Axellio Announces FX-WSSD


Axellio (a division of X-IO Technologies) recently announced their new FX-WSSD appliance based on Windows Server 2019. I had the opportunity to speak to Bill Miller (CEO) and Barry Martin (Product Manager for the HCI WSSD product) and thought I’d share some thoughts here.


What Is It?

Axellio recently announced the new FabricXpress Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) | Windows Server Software-Defined Datacenter (known as FX-WSSD to its friends). It’s built on the Axellio Edge FX-1000 platform and comes licensed with Windows Server Datacenter Edition 2019 and runs Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct. You can manage it with Windows Admin Center and the (optional) 5nine management suite.



A big part of the Axellio story here revolves around density. You get 4 nodes in 4 RU, and up to 36 NVMe drives per server. Axellio tell me you can pack up to 920TB of raw NVMe-based storage in these things (assuming you’re deploying 6.4TB NVMe drives). You can also have a minimum of 4 drives per server if you have a requirement that is more reliant on processing. There’s a full range of iWARP adapters from Chelsio Communications available with support for 4x 10, 40, or 100GbE connections.

[image courtesy of Axellio]

You can start small and scale up (or out) if required. There’s support for up to 16 nodes in a cluster, and you can manage multiple clusters together if need be.


Not That Edge

When I think of edge computing I think of scientific folks doing funky things with big data and generally running Linux-type workloads. While this type of edge computing is still common (and well-catered for with Axellio’s solutions), Axellio are going after what they refer to as the “enterprise edge” market as opposed to the non-Windows workloads. The Windows DC Edition licensing makes sense if you want to run Hyper-V and a number of Windows-based workloads, such as Active Directory domain controllers, file and print services, small databases (basically the type of enterprise workloads traditionally found in remote offices).


Thoughts and Further Reading

I’m the first to admit that my working knowledge of current Windows technologies is nowhere near what it was 15 years ago. But I understand why choosing Windows as the foundation platform for the edge HCI appliance makes sense for Axellio. There’s a lot less investment they need to make in terms of raw product development, the Windows virtualisation platform continues to mature, there’s already a big install base of Windows in the enterprise, and operations folks will be fairly comfortable with the management interface.

I’ve written about Axellio’s Edge solution previously, and this new offering is a nice extension of that with some Windows chops and “HCI” sensibilities. I’m not interested in getting into a debate about whether this is really a hyper-converged offering or not, but there’s a bunch of compute, storage and networking stuck together with a hypervisor and management tier to help keep it running. Whatever you want to call it, I can see this being a useful (and flexible) solution for those shops who need to have certain workloads close to the edge, and are already leveraging the Windows operating platform to do it.

You can grab the Axellio Data Sheet from here, and a copy of the press release can be found here.

X-IO Announces ISE 900 Series G4

X-IO Technologies recently announced the ISE 900 Series G4. I had the chance to speak to Bill Miller about it and thought I’d provide some coverage of the announcement here. If you’re unfamiliar with X-IO, ISE stands for Intelligent Storage Elements. This is X-IO Technologies’ “next-generation ISE”, and X-IO will also be continuing to support their disk-based and hybrid arrays. They will, however, be discontinuing the 800 series AFAs.


What’s In The Box?

There are two boxes – the ISE 920 and ISE 960. You get all of the features of ISE hardware and software, such as:

  • High Availability
  • QoS
  • Encryption (at rest)
  • Management REST API
  • Simple Web-based Management
  • Monitored Telemetry
  • Predictive Analytics

They used to use sealed “DataPacs” in the disk drive days but this isn’t needed in the all-flash world. ISE still manages SSDs in groups of 10 and still overprovisions capacity up to a point. The individual drives are now hot-swappable though.

You also get features such as “Performance-Optimized Deduplication”, and deduplication can be disabled by volume.

The ISE also uses Enhanced Matrixed RAID Data Allocation, where you get:

  • