Isilon Systems clustered NAS adds solid-state drives (SSDs), 10 GbE connectivity

Isilon Systems boosts performance of its S-series, X-series and NL-series clustered NAS nodes with solid-state drives (SSDs) and 10 GbE as it continues to make inroads in traditional enterprise data storage environments.

Isilon Systems Inc. today added solid-state drive (SSD) support with automated tiered storage features and 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) connectivity options to its clustered NAS systems.

The Isilon IQ 5000S-SSD, 10000X-SSD and 32000X-SSD nodes with solid-state drives from STEC Inc. become generally available this week. The 5000S-SSD contains 5 TB SAS capacity and one 100 GB SSD. The 10000X-SSD contains 10 TB of 7,200 rpm SATA disk drives and two 100 GB SSDs. The 32000X-SSD contains 32 TB of SATA drives and four 100 GB SSDs. The 5000S-SSD has a list price of $59,000 per node with a minimum three-node configuration. The 10000X-SSD lists for $65,000 per node, and the 32000X-SSD at $125,000. Isilon's largest field-tested cluster is 144 nodes.

Isilon is also rolling out 10 GbE versions of all its IQ nodes launched in the last year except for legacy 6000X and 12000X nodes. Sam Grocott, Isilon's vice president of marketing, said the 6000X and 12000X will be refreshed soon, and 10 GbE will be added then. Customers can purchase systems with two 10 GbE ports per node instead of Gigabit Ethernet ports.

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Isilon senior product manager Gautam Mehandru said Isilon has added the solid-state drives to its nodes for a specific purpose: metadata storage and management. "The OneFS file system will automatically identify metadata and place it on the SSD capacity of the cluster," he said. "Regular data will remain on hard disk drives – this will allow faster namespace operations for design and simulation workflows to accelerate replication and performance in server virtualization environments."

Added Grocott: "We could've just created an SSD node, but we wanted a more elegant approach, and a more balanced high-performance solution at lower cost than storing everything in SSD."

Isilon's engineers have calculated that 2% of the storage space in a given cluster is taken up by metadata. If that workload exceeds 2% percent of capacity, some metadata will "spill over" onto hard disk drives, Mehandru said.

Clustering becoming de rigueur in enterprise NAS

Grocott said an increase in demand for clustered NAS is part of the reason Isilon reported its first profitable quarter to end 2009.

"The demand is shifting," Grocott said. "It's no longer just in the media and entertainment and HPC [high-performance computing] verticals – we're also seeing mainstream needs [for clustered NAS]." As of the first quarter of 2008, 48% of Isilon's customers were in the media and entertainment space. Today, that number is 32%. Over that same time, bioinformatics have risen from 2% to 16% of Isilon's revenue, indicating a rise in clustered NAS in HPC. Government sales have gone from 4% to 10% of Isilon's revenue, and Isilon claims 60 enterprise customers are attaching its clustered NAS to virtual server environments.

Mark Ansell, IT manager for messaging and storage at global microchip manufacturer ARM Ltd., said he has deployed 14 of Isilon's IQ 10000X-SSD nodes over three data center locations in Cambridge, U.K.; Bangalore, India; and California since October 2009. "Changes in chip geometry have led to a 2x to 4x increase in storage requirements in our engineering division," Ansell said. ARM has been a customer of Isilon for tier-2 and tier-3 storage for the last four years, but brought the SSD nodes in after "we hit the limitations of other NAS vendors with maximum volume sizes of 16 TB."

Ansell declined to name his other NAS vendor, which he said he still uses for his tier-1 NAS because its system can also handle iSCSI. He said he'd like to see Isilon offer iSCSI, as well as improved reporting and monitoring features. "I'm looking forward to seeing how that product develops," he said. But for now, "I see it as tier-2 storage – it offers most of the functionality of my tier 1, but not all."

While its earnings are improving and it's making enterprise inroads, Isilon is still chasing NAS market leader NetApp Inc., although NetApp is still in the early stages of delivering scale-out NAS with its Data Ontap 8 operating system.

"NetApp is still the big name in NAS and the one to beat – it is hard to displace someone as entrenched as NetApp in the data center," wrote Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) senior analyst Terri McClure in an email to SearchStorage.com. "But it will be interesting to see how much Isilon can leverage its success in line-of-business operations back into the data center. That's what NetApp will have to watch."

McClure added that she'd like to see Isilon consolidate its product lines. "The way they deployed SSD is in keeping with ease-of-use, since users won't need to move data in and out of the SSD tier," she said. "But Isilon still has separate systems for high IOPS environments (SAS-based S-Series), high-throughput environments (SATA-based X-series) and a dense platform for long-term archive (NL-Series). So Isilon needs to bring these together into a common namespace to support a virtualized, tiered file environment. iSCSI support would also be a good addition – but I see the tiering as a more important next step."

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