Xiotech’s Emprise: Storage System, Heal Thyself

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So much to store, so little tolerance for failure or errors. That is the dilemma facing Web 2.0 businesses and companies dealing with terabytes (or petabytes) of rich media and other unstructured data. But as every storage administrator knows, the greater the disk capacity, the greater the chance of an error in the backup and storage process.

Storage vendors are well aware of this problem too, as well as the latency and performance issues that come with greater disk capacity and better error monitoring. Their answer is a new generation of storage solutions featuring things like grid architectures.

Now Xiotech Corp., maker of the Magnitude storage line, has entered the fray with a solution it claims is “a new foundation for storage,” detecting and fixing errors before they can become a problem, according to Xiotech Chief Technology Officer Steve Sicola.

More than one-million man hours in the making, Xiotech’s new Intelligent Storage Element (ISE) technology, which it acquired from Seagate Technology last November, was generating buzz even before Xiotech formally introduced its Emprise storage systems last month — buzz that has gotten louder since Xiotech announced that both the Emprise 5000 and 7000 would come with a five-year (hardware) warranty. And the Emprise’s ability to scale from 1 TB to 1 PB without a forklift upgrade and low price-performance cost hasn’t hurt either. (As Xiotech proudly notes, the independent Storage Performance Council rated the Emprise 5000 No. 1 in terms of lowest cost per SPC-1 IOPS per disk arrays at $4.19/SPC-1 IOPS for 73 GB disk drives and $3.53/SPC-1 IOPS for 146 GB disk drives.)

But you don’t have to take Xiotech’s word for it. Customers who’ve been beta testing the Emprise solutions are already speaking out about the Emprise’s self-healing capability and speed, as have analysts like the Enterprise Strategy Group.

Not Your Daddy’s Storage Solution

Rich Kopcho, CEO of Colorado-based Holonyx Inc., a technology and marketing company that specializes in Linux-based and open-source applications, is not your average storage customer. With more than 17 years of experience in the data storage industry, 12 of them at Hewlett-Packard and another five doing storage consulting, he’s seen a lot of storage solutions — and has issues with nearly all of them.

But there was something different about Xiotech’s new Seagate-developed ISE technology, he said.

Kopcho and Garret Acott, Holonyx’s president and chief technology officer, came across Xiotech’s Emprise solutions while in search of a system that could store as well as dish out the company’s new Linux Test Drive service, a super data-intensive Web service that will allow users to literally test drive the 300-odd Linux distributions out there on their desktop browser, with very little latency. (You want to see how Mandriva looks and feels on your desktop? No problem. Ubuntu? Coming right up.)

Kopcho and Acott anticipate daily traffic on Linux Test Drive to be more than 100,000 users, with 5,000 or more concurrent users at any given time — all requesting hundreds of virtual, data-intensive images, straight from active storage. Kopcho and Acott did not want some old-fangled data storage solution to manage their state-of-the-Web service. They wanted something innovative, fast, scalable and Web service friendly.

Takes a Licking and Keeps on Storing

After talking with industry colleagues and quietly checking out some competitor’s installations, Kopcho and Acott signed on with Xiotech earlier this year to beta test the Emprise 5000 virtual storage system, which attaches directly or via a Fibre Channel switch to servers. The Emprise at Holonyx has around 6 TB of capacity, which Holonyx can easily scale to 16 TB — or to 1 PB if they migrate to the Emprise 7000 SAN solution, which does not require a forklift upgrade.

After getting the system up and running in less than 45 minutes — “It was almost silly easy to install,” said Acott — Holonyx’s IT team have been putting the system through its paces, showing it no mercy.

“We’ve been throwing all sorts of different tests at it,” said Acott. “We’ve developed a number of scripts for creating LUNs, presenting LUNs, deleting/removing LUNs … copying files to another LUN, scaling all the way from 10 files up to 10,000 files.”

But that’s not all they’ve done, he said. “We’ve run MD5 checksums against those files to make sure there’s no data integrity loss. We’ve also hammered the living beans out of it with Bonnie++. These aren’t the standard tests that normal people are going to run storage through.”

Impressively, all throughout the testing, the Emprise 5000 maintained speed and performance, which amazed Acott. In fact, “the servers saturated before the storage did,” said Kopcho. And there were no errors, although Kopcho and Acott are confident that should the system detect an error in the future, it will quickly heal itself.

That’s because of the ISE technology’s built-in managed reliability, the ability to detect and fix potential problems before failure occurs. “Managed reliability is why we can give a five-year warranty,” explained Xiotech’s Sicola, who led the effort to bring the ISE technology to market. It’s also one of the features that differentiate the Emprise systems from the competition.

It’s not just Xiotech and Holonyx that are all excited about ISE technology. In an April ESG Lab Validation Report on the Xiotech Intelligent Storage Element and Managed Reliability, industry analysts Enterprise Strategy Group, after reviewing 42 million hours of drive run time, reported: “Using a sealed ‘no-touch’ approach that turns a group of drives into a foundational storage element with excellent price-performance that fixes itself, ESG believes that Xiotech has developed game-changing technology that experienced storage administrators would be wise to consider.”

Some already have.

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Jennifer Schiff
Jennifer Schiff
Jennifer Schiff is a business and technology writer and a contributor to Enterprise Storage Forum. She also runs Schiff & Schiff Communications, a marketing firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.

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