Review: Exablox OneBlox is a storage admin's dream

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Smoothly scalable, automatically redundant, set-it-and-forget-it NAS rewrites the network storage playbook

Exablox OneBlox

Network-attached storage servers typically offer similar feature sets, and they often deliver similar performance. RAID levels, networking protocols, and many hardware features are standard by nature, leaving little room for innovation in the NAS realm.

Exablox takes a different tack. Rather than compete directly on features and speed, Exablox focuses on simplifying scalability and data redundancy. The result is innovation rarely seen in a storage appliance.

[ Also reviewed by InfoWorld Test Center: 4 NAS appliances deliver big storage cheap. | Drag your backup and recovery system out of the Stone Age. Download InfoWorld's Backup Deep Dive special report. | Get the latest practical info and news with Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog and InfoWorld's Data Center newsletter. ]

From a hardware standpoint, the Exablox OneBlox closely resembles other storage devices. A three-inch LCD on the front panel displays basic configuration information such as the management URL, hostname, public IP address, and the name of the OneBlox ring it has joined (more on that below). When this panel is flipped down, it reveals eight 3.5-inch drive bays, which support any combination of SATA or SAS drives. LEDs representing each drive bay show basic health information for each disk. The rear of the OneBlox features a standard power connector, power switch, and four Gigabit Ethernet ports, which automatically bond to the same IP address. The appliance is stackable and supports rack mounting.

The level of data protection can be ratcheted up quickly through the use of a mesh, a term Exablox uses to describe one or more OneBlox rings that replicate files to one another. Mesh configuration is incredibly easy. First, a DHCP reservation must be created for each OneBlox device (OneBlox does not currently support static IP addressing). Second, if the rings are separated by NAT or a firewall, ports must be opened to the reserved IP addresses.

A OneBlox mesh greatly simplifies the process of creating offsite replicas of your data. The downside is that only the primary ring will be accessible to users. Any replicas in the mesh are used only in the case of a catastrophic event resulting in the loss of the primary ring. Nevertheless, while scalability and resiliency at this level typically require complex configuration with other storage solutions, adding a new OneBlox to a ring or a ring to a mesh is no more complex than installing a home router.

A single OneBlox appliance affords you the same level of protection against disk failure as a RAID 6 array -- up to two drives could fail before data loss would occur. Similarly, up to two nodes in a ring of three or more OneBlox units could fail without resulting in data loss.

OneBlox also provides continuous data protection through a snapshot feature. As a file is written or modified, a copy is placed in a Snapshots folder with a date and time stamp. In the event the file is accidentally deleted or overwritten, previous versions can be recovered from the Snapshots directory. Thus, the OneBlox maintains long-term backups of files that could eliminate the need for traditional backups. Because of the deduplication offered by the object-based storage system, these snapshots take up a minimal amount of storage.

Management in the cloud
Management of OneBlox appliances, rings, and meshes is accomplished through an Exablox-hosted Web application known as OneSystem. New appliances are connected to OneSystem by first entering the public IP address, then a confirmation code, both of which are displayed on the front LCD during the setup process. Through OneSystem you can manage OneBlox appliances throughout your organization on a grand scale, configuring shares and users, adding appliances to rings, and appending rings to meshes. Individual OneBlox units can be monitored, updated, and restarted remotely; Exablox support can be allowed to view OneBlox configurations or log files; and access privileges can be managed for users and groups. OneBlox rings can also be joined to Microsoft Active Directory for centralized access control.

For all its advantages, the OneBlox has several shortcomings. Basic networking options such as static IP addresses and the ability to control how ports are used (such as splitting them between subnets or using multiple IP addresses) are oddly missing. Nor does the OneBlox allow you to turn off features (such as snapshots) or dial back redundancy for situations in which they're unnecessary or overkill (such as when a share is being used specifically for backups). Support for additional network file protocols such as NFS and iSCSI, as well as extra connectivity options such as 10GbE, would also be welcome. Even a local management option -- for use cases where a constant Internet connection may not be practical -- would be a nice touch.

The value of the OneBlox appliance comes down to the simplicity and flexibility offered by the innovative software. For businesses looking for a storage option that supports rapid expansion and top-notch data protection, OneBlox provides a well-rounded solution that's tough to beat. Although the price point will certainly be prohibitive to some, the total cost of ownership needs to be weighed against the benefits in file retention and instant scalability.

Regardless of missing features or comparatively high pricing, the sheer innovation prevalent throughout the OneBlox appliance makes it an exciting product for businesses with complex storage needs and little time or expertise to address them. Smooth and rapid scalability makes the OneBlox an attractive platform for any growing storage infrastructure, but the biggest benefit to the OneBlox is the simplicity of configuration across the board. From standing up a single OneBlox to creating a mesh, Exablox has shown that building an enterprise-wide storage infrastructure need not involve expensive professional service contracts or dedicated in-house support.

Exablox OneBlox at a glance

 
Pros
  • Amazingly easy configuration, deployment, and scaling
  • Hardware-based encryption, compression, and data deduplication
  • Automatically replicates data across drives, appliances, and even sites
  • Provides continuous data protection through snapshots
Cons
    Pricey
  • Limited to CIFS/SMB (no NFS or iSCSI support)
  • Lacks basic networking options (e.g. static IP addressing)
PlatformsSupports Windows file sharing protocols (CIFS/SMB)
Cost$9,995 per appliance

This story, "Review: Exablox OneBlox is a storage admin's dream," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in storage and the data center at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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