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OnStor purrs at high-end enterprise NAS space with Cougar gateway

With clustered NAS systems now showing up in the enterprise, OnStor has brought out a NAS gateway, called Cougar, that doubles the processing and capacity of its Bobcat series gateways. Early users say the Cougar's compact size and low power draw make it appealing.

OnStor Inc. has resurfaced in the increasingly hot clustered NAS space with a gateway dubbed the Cougar 6000 series. OnStor's Cougar NAS gateways will have twice the performance and file system capacity as the company's previous Bobcat gateways, which will remain on the market as a midrange offering.

The Cougar gateways will have 18 processor cores per 1U node, as well as eight Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports and eight 8 Gbps Fibre Channel ports. OnStor claims that its Cougar clusters can scale up to four petabytes and 400,000 SpecSFS Ops.

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The company has designed its Cougar systems to compete with NetApp's V6000 series gateways on price. Narayan Venkat, vice president of marketing for OnStor, admitted that the performance of an active-active two-node Cougar cluster is slightly behind that of a NetApp V6080 in a similar configuration (101,500 IOPS compared to approximately 160,000 for NetApp, according to Venkat's latest figures). But he said that Cougar's list price for the configuration -- approximately $300,000 -- would undercut the price of the V6080 by up to 50%.

Venkat said that now is the time to enter the high-end enterprise NAS space, with NetApp still working to integrate its OnTap GX clustering into its product lines. "We're seeing clustered NAS come out of the HPC and niche markets and into the enterprise, with deployments at more traditional technology verticals such as the semiconductor industry," he said. "Long-time customers are also asking for more performance in a single box."

Bobcat user Burzin Engineer, vice president of technology for, said the majority of his 600 TB of file storage is served through OnStor's gateways, to block storage from 3PAR Inc. or XIV Ltd. Engineer is currently testing the Cougar nodes and looking to consolidate data with the denser boxes for power and space savings. "Anyone who tells you they haven't been running into power, cooling and space issues in their data center lately is lying," he said.

However, if OnStor hopes to target the high-end enterprise space with Cougar, Engineer suggested that the company add support for 10GbE interfaces soon. "That's also a nice consolidation play," he said.

OnStor's architecture passes file data through the gateways without copying that data into memory, meaning that I/O in the system is done direct to disk. Venkat said that a combination of parallelization in the clustered system and a 128-bit journal file system keeps performance high.

Some analysts say that's generally a better configuration for large sequential files rather than random, small I/O, but Engineer said that 30 KB files are the norm in his shop. "I believe the caching model does break down eventually, unless your data pattern is very predictable," he said. Shopzilla is one of the earliest adopters of clustered block storage from XIV Ltd. (now owned by IBM) and Engineer said that parallel storage behind parallel gateways adds extra I/O. "The IOPS depends on the storage," he said.

 Anyone who tells you they haven't been running into power, cooling and space issues in their data center lately is lying.
Burzin Engineer
vice president of

Venkat said that OnStor's data transfer scheme allows scale-out. "Having to mirror NVRAM becomes an issue if you try to scale out further than two nodes," he said. During a recent update on the progress of GX, NetApp officials said that this issue was one of the challenges of GX integration with existing filers.

Even if OnStor beats NetApp's GX integration, that doesn't necessarily mean that OnStor has control of the market, according to ESG analyst Terri McClure. The company has been very quiet in terms of product refreshes for most of the last year (Cougar is its first product announcement in 10 months), something she attributes to OnStor targeting the enterprise space before it began to see significant adoption for clustered NAS. A bunch of startups are targeting the same space, while calling major players late to this market is almost an oxymoron. "EMC and NetApp are market-makers."

"For OnStor, the challenge is go-to-market execution," McClure added. "They need distribution deals and to find the right partners and resellers."

OnStor recently announced such a partnership with Fujitsu, which in May dumped NetApp's NAS gateways in favor of Bobcat.


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