Gear6 launches pared-down NAS caching appliance

Gear6's scaled-down version of its caching appliance is still expensive, but analysts say some shops could find it more cost effective than adding disk or clustered NAS nodes.

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NAS caching appliance maker Gear6 unveiled a scaled-down version of its Cachefx product today, hoping to broaden the appeal of centralized caching as an alternative to adding disk drives for better performance.

Gear6's appliances sit in the network and contain solid-state drives. They are compatible only with NFS-based NAS devices and can shorten response times for frequently used application data by storing it in memory. This concept isn't unique to individual disk systems, especially high-end arrays, but the appliance model can centralize management of performance and load balancing across NAS systems.

Although Gear6 calls its new G100 appliance an entry-level appliance, the 11U device's $149,000 price is hardly entry level. It is a smaller, less expensive version of Gear6's previous models, which start at $350,000 and come in 21U and 42U configurations.

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According to Gear6 director of marketing Jack O'Brien, the new model will also be better suited to run on performance-intensive applications with relatively moderate amounts of data, such as Oracle RAC.

"If performance requirements aren't particularly stringent, the appliance also offers an opportunity to simplify the storage environment," O'Brien added. In late January, Gear6 released new management software for the appliances that includes an I/O monitoring feature to track traffic and proactively identify bottlenecks.

Solid-state drives are drawing a lot of attention in the industry since EMC Corp. announced support for them in its high-end Symmetrix arrays in January, claiming they can reduce the number of disk drives needed to boost performance in storage systems. Tape and removable disk cartridge maker Imation Corp. entered the solid-state market last week, and Intel Corp. is reportedly working on new solid-state offerings.

With spinning disk taking up more power and generating more heat, vendors and some analysts predict that solid-state drives may overcome the sticker shock that's kept them a niche play.

"This definitely isn't for everybody," said StorageIO Group analyst Greg Schulz. "But the cost depends on which metrics are important in an individual environment. SATA drives in a performance-intensive environment are actually very expensive because you need more of them to get the same results."

Schulz said that some customers of clustered storage systems may find after a while that they've maxed out the IOPs and response time, even if they can add bandwidth with more NAS nodes. "Clustered systems till need to coordinate metadata, and that's where some systems present more of a bottleneck than others," he said. "If you've already spent a million dollars on a clustered NAS system, [$149,000] doesn't seem quite so bad to keep it working longer."

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