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Symantec Storage Foundation embraces flash to cluster DAS

Symantec Storage Foundation gets two new flash-related features: Flexible Storage Sharing to cluster apps on DAS, and SmartIO for flash caching.

Symantec Corp. upgraded its Storage Foundation storage management and file system software today, taking advantage of flash to improve performance of DAS.

Symantec Storage Foundation 6.1 includes two new flash-related features. Flexible Storage Sharing (FSS) works inside the Storage Foundation Cluster File System (CFS), using server-based flash to enable sharing of storage across nodes without a SAN or network-attached storage. SmartIO uses flash to cache data at the application level, serving as a read cache from the host. It caches hot data on local solid-state drives (SSDs) to improve performance and reduce latency.

Symantec also added support for Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization in Storage Foundation to go with previous support of VMware and Microsoft virtualization platforms.

CFS is used for high availability and fast failover for disaster recovery, but until version 6.1 it could only be used with shared storage. FSS takes advantage of remote direct memory access support over InfiniBand, Converged Ethernet and 10 Gigabit Ethernet to move applications between DAS clusters. Admins can set up clustered volumes to run on multiple nodes. Data on internal disks can be exported or shared with other nodes in the cluster. If the host goes down, data can be accessed on another node in the cluster.

"DAS is coming back because SSDs make it possible," said Arun Balakrishnan, Symantec's manager of information availability. "We're enabling a shared-nothing infrastructure. Servers can now access remote storage as if it were local storage."

Balakrishnan said the goal is to remove the bottleneck between the server and storage array that mitigates the performance of flash in shared storage. "You still need to connect arrays to servers [when using shared storage], and that interconnect is the bottleneck," he said. "Latencies are still in the millisecond range."

SmartIO controls caching at volume, file system and file levels, optimizing input/output for the application and back-end storage. It allows application, database and server administrators to move their reads and writes inside the server.

Flash-caching software products are already common, with most PCI Express flash vendors offering them with their cards. Storage vendors EMC Corp. (XtremSF) and NetApp Inc. (Flash Accel) also sell flash-caching software.

Balakrishnan said Symantec's caching works across any flash hardware. "We're not tied to a specific vendor, and we can work with your existing storage," he said.

Ashish Nadkarni, research director for storage at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, said that by embracing DAS, Symantec is moving to offer a standalone stack that can compete with other file systems.

"Symantec is aggressively moving Storage Foundation from being an enablement platform to being a standalone stack," he said. "As a standalone stack, you can essentially build a storage solution like you would build it using Red Hat Gluster or EMC Isilon. You can buy Symantec Storage Foundation as a storage platform delivering storage services. Symantec has come to the conclusion that it cannot be the company that enables other people's storage."

Nadkarni said the strategy is similar to what Symantec has done in backup, placing its NetBackup and Backup Exec software applications on integrated appliances. "It's becoming increasingly difficult to succeed as a software-only provider," he noted.

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