Coraid launches ZFS NAS, again

Two years after scrapping plans for a ZFS NAS appliance because of legal reasons, Coraid licenses ZFS from Oracle for its ZX3000 server.

Coraid Inc. today said it is bringing out a ZFS-based network attached storage (NAS) appliance that works with the vendor's Ethernet block storage arrays, two years after the vendor scrapped its original plans to deliver a similar ZFS NAS system.

The ZX3000 series is an Oracle Solaris ZFS-based server that works with Coraid's EtherDrive SRX SAN arrays. Coraid's target markets for the ZX3000 and SRX systems are customers who require block and file storage for cloud, video and "big data" applications.

This is Coraid's second attempt to launch a ZFS NAS system. Coraid introduced the EtherDrive Z-Series NAS appliance with ZFS in May 2010 but the company suspended the launch two months later after NetApp Inc. threatened legal action. NetApp was involved in a legal battle with Oracle Corp. over patent infringement, and sent a letter to Coraid claiming the Z-Series infringed on NetApp's ZFS patents.

John Gilmartin, Coraid's vice president of product marketing, wouldn't comment on the Oracle and NetApp lawsuits, but said Coraid licenses ZFS from Oracle. "The key thing for us is that we have the backing and a contractual relationship with Oracle," he said.

The ZFS file system has key enterprise features such as data deduplication, thin provisioning, compression, snapshots and clones, replication and high-availability clustering. The ZX3000 server is a 2U NAS appliance that comes in pairs for high availability. The devices use single-level cell (SLC) and enterprise multi-level cell (eMLC) solid-state drives (SSDs) for read and write caching and bulk storage, with SATA drives for back-end storage. The filers connect to the EtherDrive SAN Gigabit Ethernet or 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Coraid's SAN uses an ATA over Ethernet (AoE) protocol, which Coraid claims performs better and costs less than the more popular iSCSI Ethernet SAN protocol.

"ZFS is something that fits with the Coraid architecture because Coraid uses a simple protocol and low-cost hardware to create robust block storage," said Robin Harris, data storage analyst at StorageMojo. "You just add disk slots that speak to the filer head over the network."

Harris said the ZX3000 is an easier way to scale NAS than leading systems such as NetApp filers and EMC Isilon.

"The EtherDrive disks just become part of a large pool to store data," he said. "It's a much simpler way to build a large storage infrastructure. Coraid is much less expensive. ZFS is congruent with using low-cost hardware because it uses software to create a highly scalable, robust and high-performance storage. For general, day-to-day storage and file requirements, it's sufficiently powerful."

Harris said the functions typically associated with hardware RAID controllers are built into ZFS as software. "It has RAID functionality built into it," he said. "You can have triple redundancy on data. But with ZFS, you don't get the RAID complexity or overhead. Because of the way ZFS is architected, it's just as fast as most hardware RAID."

The ZX3000 ZFS NAS system with the back-end storage is priced at $900 per terabyte.

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