The last word on SNW Spring

When old-school storage meets up-and-coming technologies, users reap the benefits

If you were at the Storage Networking World (SNW) Spring show, you may have noticed a wall covered with life-size photos of some large cabinets containing storage gear and servers. Those photos were stand-ins for the actual equipment, which was located at the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Technology Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Sounds like a joke? It’s not -- SNW attendees were using those machines remotely. Obviously, it’s a cost-saving measure, but according to Michelle Parkinson, global communications manager at Sun Microsystems, it’s one driven by users demanding fewer hardware pileups and more interactions with vendors at the show. For example, on those remote machines, I watched an interesting presentation of StorageTek Business Analytics 5.0 and Operations Manager 4.1, new versions of storage management applications that Sun just released before SNW. 

There was still plenty of equipment on the show floor, however. Xyratex -- a name you don't hear about often because the company sells to OEM and integrators -- had some interesting new enclosures on display. One of my favorites is the 5402-E, an array that can mount both SAS and SATA drives in various RAID configurations and has fast-performing 4Gbps FC (Fibre Channel) front-end connections.

The 5402 is cool, but the real crowd pleaser at the show was Xyratex’s 4835, a 4U box that can mount 48 SATA drives in that space, delivering a very large capacity in a small footprint. Removing the top cover of the enclosure gives you access to two controller cards and four rows of 12 drives each.

"We can mount different controllers [than just SATA] if customers demand it," explains Jerry Hoetger Sr., product manager at Xyratex. I have to ask how hot it will get inside the 4835 with all those drives, but Hoetger points out six fans in the back of the unit that keep the inside cool by forcing air through channels on each side of the enclosure.

At an adjacent stand, I took a look at an actual product based on the Xyratex 4835. The SGI InfiniteStorage 10000 system stacks a jaw-dropping 240TB in a single cabinet. A sign posted on the unit reminds customers that a similar capacity would require three times as much floor space with other systems.

Obviously not everybody needs that much storage space, so SNW Spring also had systems for entry-level customers, such as the Dell/EMC AX150 and AX150i, announced just days before the show.

At SNW, EMC surprised everyone by making another joint announcement about the AX150 line, this time with Intel. In essence, Intel will sell those units in the United States as well as abroad, creating a formidable market potential for that entry-level storage array.

Another perhaps even more important novelty for entry-level customers comes from Bell Microproducts, which recently announced the Hammer line of storage arrays based on Zetera’s SoIP (storage over IP) technology.

As I mentioned last week, I saw a demo of the two Hammer arrays, a desktop, and a rack-mountable unit on a floating lab that Zetera and Bell Microproducts had set up on a boat. The demo was convincing. The Hammer can mount 4 SATA drives, which gives you a nominal capacity as much as 2TB. Each unit offers concurrent file serving and block serving to Windows machines, with other OSes -- including Red Hat and Apple -- to follow later this year.

In addition to mounting the SATA drives instead of parallel ATA, the Hammer has 1GbE connectivity, which removes two severe bottlenecks present in previous consumer-edition models from Netgear that were also based on SoIP.

Zetera suggests a max throughput of 80MBps for a single enclosure, but striping across multiple enclosures, a standard feature of SoIP, can almost double that performance. Moreover, connecting multiple units to a GbE switch creates a storage system with great scalability and performance, limited only by the capability of the network.

I have seen many interesting solutions at this latest SNW Spring, but I’d say the AX150 and the Hammer arrays are the most representative of what the show is all about: comparing and contrasting new technologies with established technologies.

You can get a taste of old-school storage with the EMC Clariion AX150 and its well-established FC and iSCSI paradigm -- in essence a scaled-down version of midtier arrays. By contrast, the SoIP technology of the Bell Microproducts’ Hammer arrays brings unprecedented ease of deployment, performance, and capacity to storage newcomers.

Which approach would you choose?

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