New iSCSI SAN/NAS box touts better performance

Agami's new low-end iSCSI SAN/NAS box is pricier than other scaled-down offerings, but has a few more high-end features.

As an increasing number of storage vendors focus downmarket, new products are emerging that find shades of gray between the lowest of low-priced boxes and midrange offerings. A new product from Agami Systems, announced this week, is aiming to slide into the pricing spot above products from Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) but below the low-end network attached storage (NAS) package offered by Dell Inc. and...

Microsoft.

The new box, dubbed the AIS1006, has 6 terabytes (TB) of SATA disks. Like its competitors, it allows access to disks through either an iSCSI storage area network (SAN) or NAS interface, supports both CIFS and NFS access, and also includes replication and snapshot features.

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However, where it differs from HP's All-in-One (AiO) and Dell's NX1950V is first in price. At a list price of around $18,000, it's more than three times the $5,000 starting price of the AiO, though the pricing is more similar when the AiO is populated with 6 TB of disk that goes for a list price of around $14,000, according to HP. However, the Agami box falls below the Dell list price for 6 TB of around $29,000 (the NX1950V uses SAS disks rather than SATA). Another difference is that the AiO and NX1950 can scale well beyond 6 TB. The AIS1006 is currently packaged only in the 6 TB flavor with JBOD expansion units.

Agami is also pushing the fact that its prepackaged replication has more features than you get for free with the Dell or HP boxes, offering replication for both iSCSI blocks, as well as NAS. Furthermore, it includes content awareness and transaction consistency, and can replicate to the larger models in Agami's product line, the AIS3000 and AIS6000. While both HP and Dell have replication offerings that match those features on their low-end boxes, they require additional licenses.

Finally, the Agami system uses a point-to-point connection between the processor and each disk drive, allowing for parallel access that boosts the system's throughput over serial-bus connections, like PCI Express, which is used in the HP and Dell systems. Agami is claiming single-stream throughput of around 100 megabytes per second (MBps), which is similar to its counterparts but claims aggregate throughput up to 300 MBps. (The box can trunk ports to allow a single host the entire aggregate throughput if necessary.)

According to Tony Asaro, analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), the product has been tested in ESG's labs and showed performance numbers close to Agami's claims. "The AIS system achieved 106 MBps of throughput over a single Gigabit Ethernet [GigE] interface," he wrote to SearchStorage.com in an email. "[Aggregate] performance scaled in a near-linear fashion to 226 MBps."

HP's AiO claims CIFS throughput of around 120 MBps but is cagier when it comes to its overall iSCSI performance. "You can't just multiply the single stream throughput to get the aggregate with iSCSI. You can do NIC teaming, MPIO, TOE cards and it also depends on the size of the frames and networking setup in the customer environment," said Brad Parks, worldwide product marketing manager for AiO storage.

Dell's box, meanwhile, can hit 420 MBps aggregate throughput, but ports can only be trunked on a pure NAS system. "For iSCSI solutions … we utilize the Microsoft iSCSI Initiator and MPIO technology, which recommends the use of MPIO for communicating data down multiple physical paths," wrote Scott Sinclair, marketing product manager for NAS at Dell, to SearchStorage.com in an email.

Finally, the Agami system is based on a Linux kernel, rather than the Windows OS, which could appeal to some administrators who feel Windows is a less reliable operating system. The AIS1006 also has battery-backed cache that allows it to avoid the Windows disk check after a crash.

According to Asaro, though Agami's product is primarily being marketed to small and midsized businesses (SMB), HP and Dell not only have better name recognition in that market than Agami, but "they can sell them other stuff besides storage."

SMB users also tend to be loyal to Windows, and HP and Dell's offerings are better integrated with some Microsoft applications, like Active Directory, thanks to those companies' preexisting relationships with Microsoft. HP is also offering more software features to coax SMB users toward networked storage, including a wizard designed specifically for migrating data from DAS to NAS that can be used with the AiO. Finally, low-end boxes, like the AiO, are not being sold into performance-sensitive environments.

Agami will probably also never beat the big players on price. Currently, it's selling the AIS1006 only through its Web site in order to avoid having to boost the price to preserve margins for both itself and channel partners. "In the SMB space, it's almost impossible to get more than a 30% margin," Asaro said. "HP and Dell can live comfortably there, but a pure storage player [like Agami] really can't."

The bottom line, Asaro said, is that the product is probably most likely to find a home as secondary storage at midsized companies or as remote office/branch office (ROBO) storage at large companies where the performance and replication features can come into play. The Linux-based system is more likely to have appeal over Windows. "It could be a good deal, price-performance wise, for secondary storage," he said. "They've got to get it out to the right customer base though."

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