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Healthcare cloud turns to NexentaStor for storage, HA

Cloud-hosting firm VM Racks picked NexentaStor software-defined storage because it could scale to hundreds of petabytes and provide high availability.

Healthcare cloud-hosting firm VM Racks has been using software-defined storage since before the term became popular, through a vendor a lot of people don't even know.

VM Racks, based in San Marcos, Calif., specializes in HIPAA-compliant applications and uses Nexenta System Inc.'s NexentaStor software to handle approximately 500 TB of data. VM Racks also counts on ZFS-based NexentaStor for high availability.

Nexenta positions NexentaStor as software-defined storage because it runs on commodity hardware. VM Racks deploys it on two Supermicro servers connected to Seagate Xyratex JBODs residing in two data centers.

VM Racks CEO Gil Vidals said Nexenta costs far less than traditional enterprise NAS alternatives.

"Without [NexentaStor], we would not have been able to compete with the competitors with deeper pockets," he said. "VM Racks was growing and the software-defined storage provided a path for VM Racks to evolve and reach the next level."

VM Racks used Openfiler open source storage software before switching to Nexenta, but Openfiler is not built to scale for enterprise loads.

"We had gotten by with Openfiler to a point, but when we hit about 5 TB we began to experience problems around speed and scalability," Vidals said. "We couldn't even upgrade what we had without encountering problems."

When he realized he needed a full-blown enterprise NAS product, Vidals looked at NetApp, but said "I realized that the cost was way out of my league."

He rolled out NexentaStor in 2012 in the first phase of his storage makeover, and added the NexentaStor High Availability Cluster plug-in during the second phase.

Vidals said NexentaStor allows VM Racks to provide different levels of RAID to its customers, depending on whether the customer needs more performance or redundancy.

The software monitors the continuous heartbeat between the two Supermicro systems. It can detect when one system is down so the other system can pick up the load within 20 seconds.

Vidals said VM Racks has its high availability configured in an active-active mode for performance and redundancy.

"We have half the volumes go through [one system] and the other half in the [other system]," he said. "So it gives us faster throughput and we get redundancy as well."

VM Racks hosts protected health information, electronic medical records and Patient Management Systems. Pricing for its hosting plans for management, security and storage of medical data starts at $199 per month for an entry-level plan with 50 GB of storage, and ranges up to $999 per month for an enterprise plan with 200 GB of storage, 10 GB of memory and 960 GB of bandwidth.

The company was originally a software development company when it launched in 1998. It evolved its business model to hosting websites for consumers before focusing on healthcare.

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