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Compellent Storage Center 5 adds portable volume option for replication

Compellent's Storage Center SAN will update a portable hard drive for customers with limited replication bandwidth; also adds virtual ports, SAS, RAID 6, and consistency groups.

CompellentTechnologies Inc. today launched a series of upgrades to its Storage Center storage-area network (SAN), adding a device for initiating data replication over low-bandwidth links, application-consistent snapshots, virtual ports, automatic discovery of virtual servers, and new support for RAID 6 and Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) disk drives.

Outside of the need to add an adapter to support SAS, none of the upgrades included in Storage Center 5 involve changes to the actual arrays.

Compellent has developed software that can automatically sync a volume to be replicated to a 1.5 TB or 2 TB USB drive, and then automatically sync from the portable hard drive to a secondary Storage Center disk array at a disaster recovery (DR) site. These "seeding devices" are designed to overcome bandwidth limitations in small- and medium-size businesses (SMBs) for initiating replication between sites. Without the devices, these initial replications can take hours, days, or weeks depending on the size of the connection.

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One Compellent customer called this portable volume option the most appealing feature of the new release, which he has already been running for approximately a month.

"We've recently added a two terabyte volume that would've taken four to five months to finish replicating because we have a T1," said Peter Fitch, IT planning and infrastructure manager at semiconductor testing company Rudolph Technologies Inc. in Flanders, N.J. "The data would've gotten there eventually, but if something had happened [during initial replication], we would've had to start all over again."

Wikibon analyst David Vellante said the portable volume option also stood out to him among the updates to Storage Center 5, particularly because the device can also be used to synchronize delta changes at the secondary site if an earlier version of the volume already exists there.

Consistency groups, virtual ports, auto-discovery, SAS, RAID 6: A move upmarket?

Also new with this version is the ability to quiesce applications prior to taking array-based snapshots to ensure application consistency for restoration. Bob Fine, Compellent's director of marketing, said customers can take snapshots in as small as five-minute increments, but most customer environments tend to top out at every 15 minutes.

The Storage Center SAN's host bus adapters (HBAs) can now be used with N_Port ID Virtualization (NPIV), allowing multiple virtual connections over fewer, faster port cards. Dynamic path failover between virtual ports isn't part of the update, but "stay tuned," Fine said. "Right now, [failover] is manual, but we've built in the ability to do real-time load-balancing using the same core technology."

Besides not having to make a separate physical connection for each host, customers will no longer have to map each physical or virtual host through Compellent's management console thanks to the addition of automatic server mapping. Fitch said Compellent has "greatly improved" the performance and navigability of the tool with this release.

Storage Center now supports SAS disk drives and RAID 6 inside its arrays for the first time. In Compellent's implementation, data will be written to RAID 10 first, then moved using its Data Progression feature to RAID 6 capacity once it's no longer active. Fitch said he's looking forward to switching from Fibre Channel (FC) to SAS in his SAN.

"The performance is outstanding on SAS – we already have it running direct-attached to servers," he said.

Analysts say Compellent is adding features that can broaden the vendor's appeal to larger companies. It has primarily been focused on SMBs. During its most recent earnings call, Compellent CEO Phil Soran said his company is looking to grow in 2010, but didn't offer much more detail on the planned SAN roadmap other than to say it's unlikely the company will make acquisitions.

Analysts say Compellent still has items to add, such as the dynamic multipathing alluded to by Fine and synchronous replication capabilities, before it can challenge rivals in the enterprise data storage space.

"You could say they're being true to their roots with portable volume," said Mark Peters, a senior analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group. "But things like full synchronous replication are what they need to move toward if they're looking to serve a higher-end market."

Rudolph Technologies' Fitch said he'd like to see the addition of more user self-service features to the storage-area network, a topic that's become hot in the midst of industry discussions about cloud storage.


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