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SolidFire adds Fibre Channel, replication, backup for flash arrays

With the goal of broadening its appeal beyond cloud service providers, SolidFire adds Fibre Channel and enterprise features to its all-flash array.

All-flash array startup SolidFire, which began exclusively as a supplier to cloud providers, this week updated its operating system to attract enterprise data center customers. New features in its Element operating system include support for Fibre Channel, replication for disaster recovery, mixed-node clusters and integrated backup through REST-based APIs.

Element OS 6 is the latest version of the operating system used across SolidFire SF3010, SF6010 and SF9010 arrays. The main features of previous versions of the OS included storage quality of service (QoS) and inline deduplication for primary data.

SolidFire vice president of marketing Jay Prassl said the new features should appeal to enterprises that use an internal cloud services model.

"Our array is for the next-generation data center," he said. "We're seeing a significant uptake to enterprises deploying IT services the way you would find public clouds deploying services."

Prassl said about 70% of SolidFire customers are cloud providers, but he expects at least half of its customers will be enterprises by the end of 2014. He declined to say how many customers SolidFire has. Customers include SunGard, Servint, Internap, Colt and CloudSigma, but also non-cloud providers eBay and PayPal.

With Element OS6, SolidFire arrays support 16 Gbps Fibre Channel (FC) to go with its previously supported 10 Gigabit Ethernet iSCSI connectivity. Customers can run FC and iSCSI on the same cluster.

"This is important for our customer base and enterprises who run a significant amount of Fibre Channel," Prassl said. "It allows them to migrate to SolidFire without having to change protocols."

SolidFire will also now replicate data across sites for disaster recovery. The bi-directional replication will keep data up to date at a remote site while it is stored locally. Each cluster can replicate with up to four other clusters for failover and failback.

"We're constantly driving to update a replica all the time," Prassl said. "Many replications happen in batches and try to catch up. Ours is consistent and constant."

Mixed-node cluster support allows customers to combine nodes of different capacity, performance and protocol. SolidFire manages capacity and performance as separate global resource pools. The ability to mix nodes provides greater flexibility during hardware upgrades.

SolidFire arrays run in clusters ranging from five to 100 nodes (60 TB to 3.4 PB of flash capacity).

The integrated backup for object storage provides native snapshot-based backup and restore compatibility with any object store or device with an Amazon S3 or OpenStack Swift-compatible API. Customers can back up or snapshot volumes into object stores, eliminating the need for traditional backup software.

"Cloud service providers will take advantage of this [now], but enterprises will find it an important tool as they move to a cloud service model," Prassl said.

Forrester Research senior analyst Henry Baltazar said SolidFire filled a few gaps in its product with the new OS. He also said the vendor remains mostly a play for service providers.

"Fibre Channel is still the preferred method for virtualization workloads, so that fills one gap," Baltazar said. "But replication fills a bigger gap. Anybody running transaction-sensitive, active data probably will want to have some kind of replication in the enterprise to make sure they don't lose any data. Backing up to object storage will be a big deal in the future. Flash is considered expensive, but you can get object storage for a dollar a gigabyte. You can't do a hybrid tier with an all-flash system, so having object storage as a target lets them use cheaper storage."

Baltazar added, "SolidFire's strength is still in the service provider space. Features like storage [QoS], multi-tenancy and API provisioning lend themselves more to an advanced cloud environment."

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