SNW's debut performances

Emerging storage companies leave their mark on storage array, 10 Gig storage markets

My previous columns on the recent SNW (Storage Networking World) have been almost entirely focused on some very popular names in storage, but I don't want you to think that startup companies are not present at the show. They're often the ones making a splash with new, original ideas and breakthrough products.

Take, for example, Rasilient. Make a mental note of this seemingly misspelled name if purchasing a new storage array is in your plans: Rasilient's Rastor 4000 array is directed at the entry level and secondary storage markets.

What's so special about the Rastor 4000? It's a fully redundant 3U box with active-active controller fail-over you can take apart in minutes and without tools. Each of its two controller modules mounts dual FC (Fibre Channel) and dual iSCSI ports.

The Rastor 4000 mounts as many as 15 SATA drives, each reached independently by both of the box's controllers for performance and reliability. Remove all the drives and you can easily pull out the backplane that hosts them. The unit's friendly management GUI is just icing on the cake.

If you're shopping for storage arrays (and who isn't these days?), you may want to add the Xyratex 4200 to your list. Xyratex is not exactly a startup, but its impressive line of products and services previously targeted mostly top-tier storage vendors. The architecture of its new Xyratex 4200 array combines FC connectivity and one or two active-active controllers with as many as 16 SATA drives.

Interestingly, the 4200 also offers dual path to each drive. Keep an eye on Xyratex: It has more storage goodies coming to the market in the future.

You may remember that I expected to see demos of 10 Gig storage at SNW. Well, I did, and here's the scoop: Mark the name of iStor Networks and its GigaStorATX.

In a nutshell, the GigaStorATX is a highly integrated controller that fits easily, as the ATX in its name suggests, in a standard chassis. With its embedded 10 Gig controller, also from iStor, the GigaStorATX is an inexpensive core for high-performing NAS devices or iSCSI servers with as many as 16 drives per box.

The controller also mounts 4GB of cache and a battery to keep its content alive for at least 72 hours. I should also mention that an onboard ASIC offloads part of the iSCSI and TCP/IP burden from the embed processors.

Add in the storage virtualization software residing in the firmware layer and you will probably begin to think (as I did) that building a powerful storage array around the GigaStorATX shouldn't be difficult. iStor saved me the trouble with its working prototype, which had SATA drives ready to go. After a quick tour of the pleasant and intuitive GUI, we moved to an Iometer screen running sequential reads of 64KB blocks.

That Iometer test measured a remarkable 200MBps transfer rate, obviously much faster than a Gigabit Ethernet connection and probably limited by the number of drives mounted in the demo unit but nevertheless a convincing performance of the GigaStorATX.

I spoke to at least one other vendor, iVivity, which offered a similar solution, but because of schedule constraints, I couldn't see a demo or a prototype. Anyway, a good indication of the amount of interest in the offerings from iStor and iVivity is that other storage vendors were buzzing around these two like bees after new blossoms. Perhaps new and more affordable products built around these all-in-one controllers will soon follow.

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