StorCentric Announces QLC E-Series 18F

Nexsan recently announced the release of its new E-Series 18F (E18F) storage platform. I had the chance to chat with Surya Varanasi, CTO of StorCentric, about the announcement and thought I’d share some thoughts here.

 

Less Disk, More Flash

[image courtesy of Nexsan]

The E18F is designed and optimised for quad-level cell (QLC) NAND technology. If you’re familiar with the Nexsan E-Series range, you’d be aware of the E18P that preceded this model. This is the QLC Flash version of that.

Use Cases

We spoke about a couple of use cases for the E18F. The first of these was with data lake environments. These are the sort of storage environents with 20 to 30PB installations that are subjected to random workload pressures. The idea of using QLC is to increase the performance without significantly increasing the cost. That doesn’t mean that you can do a like for like swap of HDDs for QLC Flash. Varanasi did, however, suggest that Nexsan had observed a 15x improvement over hard drive installation for around 3-4 times the cost, and he’s expecting that to go down to 2-3 times in the future. There is also the option to use just a bit of QLC Flash with a lot of HDDs to get some performance improvement.

The other use case discussed was the use of QLC in test and dev environments. Users are quite keen, obviously, on getting Flash in their environments at the price of HDDs. This isn’t yet a realistic goal, but it’s more achievable with QLC than it is with something like TLC.

 

QLC And The Future

We spoke briefly about more widespread adoption of QLC across the range of StorCentric storage products. Varanasi said the use “will eventually expand across the portfolio”, and they were looking at how it might be adopted with the larger E-Series models, as well as with the Assureon and Vexata range. They were treating Unity more cautiously, as the workloads traditionally hosted on that platform were a little more demanding.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

The kind of workloads we’re throwing at what were once viewed as “cheap and deep” platforms is slowly changing. Where once it was perhaps acceptable to wait a few days for reporting runs to finish, there’s no room for that kind of performance gap now. So it makes sense that we look to Flash as a way of increasing the performance of the tools we’re using. The problem, however, is that when you work on data sets in the petabyte range, you need a lot of capacity to accommodate that. Flash is getting cheaper, but it’s still not there when compared to traditional spinning disks. QLC is a nice compromise between performance and capacity. There’s a definite performance boost to be had, and the increase in cost isn’t eye watering. StorCentric Announces QLC E-Series 18F

I’m interested to see how this solution performs in the real world, and whether QLC has the expected durability to cope with the workloads that enterprise will throw at it. I’m also looking forward to seeing where else Nexsan decide to use QLC in its portfolio. There’s good story here in terms of density, performance, and energy consumption – one that I’m sure other vendors will also be keen to leverage. For another take on this, check out Mellor’s article here.

Nexsan Announces Assureon Cloud Transfer

Announcement

Nexsan announced Cloud Transfer for their Assureon product a little while ago. I recently had the chance to catch up with Gary Watson (Founder / CTO at Nexsan) and thought it would be worth covering the announcement here.

 

Assureon Refresher

Firstly, though, it might be helpful to look at what Assureon actually is. In short, it’s an on-premises storage archive that offers:

  • Long term archive storage for fixed content files;
  • Dependable file availability, with files being audited every 90 days;
  • Unparalleled file integrity; and
  • A “policy” system for protecting and stubbing files.

Notably, there is always a primary archive and a DR archive included in the price. No half-arsing it here – which is something that really appeals to me. Assureon also doesn’t have a “delete” key as such – files are only removed based on defined Retention Rules. This is great, assuming you set up your policies sensibly in the first place.

 

Assureon Cloud Transfer

Cloud Transfer provides the ability to move data between on-premises and cloud instances. The idea is that it will:

  • Provide reliable and efficient cloud mobility of archived data between cloud server instances and between cloud vendors; and
  • Optimise cloud storage and backup costs by offloading cold data to on-premises archive.

It’s being positioned as useful for clients who have a large unstructured data footprint on public cloud infrastructure and are looking to reduce their costs for storing data up there. There’s currently support for Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure, with Google support coming in the near future.

[image courtesy of Nexsan]

There’s stub support for those applications that support. There’s also an optional NFS / SMB interface that can be configured in the cloud as an Assureon archiving target that caches hot files and stubs cold files. This is useful for those non-Windows applications that have a lot of unstructured data that could be moved to an archive.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

The concept of dedicated archiving hardware and software bundles, particularly ones that live on-premises, might seem a little odd to some folks who spend a lot of time failing fast in the cloud. There are plenty of enterprises, however, that would benefit from the level of rigour that Nexsan have wrapped around the Assureon product. It’s my strong opinion that too many people still don’t understand the difference between backup and recovery and archive data. The idea that you need to take archive data and make it immutable (and available) for a long time has great appeal, particularly for organisations getting slammed with a whole lot of compliance legislation. Vendors have been talking about reducing primary storage use for years, but there seems to have been some pushback from companies not wanting to invest in these solutions. It’s possible that this was also a result of some kludgy implementations that struggled to keep up with the demands of the users. I can’t speak for the performance of the Assureon product, but I like the fact that it’s sold as a pair, and with a lot of the decision-making around protection taken away from the end user. As someone who worked in an organisation that liked to cut corners on this type of thing, it’s nice to see that.

