hosted environments, developers are faced with a long and cumbersome process obtaining new storage resources. But system admins are not purposely trying to complicate the process. The problem is that the storage environments are simply are too complex to manage. To provision new storage, administrators have to worry about over-allocation of resources while wading through the complex processes required to create new storage volumes.

So simplifying the provisioning processes and giving administrators more control of their storage environment was one of our highest priorities. We accomplished this with features such as Dynamic QOS (Quality of Service), priority settings for each volume, dynamic storage tiering and advanced analytics. Virtually every storage volume attribute can be dynamically adjusted as needs change. By giving the administrator more control they, in turn, give their developer/users more control. Formation even provides a way for storage administrators to give direct storage provisioning control to end-users.

All modern software-defined storage platforms provide tremendous benefit by providing increased flexibility and agility, and the ability to leverage open, commodity components and low cost industry standard x86 hardware. But, because Formation was re-architected from the ground, up we offer a SDS platform that is unmatched in the industry even by the largest storage vendors. By eliminating the cost and inefficiency of storage silos, by leveraging hybrid-cloud when and if you need to, and by realizing the benefits of our advanced storage features, the FormationOne Dynamic Storage Platform provides dramatic and significant cost savings —enabling customers to reduce storage costs by upwards of 90%!

We’re not the only ones that think we’re onto something. Storage magazine recently recognized Formation by awarding FormationOne a silver in server-based storage in the 2016 Products of the Year competition citing “scores in value, innovation and functionality”!  Let us show you why we’re different. And how easy it is to get started.  

Mark Lewis

Mark Lewis

Journeys rarely involve going in a straight line. There are many twists and turns and sometimes, dead ends. This is Mark Lewis’ blog and his thoughts about innovation, technology and his personal passion for using innovation to solve problems.