VMworld 2010: Isilon ships clustered NAS with iSCSI

Isilon adds iSCSI for block storage to go with legacy file-based clustered NAS architecture; will it need Fibre Channel to be a mainstream storage array player?

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Clustered NAS vendor Isilon Systems Inc. today added iSCSI to its OneFS operating system, giving it block as well as file storage capabilities.

Citing a preference for block storage among virtual server customers, Isilon made its iSCSI launch at VMworld 2010. Adding iSCSI continues Isilon's strategy to make its storage systems more applicable for mainstream applications. Most NAS vendors have multiprotocol support, and Isilon's main competitor, NetApp, supports iSCSI, NAS and Fibre Channel (FC) in all of its storage arrays.

With iSCSI on Isilon systems, the firm's customers don't have to choose between adding another system for block storage or scrapping Isilon for a multiprotocol competitor.

Last year Isilon introduced an S-Series for transactional data and an NL-Series for archiving to go with the X-Series scale-out NAS platform it launched in early 2008, but none of those systems supported block storage.

"We've been file, file, file until now," said Nick Kirsch, Isilon's director of product management. "This is a strategic move for us."

Kirsch said iSCSI lets Isilon customers run structured data in applications such as Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server on the same array as their file-based storage.

"Databases are optimized for block storage," he said. "But where we see the biggest push is for virtualization. Most VMware environments are done over block connectivity, and [Microsoft] Hyper-V supports block storage exclusively." Kirsch said iSCSI is fully integrated with OneFS. LUNs are represented as files and striped across nodes and disks. "We treat iSCSI as a first-class citizen and integrate it with all of our enterprise applications such as SmartPools [tiered storage], InsightIQ [analytics] and so on," he said.

iSCSI support is free with OneFS 6, and existing customers can upgrade at no charge.

Isilon customer John Welter, vice president of technology at Calgary, Alberta-based North West Geomatics Ltd., was an early adopter of the vendor's iSCSI and said he's using it to consolidate onto a single storage platform. He had been running a Dell MD3000 direct-attached storage (DAS) system for block storage.

North West Geomatics has two Isilon clusters at its data center, and a third at a colocation site. He said he's using iSCSI for a mixed workload on a cluster of five 32000X-SSD nodes Isilon rolled out last February. North West Geomatics uses iSCSI for Oracle and PostGIS databases on the 32000. The same cluster also runs NFS for virtual machines and boot drives, and CIFS for user data home drives, standard office business documents and large image files.

"That second cluster has become a little bit of everything," he said. "Our goal is to consolidate to Isilon's one platform."

North West Geomatics uses its MD3000 for disk backup now, and Welter said he will eventually retire the system.

The MDS 3000 is Fibre Channel, but Welter said he gets more than enough performance with 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE).

"It's on par with what we were seeing with Fibre Channel," he said.

North West Geomatics also takes advantage of Isilon's solid-state drive (SSD) support with 400 GB of SSDs in each of its five nodes.

"We use it for metadata inside our file system," Welter said of SSD. "When doing a directory listing with 10 KB files, it flies on solid state. Our cluster without SSD is not bad, but there's definitely a huge difference."

Isilon's Kirsch said Fibre Channel is "something we'll look at over time. We fundamentally believe Isilon scale-out storage is applicable to file and block long-term."

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