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Wind-powered data center picks Atrato disk arrays

The founders of a green colocation company say Atrato's disk arrays, which use 2.5-inch drives, have boosted density and broadened service offerings.

The owners of a new wind-powered green colocation and hosting facility in Wyoming said they have switched out an aging EMC Corp. Clariion disk array in favor of denser 2.5-inch self-healing arrays from Atrato Inc.

Green House Data Inc. representatives said the V1000 system from storage newcomer Atrato won them over by offering capacity and performance, reducing the footprint required to pack in virtual machines for its cloud architecture.

Green House Data president Shawn Mills said his company opened a 10,000-square-foot data center last January in Cheyenne, Wyoming, 90 miles north of the company's Denver headquarters. The facility is in the midst of a Class VII wind zone – the strongest wind zone with the highest annual average wind speed -- and an area dense with dark fiber. Green House Data sources almost all of its electricity from local wind farms and supplements it by purchasing renewable energy credits.

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When the facility opened, the company was using an EMC Clariion CX700 it had bought used from another company to save money. The machine stored 25 TB and was reliable, Mills said, but took up an entire 42U rack and "used almost a whole 30-amp circuit." He said the company talked to EMC "quite a bit from the day we opened. We knew we would probably run through the capacity fairly quickly and talked about upgrading with a new array."

Several members of Green House Data's engineering team had worked with Sun systems in the past, and the company also researched Hitachi Data Systems storage before it met Atrato representatives at a networking event. "They piqued our interest with their [array's] size and capacity," Mills said.

The company had a specific objective in mind for its new array -- to house as many virtual machines for the company's customers in the smallest amount of space possible. "With EMC, we talked about a whole suite of solutions, including dedupe, but once they start selling, they just want to sell you something," Mills said, adding that the Atrato product was more specifically suited to meet Green House Data's needs.

Atrato's V1000 disk array, launched in March, is a 6U box (including an IBM 3650 controller) containing sealed subunits of disk drives. Each subunit is referred to as a SAID -- a Self-managing Array of Identical Disks. The sealed disk canisters contain enough individual hard drives to offer parity protection for data in virtual RAID groups and to automatically swap in spares if one hard drive should fail. I/O is also parallelized among all the disks in the V1000 to boost performance and speed rebuild times.

Green House Data purchased a 25 TB V1000, with plans to scale this out over the next several months with higher capacity disk drives for an expected 50 TB capacity. The 25 TB system is comprised of 160 small form factor disk drives, which allow for greater density, as well as lower power usage. Each V1000 takes up 6U and 6 amps of power.

"The Atrato box allowed us to not have to trade off performance for capacity," wrote Cortney Thompson, Green House Data vice president of operations and engineering, in an email to "With EMC, HDS and Sun, we either had to choose between their capacity drive (SATA), their SAS/Fibre Channel performance drive system or do a mix. Additionally, with the competitors' boxes, we had to use more rack space, adding additional disk drive enclosures to reach the performance/capacity needed."

It's early in the deployment, but Thompson is happy so far. "We are surprised at the Atrato box's ability to handle additional workloads," Thompson wrote. "Our virtual machines are able to access near full performance of the Atrato V1000. We can arrange virtual machines freely on physical hosts without worrying about I/O-starving various applications that we're running. We are now able to support high throughput applications and bring on additional customers in the cloud computing/virtualization space."

Like Green House Data, Atrato is a new company. It emerged from stealth last spring. But Mills said that hasn't been an issue. "The newer the company, the more willing to work with unique product offerings like ours and really provide the engineering talent required to pull it off," he said.

Still, the company's engineering staff will watch the box carefully as it takes on more data, especially when it comes to the self-healing aspect. "We will watch carefully the number of hours each week [spent] monitoring and replacing drives in our current SAN solution," Thompson wrote. "We anticipate [Atrato] will save us a significant number of hours of IT resources each year that can be spent on other revenue producing activities."

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