EMC Isilon Buyer’s Guide

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EMC has bought many companies in recent years as it seeks to maintain its dominance of the storage landscape while expanding its scope to become the hardware underpinning of cloud computing and big data infrastructures.

One of its big additions was Isilon, which is an innovator when it comes to scale-out network-attached storage (NAS). EMC (NYSE: EMC) sees Isilon as a key element of its big data strategy. For enterprise that have vast amounts of file-based data, Isilon offers a way to store it efficiently.

“Leveraging big data into business value can only be accomplished with a simple, scalable and highly flexible storage foundation as the core of IT infrastructure,” said Rick Villars, an analyst with IDC. “Scale-out NAS is that foundation and Isilon’s new products deliver on that promise by combining new levels of performance, scale and simplicity to aggregate big data and enable real-time collaboration.”

Scale-out NAS is clearly an area in which EMC seeks to differentiate itself from the pioneer of NAS NetApp. Sam Grocott, vice president of marketing of the EMC Isilon Storage Division, said Isilon was designed from the ground up for big data and large unstructured data sets, whereas NetApp was designed in the 1990s for a non-big-data world. As a result, he said, NetApp doesn’t scale as well.

“We can go up to 15 PB in single file system while they can do a maximum of 100 TB in one file system,” said Grocott. “For big data, that means NetApp would have to achieve 15 PB via 150 different volumes, management points, RAID, backup policies, snapshots and 150 different mount points for users to access data.”

Isilon comprises three distinct products with the OneFS file system held in common between them. This provides the file system, volume manager and RAID functionality in one unified software layer that spans all nodes within a cluster.

The company has offers S Series, X Series and NL Series products. All these systems scale from three systems to a maximum of 144 systems. You can also mix the series, provided you have at least three of each somewhere in the set up.

“The OneFS file system is the core intellectual property,” said Grocott. “It lays data across at least three nodes to protect data. 144 is the current system limit.”

The S200, he said, is optimized for high transactional I/O workloads. Examples include high performance computing, VMware, special effects and animation rendering. As such, it would not be the right fit for block-based databases like Oracle or SQL Server. There are various ways to view pricing of this unit. Grocutt said that it starts at $6,000 per TB. Another way to look at it is that one stripped-down node starts at $57,569. This includes the OneFS license. Remember, it is a three-node minimum purchase (as is the case with all Isilon products). After that, nodes can be added one or more at a time.

The X200 is characterized as the company’s midrange system. Grocutt said it was not so much an IOPS machine as a high-throughput machine. He recommended it for such applications as gene sequencing, content delivery, video on demand, and chip design and manufacturing. On the negative side, he said it would not work well for email databases, such as Microsoft Exchange.

“Also, it would not work well for SMBs as it is the wrong price point,” said Grocutt.

It is less expensive than the S Series, however, with the starting rate of $3,000 per TB or $27,450 per node.

The latest system to be added to the Isilon arsenal is the 108NL — NL stands for nearline in this case. It provides 108 TB per node and is aimed at organizations engaged in large enterprise file archiving.

How large does it scale? The NL Series tops out at 15.5 PB in one file system, which makes it what the company calls the largest file system in the world. It achieves this using the latest 3 TB Hitachi UltraStar hard drives. Each 4U node can be clustered up to the 144 maximum.

The 108NL also offers Smartlock software, which brings Write Once Read Many (WORM) capabilities to the archiving system. That means once a file is written, it is locked, and it cannot be moved or changed. Each file is given a signature that validates its integrity and status within the file system.

The Isilon 108NL hardware product and SmartLock software application are available immediately. The 108NL has a list price of $123,500 per node. SmartLock is required, it costs and extra $1,950 per node.

Grocutt said, this works out as the least expensive of Isilon’s products to date in terms of volume — less than $1,000 per TB.

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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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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