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Isilon scale-out NAS helps production company manage 250 TB

Isilon scale-out NAS helps NY-based creative production company meet the demanding data storage needs of media, entertainment and retail customers.

Industrial Color Inc. installed its first of five Isilon Systems Inc. scale-out network-attached storage (NAS) clusters five years ago to cope with a deluge of digital photos uploaded through its homegrown GLOBALedit Web application.

Aaron Holm, the company’s vice president of development, said he can’t imagine using anything other than scale-out NAS to handle the digital photos and videos of customers such as Kohl’s, NBC Universal, Old Navy, Victoria’s Secret and Warner Brothers.

New York-based Industrial Color had approximately 25 TB of data in 2006 when it purchased its first clustered NAS system from Isilon, long before EMC Corp. acquired the vendor in late 2010. The company currently stores about 250 TB of data across its five Isilon scale-out NAS clusters.

“I don’t think we’d be able to do what we do as a business unless we had that kind of storage,” Holm said. “It’s fundamental.”

Industrial Color has two businesses: software and creative photo/video production. The company builds and hosts two Web-based software as a service (SaaS) applications: GLOBALedit for work-in-progress photo and video management, review and approval; and File Society for high-speed file transfer. The IT team also manages data storage of digital photos and videos that the company’s technicians shoot for the Capture and Motion businesses.

Although Holm didn’t specifically seek out “clustered” NAS or “scale-out” NAS prior to the initial Isilon purchase, he was looking for a system that would let the company scale as easily and inexpensively as possible to meet escalating data storage needs.

“We just wanted really high availability and high-performance storage,” he said.

Before switching to Isilon scale-out NAS, GLOBALedit used a traditional NAS system from NetApp Inc. When the NetApp NAS system reached its limit, the IT team faced the prospect of buying new NAS heads and disk trays or perhaps an entire new device.

Holm said with Isilon’s OneFS operating system running across all the hardware, adding storage nodes is as easy as plugging in a new Isilon blade and typing a command to add it to the cluster.

“With Isilon, you add the storage, but you also add the additional network interfaces, cache and processing because of the new hardware you’ve added to the infrastructure,” Holm said. “Because every node in an Isilon cluster has the same components, when you scale it, you’re actually adding performance [in addition to capacity].”

The concept of failover in scale-out vs. traditional NAS also appeals to Holm. “With NetApp, the failover is based on the idea that I have two of everything,” he said. “With Isilon, the failover is based on the operating system being striped across the entire cluster.”

But because Isilon wasn’t designed to handle mainstream business applications, Industrial Color kept its NetApp system with approximately 5 TB for database servers.

Industrial Color’s second Isilon cluster coincided with its move from Manhattan to White Plains, N.Y., to a new disaster recovery (DR) facility. The project spanned four months because the team decided to shift its production data from GLOBALedit’s legacy Isilon iSeries 6000 to its new X-Series 9000. Holm said the iSeries system is used for DR now.

Holm said he’s impressed by Isilon’s continually evolving roadmap, which tends to keep pace with his needs. For example, Industrial Color recently needed to roll out a 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) network to stream high-definition video simultaneously to four desktops. Isilon’s latest S-Series supports 10 GbE.

“A year ago, Isilon didn’t have a product that would have met what we wanted to do,” he said.

Industrial Color had been using Apple Inc.’s Xsan storage with its Capture and Motion businesses when it recognized the need for a system that could scale faster and require less time to manage.

“At that point, the metadata implementation on the Xsan had hurt us. We’d had situations where we’d had total storage failure,” Holm said.

But the three-month move from the Xsan to the more sophisticated Isilon cluster was not without pain; the new system required more administrative expertise as well as engineering work on the network to get it to perform as desired. But, Holm said, the effort was worth it.

“We need to be able to pivot on a dime,” he said, noting that a customer might need 10 TB of storage in less than a day.

The GLOBALedit application now runs across 30 servers and uses Isilon’s X-Series 9000, or 9000x, with nine storage nodes for approximately 70 TB of primary data and about 60 TB for disaster recovery. File Society’s 9000x, purchased in 2009, has four nodes and approximately 24 TB. Capture uses 9000x (bought in 2008) and has close to 36 TB across four nodes. And Motion uses the faster S-Series and has 48 TB across seven nodes.

The IT team can add storage nodes while the system is running. To compensate for any performance hit when adding a server to the cluster, the team times the changes to coincide with periods of low activity.

“The reason why we’ve liked Isilon is because ultimately their implementation is just simpler,” Holm said. “It’s a simpler way to provide both administration and provisioning for very large, scalable storage clusters.”

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