Case Western Reserve University is moving 100TB of research file data from an EMC Celerra NS480 to a Panasas ActiveStor 8 for rapid analysis, and another 65TB of structured administrative data to a Nexsan NST 5310. Besides higher performance, users wanted to create single name spaces as big as 600TB -- far above the 64TB limit of both EMC and NetApp offerings, says Brian Christian, design senior technical lead at the school.
"Our first, small, high-performance cluster" used a traditional NAS device acting as Network File Server, "and we overloaded it. After talking with our peers, we saw that to grow as we needed, we needed a parallel NAS. That's when we acquired Panasas," says Christian.
To boost performance, many customers are using flash memory within servers, as well as solid-state drives in storage arrays, to cache speed-sensitive data before writing it to slower, but less expensive and higher-capacity hard drives.
Three years ago, slowing application performance and increasing upgrade costs spurred David Abbott, manager of IT infrastructure engineering at TripPak Services and ACS Advertising, both Xerox companies, to look for new platforms that could handle his expected 10TB of new storage per year "without management having a heart attack" over cost.
The software-as-a-service provider for the transportation industry is now using three network-attached storage (NAS) units from Starboard Storage Systems for storing 80TB of image files and 45TB of performance-sensitive data for 500 virtual machine images and more than 200 virtual desktops on a Pure Storage flash array.
Before moving to the Nexanta NAS/SAN platform, Budd Van Lines had relied on a Compellent SAN. While it wasn't full, "it was running out of IOPS" to handle a growing number of queries among applications for work such as month-end accounting, he says. To provide that performance, the NexantaStor platform caches data in solid-state drives for faster access, before writing that data to 7,200 rpm serial attached SCSI (SAS) drives for long-term storage.
NAS vendor NetApp also entered the flash array market with its EF540, the first in a line of arrays it says will combine consistent, low-latency performance, high-availability and integrated data protection with enterprise storage efficiency features such as in-line deduplication and compression.
Software plus commodity disk
Online marketing SaaS provider Constant Contact is among those turning away from proprietary hardware and software to commodity disk managed by software.
"When I joined three and half years ago, our primary way of scaling was to buy more storage, faster storage, and bigger and faster database servers," says CTO Stefan Piesche. To reduce costs even while his storage needs grow 15 percent to 25 percent per year, he is switching from IBM's DB2 database running on 3Par SANs to the open-source MySQL and Cassandra NoSQL databases running on Dell servers, commodity disk and Fusion-io flash cards.
This new platform, he says, is not only an "order of magnitude faster" than its older storage but delivers high performance, availability and disaster recovery without the need for extensive management. The performance gain achieved by writing data to six storage nodes without transferring it over the network means storing multiple copies of the same data. However, says Piesche, the low price of commodity disk and servers make the trade-off worthwhile.
He also notes his customers won't suffer if the marketing data stored in one of those copies is a few milliseconds out of date -- although that wouldn't be true for a financial trading system where prices constantly change.