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Spotlight on midrange arrays

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The FAS270 comes with an impressive software lineup, including thin provisioning, and combines NFS, CIFS, FC and iSCSI under the same management interface.
Network Appliance's FAS270
Network Appliance (NetApp) Inc.'s FAS270, which starts at $27,500 for a single enclosure with 14 drives, represents the high end of NetApp's entry-level FAS200 product lineup. As such, NetApp refers to it as a midrange machine, mainly citing its clustering option. With a limit of 4TB per enclosure, it clearly falls into the low end of what most consider midrange storage. To move beyond 6TB, you'll need to build out additional disk enclosures.

Versatility and flexibility rather than scalability are the real strengths of the FAS270. It provides concurrent file access--like a NAS box--and block storage access as would be required by a database. It can also handle simultaneous access via iSCSI and FC, effectively combining NFS, CIFS, FC and iSCSI under the same management interface.

NetApp offers "a wide range of software providing snapshot copies, remote mirroring, write once, read many [WORM] capability and more," says Tony Asaro,

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senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group. Asaro is also impressed with three new capabilities: thin provisioning, which can be used to maximize existing storage capacity and simplify provisioning; FlexClone, which makes replications of data volumes that are readable and writable from different snapshots, effectively reducing the amount of storage needed for copies; and storage virtualization, which allows FAS to create a single pool of managed storage from heterogeneous storage systems.

The FAS270 uses NetApp's Data Ontap, a proprietary storage operating system. Unlike many of the major storage vendors' proprietary operating systems, Data Ontap runs across the entire NetApp product line. Although Data Ontap began as a file-sharing system, it has been enhanced to handle block-oriented FC and iSCSI protocols. NetApp uses the same management and GUI across all of its systems.

Some analysts have complained that any storage operating system that handles file and block protocols invariably suffers from lower performance due to the extra overhead. Asaro discounts those complaints. And given the entry-level and low midrange aspirations of the FAS270, whatever small performance degradation occurs would have minimal impact. This product wasn't designed for high-volume transaction processing. Rather, it's more likely to be found in a remote branch office where performance requirements are lower.

Asaro gives the FAS270 an excellent rating as a midrange solution, but has some concerns. "It doesn't scale to the highest levels. On the NAS side, NetApp has limited file system size, which creates a management challenge with customers that have a large number of FAS systems," he says.

The InfiniteStorage TP9500 is designed for high-performance storage requirements.
SGI InfiniteStorage TP9500
Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI), Mountain View, CA, introduced the InfiniteStorage TP9500 at the Super Computing Show in November 2002. It's bundled with SGI's software for applications that demand high performance. SGI sells the array in three different configurations: the SGI InfiniteStorage SAN 3000, the InfiniteStorage NAS 3000 and a data lifecycle management offering.

The SAN 3000 sports two meta data controllers, SGI's CXFS SAN file system, a Brocade 3800 FC switch with the option of a duplicate for failover, dual HBAs and multiple RAID options. CXFS is a high-performance 64-bit file system that supports file sizes up to 9 million terabytes and file systems to 18 million terabytes. For heterogeneous SAN support, SGI resells AppIQ's StorageAuthority management software.

The NAS 3000 offers up to eight GbE ports, and instead of CXFS it uses SGI's standard 64-bit file system, XFS, which supports NFS and CIFS. The SAN and NAS bundles include SGI's cluster configuration, snapshot and remote mirroring software.

Craig Schultz, SGI storage product manager, says XFS supports NAS and SAN. "[A user] would simply add a Fibre Channel [FC] HBA for SAN and NAS connectivity," he says. Other NAS products tend to have their own file system and are difficult to integrate into a SAN, usually resulting in separate management. Likewise, users can go in the opposite direction and add CIFS and NFS support to CXFS. "The two file systems are interchangeable and work together," says Schultz.

A third bundle includes the SAN or NAS option with SGI's DLM Server, which includes its Data Migration Facility software layered on top of the file system. This product migrates files from online storage to nearline storage based on user-defined criteria such as time of last access or file size. The downside is that it can only be hosted on SGI IRIX or Linux servers.

The TP9500 disk enclosure can house 2TB of storage in three standard EIA units (5.25 inches), 20TB in a standard rack and 32TB in a single system. The 5884 controller, manufactured by Engenio Information Technologies Inc., is a dual-controller module that has eight 2Gb/sec FC ports and 800MB/sec of host and drive-side bandwidth, 2GB of dedicated cache, parity RAID and a specialized I/O control processor that focuses on data movement. SGI sells the TP9500 with 2TB of FC disk for a list price of $100,000, or $150,000 for 8TB of FC disk.

StorageTek is enhancing its FlexLine products to be more tightly integrated with its tape products and mainframe storage.
StorageTek FlexLine FLA200
To appreciate Storage Technology (StorageTek) Corp.'s StorageTek FlexLine family of products, you need to sort through the genealogy of several companies as well as the technology. The FLA200 series, shipping now, and the FLA300, which will be released in April, are rebranded versions of StorageTek's D series. The underlying technology is from LSI Logic, now known as Engenio Information Technologies Inc.

The technology is being refreshed with new chipsets, enhanced software and more redundancy. In addition, StorageTek has refined the product to integrate with its tape devices and mainframe storage as part of a complete information lifecycle management (ILM) offering.

Reaction from the analyst community has been generally good. "We see the new FlexLine 200 and 300 series as having the potential to make StorageTek a player," says Dave Reine, director of enterprise systems at The Clipper Group Inc., Wellesley, MA. "They're going with a common architecture using SATA and Fibre Channel in the same box. You can start inexpensively and grow as you need. In short, it is an ideal approach for an ILM strategy."

The Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), Milford, MA, also welcomes what amounts to a revival of the StorageTek disk storage line. "The StorageTek FlexLine, like the [EMC] Clariion, is customer-proven in a large number of companies, applications and environments. It has an extensive set of software features, is easy to use and provides very competitive performance," says Tony Asaro, an ESG senior analyst.

The FLA200 and the upcoming FLA300 offer 2Gb/sec FC switched, access-centric disk arrays. The FLA200 line starts with 14 SATA disk drives and scales to a total of 112 SATA drives. It offers a maximum sustained rate of 53,200 IOPS (FC) and 6,000 IOPS (SATA). FLA200 series prices start at approximately $10,000.

The arrays include StorageTek's SANtricity software, which lets users mix drive types in the same system and perform asynchronous, remote disk-to-disk mirroring.

The product line has been revamped, but still lacks thin provisioning and iSCSI connectivity. It could also benefit from larger cache memory, notes Asaro. StorageTek is partnering with BlueArc Corp. and ONStor Inc. to integrate a NAS head for file storage.

This was first published in March 2005

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