Cloud Appliance Buying Guide

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At the recent EMC World, EMC announced a cloud appliance product. Let’s take a look at this market and some of the products available.

“Common denominators of many of these cloud appliances are low-cost storage using commodity servers and hardware-agnostic software capable of supporting block, file or one of the various forms of object,” said Greg Schulz, an analyst with StorageIO Group.

“Things should get pretty interesting in this space as people figure out that some of these solutions provide an alternative to archive, backup and dedupe appliances, particular where there are large big data files and objects that don’t dedupe, yet need lots of durable low-cost scalable storage.”

EMC Elastic Cloud Storage

EMC has been talking up Project Nile for a couple of years. It finally released EMC’s Elastic Cloud Storage (ECS) Appliance. (The name itself is quite similar to Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud.) EMC characterizes ECS as being a hyperscale cloud storage infrastructure that can take advantage of big data analytics. The company boasts of its ease-of-use, claiming that it brings the agility of a public cloud to the world of the private cloud — but adding more control and security.

The company also made a big deal of ECS offering up to 28% lower TCO in object storage implementations compared to Amazon and Google. Those numbers are based on a very specific scenario: four-year TCO for 11.5 PBs of raw storage, 57 PB of object storage. Jeremy Burton, President, Products and Marketing, EMC, states an EMC price of $5.7 million for that scenario. He added that several configurations will be available including half and full racks.  

EMC has gone to great lengths to provide a lot of punch in a small footprint – up to up to 2.9 petabytes per rack. It has block, object and Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) capabilities, and can also be clustered. Underlying ECS is EMC ViPR, a software-defined storage platform. This makes it possible to attain a single management view across multiple types of infrastructures, a single global namespace and multi-tenancy. It will be generally available by the end of the second quarter of 2014.

“ECS is a software/hardware appliance where software manages modular pools of commodity hard disk drives (HDDs) in a manner analogous to the mega-clouds of Amazon and Google,” said David Hill, an analyst at the Mesabi Group. “ECS is geared for large throughput use cases rather than low latency and high performance use cases that would require flash memory.”

AMD SeaMicro SM15000

One major competitor of EMC in this space is the AMD SeaMicro SM15000, which can be deployed with software platforms such as Hadoop and OpenStack Swift. The company is seeking to position it as the industry’s highest density, most energy efficient server that scales to more than five petabytes of direct attached storage (DAS) in two racks, said Young-Sae Song, corporate vice president, Product Marketing, AMD Data Center Server Solutions.

“In 10-rack units, it links 512 compute cores, 160 gigabits of I/O networking and more than five petabytes of storage with a 1.28 terabyte high-performance super compute fabric, called Freedom fabric,” he said. “It eliminates top-of-rack switches, terminal servers, hundreds of cables and thousands of unnecessary components.”

The SeaMicro server product family supports the latest AMD Opteron and Intel Xeon processors. It is being targeted at companies offering cloud services whether it be compute, storage, SaaS or PaaS.  Young also said it was achieving traction among those building out private clouds.

“AMD’s SeaMicro server enables storage resources to be shared by any servers,” said Young. “One disk can be shared across 64 servers or up to 1400 disks can be grouped or partitioned to be shared among those 64 servers.”

Supermicro’s Ceph Object-based Storage Cluster

Supermicro‘s object-based scale-out storage C-Series are storage clusters optimized for Ceph, an open-source, scalable, software-defined storage system. It is said to deliver unified object, block and file storage with high performance, scalability and availability. According to Jason Chang, Sr. Product Manager, Supermicro, it is well-suited to OpenStack, CloudStack and common hypervisors environments. It has been tested and certified by Inktank (now acquired by Red Hat).

“Ceph provides object and block storage with integration into Amazon S3 and OpenStack Infrastructures,” said Chang. “A Posix-compliant file level storage interface is currently available in the open source version. File level services will be available in a future release.”

He said that Ceph delivers data-location/metadata to each of its clients. It uses a heuristic algorithm called CRUSH and client resident data mapping, allowing clients to read and write data to the cluster without a centralized metadata server, storage gateway or lock-manager. De-centralizing metadata/control enables deployments of large scale with consistent management across diverse and server hardware.

Supermicro’s Ceph Object-based Storage Cluster is an orderable hardware SKU as well as reference architecture for large scale cloud storage applications (public or private). Three rack-level solutions are available as a starter cluster with capacities of 320TB, 1PB and 2PB.


The Coraid EtherDrive EX provides block and file storage aimed at companies that want to start small and scale to petabyte-scale environments. It is multi-tenant and has multi-protocol storage access. The Coraid EtherDrive is said to provide a modular architecture to support mixed workloads with the ability to scale capacity and performance as needed. The EtherDrive ZX is file storage appliance that works with Coraid EtherDrive SRX block storage. The EtherDrive ZX and SRX appliances combine with the company’s parallel Ethernet storage technology.

“An alternative to legacy NAS architectures, EtherDrive ZX and SRX is suited for public and private cloud environments, video and big data applications, where rapid scalability, ease of use and flexibility are important in a file-based storage system,” said Gokul Sathiacama, Vice President of Product Management, Coraid.

Further Alternatives

That preceding list is far from all the products that could be featured. Interesting candidates include the StorSimple Hybrid Cloud Storage, DataDirect Networks WOS and Quantum Lattus (aka Amplidata). Stay tuned for a follow up guide to feature them and a few others key providers.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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