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Alacritech packages SSD, offload into NAS acceleration device

Alacritech expands TCP/IP offload engine (TOE) technology to speed NFS transactions, accelerate NAS performance with solid-state drive (SSD)-based ANX 1500 caching appliance.

Alacritech Inc. has expanded its TCP/IP offload engine (TOE) technology to increase NFS throughput and today rolled out the solid-state drive (SSD)-based ANX 1500 NAS acceleration appliance.

The ANX 1500 is based on Alacritech's NFS Bridge caching technology that includes an acceleration chip, data optimization software, NFS processing offload, data caching and a management GUI for the appliance. The appliances include 2 TB or 4 TB of multi-level cell SSD (MLC SSD) from Unigen Corp.

Alacritech claims a 4 TB ANX 1500 can deliver 120,000 NFS operations per second – a figure that one of its test customers found conservative. The 2 TB version costs $60,000, while the 4 TB model is $100,000.

Alacritech positions its accelerator as an alternative approach to placing SSDs in storage arrays, or using add-on cards such as NetApp Flash Cache or other appliances such as AvereSystems Inc. FXT Series and Violin Memory Inc. vCache based on technology it acquired from Gear6.

Doug Rainbolt, Alacritech's vice president of marketing, said the company optimized the ANX 1500 for metadata caching and read performance. The appliance is aimed at media and entertainment, seismic analysis, genomic sciences and software development applications.

"Most transactions are not writes," he said. "Our huge gain comes from read performance. We pass the writes through [to the processor]."

Rainbolt said Alacritech has five test customers for the product, and several are also using it alongside other acceleration devices.

Alacritech licenses its TCP/IP technology to Microsoft for its TCP Chimney Offload technology, but does not sell TOE cards.

"Alacritech is taking its protocol acceleration experience and packaging it into an appliance that does more than protocol acceleration," said Jeff Boles, a senior analyst and director, validation services at Taneja Group. "They're using protocol acceleration to speed up NFS transactions. NFS processing can chew up a lot of processing in reads and it's a bottleneck in many NAS heads."

Sony Pictures Imageworks gives NAS filers a jolt

Nick Bali, senior software engineer at Sony Pictures Imageworks, said he's been testing a 2 TB ANX 1500 with a NAS farm used for rendering and visual effects for animated movies.

Bali said he's looking for a way to accelerate his NetApp and Isilon (now being acquired by EMC Corp.) NAS filers or perhaps even use the caching appliances in front of cheaper commodity storage. He said Imageworks has more than 100 TB of tier 1 data on Fibre Channel storage, and more than 1 PB of data that must always be available.

Bali wrote a testing script that generates a high number of metadata operations, and ran the script across 80 clients on a four-year-old Isilon cluster with an ANX 1500 in front of it. He said the ANX 1500 delivered 500,000 NFS metadata operations per second with only 10% CPU usage in his tests.

"We're getting very impressive numbers," he said. "Once we move forward, we'll probably put it in front of NetApps and Isilons for production data and see what happens. We're throwing 80 clients at it; I'm hoping to get two or three million metadata OPS with about 300 clients."

Sony Pictures Imageworks also uses NetApp's Flash Cache, Avere's FXT Series boxes and Violin's vCache devices, but Bali said he likes Alacritech's cost effectiveness in regard to dollars per metadata operations.

"One [ANX1500] box can handle all the metadata for all the devices behind it," Bali said.

He added that he'd like to see Alacritech add automatic failover to the ANX 1500, which Alacritech executives say they're working on.

Taneja Group's Boles said he would also like to see the ability to cluster ANX boxes for scale-out capability. Out of the gate, Alacritech devices work independently of each other but the firm's Rainbolt said future enhancements will allow them to communicate and share workloads.

Boles said Alacritech's biggest challenge could be name recognition after years of selling its technology through Microsoft.

"It's been awhile since you've seen Alacritech adapters on the market," Boles said. "It will be interesting to see how well the name stands up."


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