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Sun repackages open storage NAS products

Sun's new 7000 series of NAS appliances adds management features and three prepackaged models meant to broaden the appeal of storage based on open-source software and commodity hardware.

Sun Microsystems Inc. is rolling out a new line of open storage NAS products combining Sun's DAS servers, OpenSolaris ZFS and management features developed to broaden the appeal of open source products.

Sun's 7000 series, which consists of three models, will replace the company's 5000 NAS line and may eventually replace the 6000 series.

The 7110, code-named Hiwashi, consists of up to sixteen 3.5-inch SATA drives and 8 GB of memory, and supports Gigabit Ethernet, CIFS, NFS and iSCSI protocols. An entry-level configuration with four disk drives starts at $10,000.

The 7210, code-named Fugu, supports either 32 GB or 64 GB of RAM, a choice of up to forty-eight 250 GB, 500 GB or 1 TB drives and one or two 18 GB write-biased or read-biased solid-state drives (SSDs) from Stec.

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The 7410, code-named Toro, consists of a single- or dual-clustered SunFire X4540 Thumper server in a 4U, 24-drive starting configuration. The 7410 can be expanded by adding up to 12 of the company's Riverwalk J4400 JBODs for a maximum of 288 TB of raw space over two racks. It can support 16 GB, 64 GB or 128 GB of RAM and up to a dozen 18 GB SSDs. A fully configured instance of Toro is estimated at a list price just over $200,000.

Management software GUI
The new systems are tied together with OpenSolaris, ZFS and a new management software GUI that came out of a product development group at Sun called FishWorks. The GUI bundles snapshots, replication, mirroring, compression, thin provisioning and data placement on SSDs. Sun detailed how ZFS can place blocks on SSDs according to I/O patterns at an event in June.

The software package is free with each hardware appliance and is the same on all appliances, which means customers can replicate data from one model to another.

The GUI also bundles in real-time performance monitoring features based on DTrace, using Ajax to create dynamic views of I/O according to different time frames or file systems with granularity down to the file level.

Jason Williams, chief technology officer at Digitar, an early adopter of Sun's open storage products, uses the 7110 and 7410 with write-optimized SSDs for user file shares. Williams and his staff have software coding experience and previously used ZFS, OpenSolaris and Thumper to put together customized and fine-tuned boxes for production databases.

Williams said he likes having boxes that can also be set up quickly using the GUI. "It's nice to have something you don't have to be MacGyver to take advantage of," he said. "We use it for applications where we don't want to spend our time building our own operating system." Williams' scripting knowledge comes in handy for these new boxes. Before putting the 7410 with SSDs into production, he devised a script that warms up the SSD by preloading hot data into the nonvolatile cache before starting production I/O.

Otherwise, it could take five minutes or longer to populate the SSD cache, according to Sun's director of storage and IT infrastructure products Jason Schaffer. Schaffer also said that each storage box requires space to be set aside on disk for performance-monitoring data.

Luke Stackle, director of IT for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise, Idaho, bought a 7110 on Williams' recommendation. Stackle chose a 7110 over an NX1950 and MD3000i combination from Dell and a LeftHand Networks SANiQ clustered iSCSI SAN. Sun's option had native NAS interfaces, which the others didn't. Price was also a factor. Stackle said he paid the same for 24 TB of capacity on the 7110 as he would have paid Dell for 2 TB.

Stackle used the FishWorks GUI to attach about 45 Microsoft Hyper-V hosts running on Windows boxes to the 7110 with NAS and iSCSI. "The commodity hardware is also very easy to service, as opposed to specialized hardware that requires a services engagement," he said.

Sun's success with the 7000 series of NAS appliances may ultimately depend on whether the company can extend its reach far beyond its base of open source software programming enthusiasts. Illuminata analyst John Webster said that might take more time than Sun has, given its current sales slump. "These products seem like a good approach for Sun, and I think it should be given a chance," he said. "But traction takes time, and I'm not sure how much time the market is willing to give them."

IDC analyst Rick Villars was more upbeat in his outlook for Sun. "They've still got work to do," he said. But the wider market looks to be going Sun's way, especially among Web 2.0 and content providers that so far have been building customized systems out of commodity hardware. "These systems," he said, "have the potential to become a building block for an emerging category of data centers."


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