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Coraid EtherDrive SRX Series goes upscale with support for SSDs and 10 GbE

Coraid EtherDrive SRX Series improves performance of its ATA over Ethernet (AoE) storage systems by supporting solid-state drives (SSDs) and 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE). But can it challenge Fibre Channel and iSCSI as a mainstream block-based storage platform?

Coraid Inc. today launched a series of 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) SANs that support SAS, SATA and solid-state drives (SSDs) on the same system, which the company is targeting for highly virtualized and cloud storage environments.

Like Coraid's previous systems, the new EtherDrive SRX Series uses the ATA over Ethernet (AoE) protocol instead of Fibre Channel (FC) or iSCSI to deliver block-based storage. AoE is a thin protocol layer directly on top of Ethernet that doesn't require IP or TCP layers.

Coraid has upgraded the hardware features with its new systems. The EtherDrive SRX Series comes in three models. The EtherDrive SRX2800 holds 16 3.6-inch drives for up to 32 TB in a 3U form factor; the EtherDrive SRX3200 holds 24 3.5-inch drives for 48 TB in a 4U system; and the EtherDrive SRX3500 holds 24 2.5-inch drives to 12 TB in a 2U form factor. Each system supports up to four 10 GbE or six GigE ports. Any of the drive slots can be filled by SAS, SATA or SSDs.

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The EtherDrive SRX Series is a higher performing platform than Coraid's entry-level SR Series, which supports only SATA and Gigabit Ethernet. Coraid claims more than 1,000 customers with its SR Series, mostly using it as low-cost alternatives to iSCSI.

SSDs and 10 GbE features help with virtualization

Coraid CEO Kevin Brown said the SSD and 10 GbE features will help organizations with highly virtualized environments. "Customers are demanding high-performance products now for virtualization in particular," he said. "For virtualization, which is I/O hungry, they need lots of connectivity and 10-gig is attractive."

For SSDs, Coraid supports 32 GB and 64 GB Intel X25-E single-level cell (SLC) flash drives. Brown said some early adopters are using the EtherDrive SRX3500 model with SSDs only.

The new systems bring the price of Coraid storage up from approximately $500 per terabyte for the SR Series to around $1,000 per TB, but are still far less expensive than most competitive systems. Brown said a 10 GbE EtherDrive SRX2800 "is designed to come in at under $30,000."

Even with the upgraded systems, price remains Coraid's main value proposition. Its systems lack the sophisticated data protection and management features now commonly found even in iSCSI systems. Brown said many customers use ZFS or other file systems to handle features like tiering. He said Coraid is working on extending its tiering to make SSDs more efficient, but "we're not announcing that now."

Coraid claims AoE's main advantage over iSCSI is that AoE avoids the overhead of TCP/IP. Analysts give Coraid's technology high grades, while wondering if it will catch on as a mainstream storage technology.

"The approach is elegant because of its simplicity and 'fit for function' approach," wrote Mark Peters, a senior analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), in an email to "By using layer 2 instead of the full network stack, Coraid eliminates TCP/IP overhead and all the routing 'stuff' that comes with iSCSI -- which slows performance -- so that it is able to significantly increase subsystem performance in many cases."

Perhaps Coraid's biggest obstacle to becoming a mainstream storage vendor is the conservative approach taken by storage administrators. It took iSCSI years to be seen as a viable option by many organizations, and despite a recent growth spurt it still lags Fibre Channel's market share by a wide margin.

Analysts: Will organizations trust Coraid with sensitive data?

Analysts wonder if Coraid storage is compelling enough to sway organizations to trust it with their most sensitive data.

"It's cool to have, but is it practical?" wonders Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO Group in Stillwater, Minn. "It's nice technology, but they have to convince people to buy it. It could find a niche in a specialized environment where SAS comes in too high or where iSCSI's not going to fit. The value prop is price, but other protocols are coming down in price too."

ESG's Peters is a bit more optimistic, but admits there are obstacles to overcome.

"There's considerable inertia and a conservative approach across a lot of IT," Peters said. "The 'opposing force' is the simple one of economics, and Coraid is not just a few percent less expensive than alternatives, it is disruptively inexpensive. It's never easy to create a new market because of the entrenched forces that will be massed against this, but there's little doubt that a highly scalable and market-challengingly-inexpensive system has attributes that suit today's climate."


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