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NexGen emerges with virtual machine storage system with QoS twist

NexGen Storage launches n5 virtual machine storage system, which uses flash, hard drives and RAM and lets admins set quality-of-service tiers based on IOPS.

NexGen Storage came out of stealth mode today with a virtual machine storage system that uses solid-state drives (SSDs) and hard drives and applies granular quality of service (QoS) levels to “provision performance” across tiers.

The Lousville, Colo., company was founded by iSCSI SAN pioneer LeftHand Networks founders John Spiers and Kelly Long. They claim NexGen n5 Storage Systems will make it easier to set up storage for virtualized servers running business- and mission-critical applications.

The n5 operating system enables what the vendor calls performance QoS to let customers provision performance in the same way they would provision capacity. Its Dynamic Data Placement functionality migrates data across volumes to maintain QoS for virtual machine storage. It also uses a staged data deduplication process it calls Phased Data Reduction.

An n5 system includes two 640 GB PCIe solid-state storage cards from Fusion-io, 48 GB of RAM and 32 TB of SAS drives. The 3U iSCSI SAN unit consists of active-active storage processors and either 16 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) or four 10 GbE ports.

The n5 has a recommended price of $88,000. The vendor offers optional 640 GB SSD performance packs and 32 TB SAS capacity packs.

The NexGen OS distributes blocks in every volume among three storage tiers: RAM, PCIe SSDs and hard disks. In addition to setting capacity for each VM, the system also designates a quality-of-service performance level to each volume. For instance, customers can provision 30,000 IOPS for mission-critical applications, 25,000 IOPS to business-critical apps and 5,000 IOPS for noncritical apps.

“Most [QoS] policies are about giving priority to an application while the other applications starve. We are talking about giving quality of service to multiple applications simultaneously,” CEO Spiers said. “Our system is architected so IOPS do not go through a shared controller system.”

The system’s RAM only stores reads, while the multi-level cell (MLC) SSD and hard drive tiers cache reads and writes. All writes are placed in SSDs first.

“We make sure things are proportioned out to hit that performance level,” NexGen’s vice president of marketing, Chris McCall, said. “All the tiering guys are beating each other up over what size blocks to move and how often they are moved. They are missing the key point. It’s the performance level. We are saying, ‘Just tell us how fast you need to go.’”

NexGen does deduplication in phases to avoid impacting performance, McCall said. The first phase is pattern matching on 4 KB blocks, in which the system assigns a key to a data pattern without actually storing it. The data is regenerated when requested. The second phase does a full comparison of the data in RAM or SSD, and then the QoS engine does a full comparison of data while blocks are migrated between storage tiers.

Jeff Boles, senior analyst at Taneja Group, said NexGen is trying to optimize every transaction in the array. “As soon as the IOPS hit the controller cache, they are optimizing the service level,” he said. “In traditional arrays, everything gets treated the same. Everything gets serviced equally whether the IOPS is important or not.”

NexGen has about 50 employees, with most of the technical team coming from LeftHand. In addition to Spiers and CTO Long, McCall and Rich Merlo, vice president of sales, also worked for LeftHand, which Hewlett-Packard acquired in 2008 for $360 million.

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