Dell EMC’s Isilon All-Flash Is Starting To Make Sense

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 13.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day and Pure Storage. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.


I’ve written about Dell EMC Isilon All-Flash before (here and here). You can see Dell EMC’s Storage Field Day presentation video here and you can grab a copy of my rough notes from here.


The Problem?

Dell EMC’s Isilon (and OneFS) has been around for a while now, and Dell EMC tell us it offers the following advantages over competing scale-out NAS offerings:

  • Single, scalable file system;
  • Fully symmetric, clustered architecture;
  • Truly multi-protocol data lake;
  • Transparent tiering with heterogeneous clusters; and
  • Non-disruptive platform and OneFS upgrades.

While this is most likely true, the world (and its workloads) are changing. To this end, Dell EMC have been working with Isilon customers to address some key industry challenges, including:

  • Electronic Design Automation – 7nm and 3D Chip designs;
  • Life Sciences – population-scale genomics;
  • Media and Entertainment – 4K Content and Distribution; and
  • Enterprise – big data and analytics.


The Solution?

To cope with the ever-increasing throughput requirements, Dell EMC have developed an all-flash offering for their Isilon range of NAS devices, along with some changes in their OneFS operating environment. The idea of the “F” series of devices is that you can “start small and scale”, with capacities ranging from 72TB – 924TB (RAW) in 4RU. Dell EMC tell me you can go to over 33PB in a single file system. From a performance perspective, Dell EMC say that you can push 250K IOPS (or 15GB/s) in just 4RU and scale to 9M IOPS. These are pretty high numbers, and pointless if your editing workstation is plugged into a 1Gbps switch. But that’s generally not the case nowadays.

One of the neater resilience features that Dell EMC discussed was that the file system layout is “sled-aware” (there are 5 drive sleds per node and 20 sleds per 4RU chassis) meaning that a given file uses one drive per sled, allowing for sled removal for service without data unavailability, with these being treated as temporarily-offline drives.


Is All-Flash the Answer (Or Just Another Step?)

I’ve been fascinated with the storage requirements (and IT requirements in general) for media and entertainment workloads for some time. I have absolutely no real-world experience with these types of environments, and it would be silly for me to position myself as any kind of expert in the field. [I am, of course, happy for people working in M&E to get in touch with me and tell me all about what they do]. What I do have is a lot of information that tells me that the move from 2K to 4K (and 8K) is forcing people to rethink their requirements for high bandwidth storage in the ranges of capacities that studios are now starting to look at.

Whilst I was initially a little confused around the move to all-flash on the Isilon platform, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. You’re always going to have a bunch of data hanging around that you might want to keep on-line for a long time, but it may not need to be retrieved at great speed (think “cheap and deep” storage). For this, it seems that the H (Hybrid) series of Isilon does the job, and does it well. But for workloads where large amounts of data need to be processed in a timely fashion, all-flash options are starting to make a lot more sense.

Is an all-flash offering the answer to everything? Probably not. Particularly not if you’re on a budget. And no matter how much money people have invested in the movie / TV show / whatever, I can guarantee that most of that is going to talent and content, not infrastructure. But there’s definitely a shift from spinning disk to Flash and this will continue as Flash media prices continue to fall. And then we’ll wonder how we ever did anything with those silly spinning disks. Until the next magic medium comes along. In the meantime, if you want to take OneFS for a spin, you can grab a copy of the version 8.1 simulator here. There’s also a very good Isilon overview document that I recommend you check out if that’s the kind of thing you’re into.