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Isilon expands with transactional and archive systems

Isilon is looking to broaden its product line by taking on transactional data as well as archiving alongside its established scale-out NAS platform.

Isilon Systems Inc. today expanded its NAS platform with a primary system for transactional data, an archiving system and a higher performance addition to its flagship IQ X-Series clustered storage array.

Isilon introduced an S-Series for transactional data and an NL-Series for archiving to go with the X-Series scale-out NAS platform it launched in early 2008.

S-Series pushes into primary storage

The IQ 5400S contains dual quad-core Woodcrest x86 processors and 16 GB of memory per node, as well as 15,000 rpm SAS disk drives and four Gigabit Ethernet interfaces. The Isilon S-Series is optimized for random-access transaction performance, while the X-Series is designed for sequential-access throughput performance. The S-Series can scale up to 518 TB in one 96-node cluster, and Isilon claims each node can sustain 12,000 IOPS.

"For our company, it's a push into a new space," Isilon CEO Sujal Patel said of the S-Series. "We're moving into the broader NAS space."

Patel said Isilon laid the groundwork for the diversification of its product line with last year's release of Version 5.0 of its OneFS system software, which added support for multithreaded processors. File systems can be tuned to better support random-access or sequential-access workloads, but Patel claimed Isilon's file system had always been designed with both workloads in mind. New algorithms introduced with OneFS 5.0 determine how cache is used in the system based on access pattern.

"Two years ago, we'd be reading a lot of unnecessary data," Patel said.

Isilon has focused on vertical markets such as media/entertainment and oil/gas exploration that run applications requiring sequential access to large files, but Patel said that customer base also deals with transactional applications. The S-Series may also bring Isilon into new markets, although its storage is still file based and won't be a good fit for block-based applications such as Oracle databases.

Near-line, new X system broaden NAS platform

The IQ 36NL archival node is based on the X-Series, but contains half the processing power of that product line, two Gigabit Ethernet network connections instead of four, and SATA drives. Each 4U 36NL node can hold 36 TB and scale up to a total of 3.45 petabytes (PBs). A new partnership with data compression startup Ocarina Networks means Isilon users can use Ocarina's ECO System appliances to reduce the amount of data on the archival tier.

The IQ 36000X has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, which is double the number in other X-Series systems. Like the 36NL, the 36000X node is a 4U device that can hold up to 36 TB, but it contains two quad-core processors and 4 GB of RAM per node.

Noemi Greyzdorf, research manager, storage software at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, said that with this expansion, Isilon's product line is looking more like NetApp's FAS product lines, but with n-way clustering native to all systems and without NetApp's SAN support. NetApp has promised a clustered system this year in Ontap 8, four years after acquiring the IP with Spinnaker Networks Inc.

"It's a unified infrastructure based on a single type of appliance to learn" packaged in varying degrees of scalability, Greyzdorf said of Isilon's platform.

"Isilon is trying to become a one-stop shop for file serving," added Robin Harris, senior analyst and storage market advisor at Nashua, N.H.-based Data Mobility Group LLC.

Tiered storage, especially at the archival level, could appeal to organizations looking to move storage off expensive tier 1 disk during current budget crunches.

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"It makes perfect sense what Isilon is doing," Harris said, while pointing out that customers probably won't reap the full potential benefit of tiered storage until vendors provide more automated data migration tools for information lifecycle management (ILM). Isilon offers snapshots and replication for moving data between the tiers, but making migration decisions on a file-by-file basis can become unmanageable in large environments.

"It's not that Isilon is necessarily lagging, but the real advantage to this product line and others like it will come from that [automated migration]," Harris said.

During the global economic crisis, however, many organizations are not thinking about buying new systems even if they need more storage. Tim Gaeta, department system engineer for the City of San Bernadino, Calif., said when his shop recently purchased systems from Isilon for a consolidation project, it went for previous generation I-Series nodes through Isilon's after-market refurbishment sales program.

"We've added enough [capacity] for the next two years and hopefully we'll be in a better economy by then," Gaeta said.

The Isilon IQ 5400S has a list price of $49,999 per node. The Isilon IQ 36000X is listed at $137,000 per node, while the Isilon IQ 36NL costs $72,000 per node.

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