But why would you want to store stuff on-premises? Isn’t everyone moving everything to the cloud? No, they’re not. I don’t imagine that this type of product is being pitched at people running entirely in public cloud. It’s more likely that, if you’re looking at this type of solution, you’re probably running a hybrid setup, and still have a footprint in a colocation facility somewhere. The benefit of this is that you can retain control over where your archived data is placed. Some would say that’s a bit of a pain, and an unnecessary expense, but people familiar with compliance will understand that business is all about a whole lot of wasted expense in order to make people feel good. But I digress. Like most on-premises solutions, the Assureon offering compares well with a public cloud solution on a $/GB basis, assuming you’ve got a lot of sunk costs in place already with your data centre presence.

The immutability story is also a pretty good one when you start to think about organisations that have been hit by ransomware in the last few years. That stuff might roll through your organisation like a hot knife through butter, but it won’t be able to do anything with your archive data – that stuff isn’t going anywhere. Combine that with one of those fancy next generation data protection solutions and you’re in reasonable shape.

In any case, I like what the Assureon product offers, and am looking forward to seeing Nexsan move beyond the Windows-only platform support that it currently offers. You can read the Nexsan Assueron Cloud Transfer press release here. David Marshall covered the announcement over at VMblog and ComputerWeekly.com did an article as well.

Nexsan Announces Unity 2.0

Nexsan announced their new range of Unity arrays a few weeks ago. I finally had the opportunity to talk to Gary Watson about the new line, and thought it was worth covering here.

 

Hardware

The Unity range of arrays are standard midrange offerings. They use two controllers and offer some useful block and file access options. Capacity is pretty good too. My favourite feature (based on past experience) is the data mobility, thanks to the Connected Data acquisition. I was a big fan of the consumer version of the Transporter, and think that delivering these kind of features in a corporate environment is a great way to get around the problem of widespread Dropbox use in the enterprise. (Not that I’m not a fan of Dropbox, but people need to be mindful of what they do with corporate data in the name of “convenience”.) Here’s a snazzy box shot.

[image courtesy of Nexsan]

And here’s a table that nicely summarises the various Unity offerings. You can grab the data sheet from here and a more detailed specification sheet here.

 

Feature Unity2200 (Entry) Unity4400 (Mid) Unity6900 (High)
Authentication Active Directory, LDAP, and Local
Access iOS and Android Apps

Windows, Mac, and Secure, Private Web Access

Protocols Block (FC, iSCSI), File (NFS, SMB 3.0, FTP)
Controllers 2
System Memory (DRAM) 128GB 192GB 384GB
Write Cache 400GB SSDs 8GB NVDIMM 16GB NVDIMM
FASTier Read Cache Capacity 3.84TB 35TB 100TB
FASTier Read Cache 800GB | 1.92TB 800GB | 1.92TB | 3.84TB
7.2K RPM SAS HDDs (TB) 2 | 4 | 6 | 8 | 10TB
10K RPM SAS HDDs 600GB | 900GB | 1.2TB | 1.8TB
SAS SSDs 800GB | 1.92TB | 3.84TB | 7.68TB

 

Further Reading and Conclusion

You can read some press coverage on the announcement here and here. Nexsan’s press release can also be found here. Dell EMC don’t like talking about it, but you’ve probably noticed two different companies are using Unity as a product name for their midrange storage line. You can read El Reg’s coverage of that here.

The Unity arrays do everything you’d expect a modern midrange array to do, with the added bonus of some neat enterprise file sharing capability thrown in for good measure. In the storage industry we love to focus on what we think people will find sexy. Right now this seems to be two things: all flash storage and massively scalable object storage. Don’t get me wrong, both of those technology solutions are neat, and it’s certainly an exciting time to be witnessing what can be done with that technology. That said, I don’t think the midrange storage array is dead just yet. There are plenty of companies in the hunt for storage platforms that just work and deliver reasonable performance for a decent price per GB. As evidenced by Dell EMC’s continued interest and investment in the midrange market, there’s still plenty of life left in it. If you’re in the market for some solid midrange storage with a variety of storage options and capacities, coupled with some neat file synchronisation and replication technology, then it’s worth looking into the Nexsan offering.