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STORAGE INSIDER: An early taste of SNW Spring
[April 03, 2006]

STORAGE INSIDER: An early taste of SNW Spring

(InfoWorld Electronic News Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)Storage Networking World Spring opens its doors in San Diego this week, so yours truly has done a little pre-scouting into what the 2006 edition has to offer.

In general, you can expect many new solutions built on innovative technologies such as SAS (serial attached SCSI) and iSCSI, with emphasis on 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Also, look for vendors pushing the envelope on more traditional technologies, such as increasing arrays' capacity-per-square-foot ratio, or creating new standards to connect SATA (serial ATA) and FC (Fibre Channel) drives easily to the same enclosure.

And don't overlook the software-only vendors, who have been challenged but not defeated by the constant rivalry with one-stop storage vendors such as EMC, HP, IBM, or Sun.

A good example of the vitality of pure software storage vendors comes from Symantec, which will announce PureDisk at the show. PureDisk is a rather revolutionary addition to Veritas NetBackup 6.0 that provides continuous data protection to branches and remote offices.

How does PureDisk work? An agent installed on each remote server automatically creates segments of changed data (typically 128KB in size) that are encrypted and replicated to a central site. (To expedite recovery at a larger branch, you can install an appliance that will store copies of changed data locally.) Only unique segments travel across the WAN, because PureDisk will only send a reference if a segment is already stored centrally. This setup translates into a more compact central archive, better performance, and lighter WAN traffic.

As its name suggests, PureDisk has disks as its primary target, which facilitates fast data recovery from the central location or from the local appliance. Users can independently restore a corrupted file or revert to an older version of a file from their Web browsers. Admins use the same interface to control the system and set data protection policies.

For disaster recovery purposes, PureDisk creates a second consolidated repository at a different location that can be used as a backup.

PureDisk (which runs independently from NetBackup) is probably the most innovative turn in Symantec's backup family, and I expect we'll see more integration with other applications in future versions.

Moving to a somewhat heavier topic, how many 3.5" drives can you store in a 4U enclosure? Whatever your answer, I would bet that you're off by a large number, unless you recently spoke to ARIO Data Networks.

Last week, ARIO announced its CSA (Capacity Storage Arrays) family, offering a revolutionary 4U enclosure that can mount as many as 52 (yes, that's fifty-two) SAS or SATA drives. Heavier topic indeed!

The front of the CSA hosts 13 StorBlades, which are essentially removable disk sleighs that hold four drives instead of the usual single drive found in traditional enclosures. Those four drives sit edge to edge vertically along the StorBlade, equally spaced from front to back.

The CSA has four power supplies and four fans, and their dual controller support drives in RAID or JBOD configurations. ARIO management software gives you full monitoring and diagnostics for the array, and will intercept and cache writes to other disks on the same StorBlade when a faulty drive is being replaced.

I'll let you figure out how much floor space you could save by replacing traditional arrays with CSA, but don't go knocking at the ARIO Data door quite yet unless you are an OEM. (ARIO estimates that OEMs will start shipping CSA-based products by mid-2006, but that's a timeline that could change based on the OEMs' preferences.)

My third and final pick for "ones to watch" at SNW is also an array -- actually, it's two models, the Breeze MX4 and the Breeze 10G from Nimbus Data Systems. These Breeze systems combine unified storage (concurrent file and block serving), iSCSI, and SAS and SATA drives in the same box.

Both models mount an IP coprocessor and support every RAID level I can think of in a resilient enclosure. Each array can daisy-chain as many as six expansion modules via SAS connectors. Updating the system doesn't affect routine activities and can push the total capacity to as much as 55TB.

The main differences between the two models are the number of host ports (provided via separate Ethernet switch) and the size of the cache, 2GB for the Breeze MX4 or 4GB for the Breeze 10G. In addition to a larger cache and more host ports (as many as 48), the Breeze 10G has one 10Gbps Ethernet connection to the drives, whereas the MX4 uses plain GbE ports.

If you're getting the idea that these Breeze arrays must be fast, you're right. Nimbus showed me some impressive benchmark results, but I don't want to spoil the surprise -- check them out at the show.

The three products mentioned here are good examples of what you'll find at SNW: faster performance, more capacity in less space, and continuous data protection. Obviously there is more at the show, but it's time for me to get on that flight to San Diego. Hope to see you there.

Join me on The Storage Network blog with questions or comments.

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