VM-aware storage speeds drone training

VM-aware storage speeds drone training

Attempts to train the men and women who pilot unmanned aerial systems can be challenging if user interfaces and software programs time out.  And that’s what happened at the Army’s Joint Systems Integration Laboratory when trainees’ virtual machines were not able to write image and code files back and forth to the VMware cloud fast enough. The storage-area network the lab was using was built for capacity, rather than speed. 

The key issue was that it would take too long for files to be sent from the zero client to the server and then back to the zero client, said Rory Hamaker, a lead systems administrator and infrastructure architect for Ameritech/SED, the civilian contractor agency that provides IT services to the JSIL.  “When vCenter [server] detects that it’s not getting a fast enough connection back to the storage, it’ll just disconnect the user that’s attached,” he said. That unpredictability meant that sometimes as few as two to three operators could be trained at once, Hamaker said -- and capacity was always capped at a few dozen concurrent users.VMs on the older, traditional systems were taking too long to spin up the 7200-rpm storage disks, and training exercises were timing out -- causing unacceptable delays in classes. 

But with a VM-aware storage solution provided by Tintri, the JSIL was able to significantly improve training sessions. 

“As far as [UAS trainees are] concerned, it’s like a Windows 7 desktop,” Hamaker said.  The system works with two pieces of software, he explained: one that controls the simulation and is essentially the same piece of software used to fly a real UAS, and another piece to display the graphics. 

Hamaker said performance increased almost immediately after installing the Trinti storage: “We obtained a 220 percent speed increase in our disk I/O environment and at least 100 percent improvements on all of the other tests.” And perhaps the best news for administrators: no more complaints about performance.

Tintri’s solution is built specifically for virtual machines.  “We’ve built a storage platform that is VM-aware.  It doesn’t matter what the hypervisor is,” said Rodney Billingsley, senior federal director at Tintri.    “We can run any hypervisor concurrently, all managed through one global unified management console.”

Unlike traditional systems built on file systems, Tintri’s storage actions relate to the VM level, Billingsley said.  The benefit to the end user -- the pilots being trained in this case -- was no delay in performance, he added.

This solution also gave administrators better analytical and management tools.  “We can manage each individual VM and isolate that VM and guarantee the performance of that VM without it bleeding over into other VMs that are running,” Billingsley explained, adding that this allows administrators to more easily determine if there is a bottleneck in the system and where it might be located.

Hamaker said that he liked Tintri’s ability to “dedupe within the [virtual machine disk],” and that at the time, Tintri was the only company doing this.  Additionally, Tintri’s solution made management and configuration seamless with the environment.  “I had it from a box on a pallet to hosting machines in less than an hour,” Hamaker said.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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