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Infinidat InfiniBox given compression injection, native iSCSI

Infinidat claims InfiniBox can scale to 5 PB effective capacity in a 42U array and has 'carrier-grade' iSCSI in its enterprise SAN array; it still revolves around spinning disk.

Infinidat, one of the few storage vendors still singing the praises of hard disk drives, is adding compression, native iSCSI and performance analytics to its high-end enterprise array platform.

The company came out of stealth in 2015, selling Infinidat InfiniBox petabyte-scale storage systems. Its original target was the enterprise market, which its founder, Moshe Yanai, helped EMC gain a foothold in nearly 30 years ago. Now, it is trying to appeal to service providers with new features in its software version 3.0.

Although flash makes up a mere 3% of InfiniBox's total capacity, Infinidat claims its systems are faster than all-flash arrays. Infinidat InfiniBox uses flash for cache, but stores all data on HDDs.

"We are one of the few vendors that still pay attention to those boring, unsexy things that marketing people say don't exist anymore -- hard drives," said Infinidat CTO Brian Carmody.

With the new software capabilities, Infinidat made two new claims: Its arrays can scale to 5 PB of effective storage, with 480 drives in a 42U rack; and its Ethernet-based iSCSI performance will be perform as well as Fibre Channel.

Swimming against the tide

Infinidat is bucking several industry trends. Besides failing to embrace all-flash, it has started out in a shrinking high-end SAN market. Unlike most storage startups, Infinidat began by selling mission-critical systems to Fortune 100 customers. Infinidat Chief Marketing Officer Randy Arseneau said much of Infinidat's early business has come from companies seeking an alternative to arrays such as Dell EMC VMAX, Hitachi Data Systems Virtual Storage Platform and IBM DS8000. Those customers often need high-capacity arrays, a high level of availability and storage for mainframes.

Infinidat InfiniBox pricing starts at $1 per gigabtye, but Infinidat also boasts its performance can match other high-end arrays, even those using all-flash. Infinidat claims the InfiniBox supports more than 1 million IOPS with a 12 GBps throughput. It scales from 250 TB to 2.76 PB before compression in a 42U array. The vendor has boasted seven nines of availability from the start.

Each Infinidat array includes 1.2 TB to 3.2 TB of DRAM, triple redundant power and data paths, 24 8-Gbps Fibre Channel ports and 12 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports. The array uses 24 TB to 210 TB of SSDs as a cache. The InfiniBox software allows all servers -- with their RAM and flash cache -- to connect to all drives to boost performance.

Infinidat still embraces HDD technology, building its roadmap around 20 TB and larger drives. Infinidat InfiniBox arrays use 7,200 RPM high-capacity drives to keep costs down. The company also claims its arrays can rebuild drives fast enough to achieve redundancy of less than 15 minutes following the loss of two 6 TB drives.

"We have deep R&D [research and development] relationships with hard-drive manufacturers," Carmody said. "Moshe has relationships with them that go back decades. These guys have lines of site to 100 TB 3.5-inch drives. The cost savings are phenomenal. However, with high-density drives, you have to be very particular about the way you write to the underlying media, or else you will destroy the devices. "

Carmody said Infinidat InfiniBox uses a log-structured file system for all incoming I/O to improve write speeds, with only large block sequential writes going to flash. "That greatly extends the MTBF [mean time between failures] in the field and reduces all the bad things that can happen, like misaligned writes," he said.

The new features can help extend capacity, performance and manageability.

Carmody said Infinidat incorporated the LZ4 compression algorithm in a way that has no performance effect. Instead of compressing the data in DRAM, the software acknowledges the I/O before compressing it, but reduces it before writing it to disk. This is Infinidat's first crack at compression. Carmody said the vendor guarantees a usable capacity that is twice as much as the physical capacity, and he said he expects that to improve in future releases.

"The challenge that Moshe gave the development team was to build a compression algorithm that allows us to store more data than physical capacity, with no performance impact," Carmody said.

Virtual machines and dashboards

Infinidat included iSCSI through a virtual machine gateway from the start, but Carmody said service provider and private cloud customers have asked for native iSCSI on the box. Infinidat claims its iSCSI performance will be as good as Fibre Channel without requiring Fibre Channel switches and adapters. "This is true carrier-grade iSCSI, with seven nines of mainframe-class reliability,"Carmody said.

The enhanced storage performance analytics include a dashboard that lets customers drill down to see real-time systems and application performance.

Having storage of this caliber that does not require Fibre Channel could have a big impact.
Mike Matchettsenior analyst, Taneja Group

"The idea is to allow large service providers with potentially billions of data points to quickly look at a set of points and see what is going on," Carmody said.

He said Infinidat's analytics roadmap includes more sophisticated data analytics that customers can access through the cloud. "Everything available in our GUI is also available in a REST API," he said.

The new features are built into the base price of the array and require no extra hardware. They will be generally available by the end of 2016.

"When they first came out, it was all about hardware," Mike Matchett, senior analyst for the Taneja Group Inc., in Hopkinton, Mass., said of Infinidat. "They said everything was triple-redundant. Now, they're adding value at the software layer."

Matchett said the new features can help Infinidat push beyond the high-end FC-SAN market.

"The idea of inline compression is probably table stakes at this point, but it extends how much space you can stuff into those 480 drives," he said. "If they can get 5 PB, that's good for building a cloud on. And Infinidat is saying, 'Now, we can serve an enterprise full of iSCSI clients if we need to.' Having storage of this caliber that does not require Fibre Channel could have a big impact."

Next Steps

Infinidat adds cash from Israeli investment firm

Infinidat InfiniBox expands into midrange market

Hyperscale storage is the target of Infinidat

Dig Deeper on SAN technology and arrays