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Isilon IQ gets smart about digital content

Startup Isilon is offering a new distibuted file system aimed at storing large digital content files.

For IT managers who routinely manage large digital content files, the pain of rapid data growth and network bottlenecks is all too real. When you store digital content on complex, networked storage it makes a headache a migraine. Or, so says Sujal Patel, CTO and founder of Seattle, Wash.-based Isilon Systems, who maintains that this type of complexity -- when combined with the need for a dedicated IT resource -- is a difficult combination that most companies in the broadcast, entertainment and digital imaging fields can't afford to handle.

Addressing this digital pain point is where Isilon's flagship product, Isilon IQ, intends to fill the gap. Isilon IQ, which made its official debut Monday, is a network storage system designed for the needs of companies handling large volumes of digital media.

Based on the company's distributed file system, Isilon OneFS, Isilon IQ is targeted primarily at industries involved in producing, delivering and storing large digital media files, such as entertainment, broadcasting, digital imaging and healthcare organizations. The company's current customer list includes Paramount Digital Entertainment, Technicolor, Digital Film Works, the ResearchChannel and the University of Washington (UW) Medical Center.

"When we set out to develop Isilon IQ, we focused on the problems that customers had in effectively storing and managing rapidly growing stores of digital content," said Patel. "The result is a product that can be installed in less than ten minutes, scaled in less than 30 seconds and is a part-time job for someone to manage even 100 terabytes."

According to Patel, large digital files differ from their more traditional, random-access counterparts in that they are typically read and throughput intensive. They also tend to require high concurrency. Digital content environments are also known to grow rapidly in size and often require significant increases in storage capacity on a quarterly basis, which makes ease of scalability a key factor in storage purchase decisions.

Customer James DeRoest, director of Streaming Media Technologies at the ResearchChannel, said "Prior to Isilon, we had individual pockets of storage, no central management tools, a lot of headaches and a lot of wasted time from our administrators running around." Now DeRoest has 10 TB Isilon IQ cluster that stores a range of digital content for Internet, standard television, HDTV and radio. "The best part is it takes far less than one admin to manage it," he said.

The ResearchChannel, which is the self-designated "C-Span of medical and scientific video broadcasting", powers such web sites as and the, which handles video in both high definition and streaming formats.

According to Patel, the design and architecture of Isilon OneFS is the key differentiator that separates Isilon's distributed file system from those of other vendors in the marketplace, including the recently released IBM product, IBM TotalStorage SAN File System. "Isilon's OneFS file system is the key piece of technology that enables this product. It combines RAID, volume management and file systems all into a single, unified layer," said Patel.

Patel claims the unified approach of Isilon OneFS moves the job of ensuring data reliability and setting RAID levels for certain disk blocks directly into the file system. One benefit of the blended layers makes the architecture easy to scale, he said. "Technicolor hadn't owned their [Isilon] system for a month before they ordered 2 extra nodes, providing them [with] 3 extra terabytes."

Tony Asaro, project manager and general manager of the Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Storage Group Lab, sees Isilon's architectural approach and scalability as a definite plus in the shared file system market. "Isilon IQ has a unique architecture that is a true distributed file system, allowing a single file image to grow transparently. This compelling capability allows customers to add more storage capacity and aggregate performance quickly and easily," he said.

"Isilon IQ is well-suited for digital content applications and reference data since these environments require high performance, their capacity tends to grow rapidly, and simplified management is critical for the IT staff to keep up with demand," Asaro said.

According to Patel, with most other file systems built on top of existing RAID and volume management layers, storage administrators are faced with a static process that doesn't have as much flexibility to make changes or additions as you go. "Once you set up your RAID layer, you're stuck with it. Because of this, [other] file systems are pretty much stuck with how you set up your RAID and your volume manager."

Isilon Systems has entered a crowded market where an ever-increasing number of vendors offer a combination of software and hardware to address the problem of storing and delivering large files to multiple users simultaneously. Often, the software side of these products consists of intelligent storage management functions with automated policy-based file management and some form of reporting and automated troubleshooting.

These products are usually based on custom, shared file systems produced by the same vendor. The These shared file systems collect and store metadata about the files as a means to streamline file management and reduce the latency that might otherwise occur when attempting to access the files across the network. (See Featured Topic, "Solve file-sharing headaches," for more information about the various shared file systems). On the hardware side, many of these products, such as Isilon IQ and ADIC's StorNext Management Suite (SNMS), are also based on hardware that includes low-cost ATA disk drives.

Isilon IQ is available immediately through the company's direct sales force, starting at $49,950 for a complete, 3-node system that holds a total of 4.3TB of data (1.44TB per node). The product supports Windows, UNIX and Apple operating systems. Isilon IQ also supports the standard network protocols of NFS, CIFS, HTTP, FTP, SNMP for management, and NDMP for back-up and restore.

Let us know what you think about this story; e-mail: Michele Hope, Senior Site Editor.

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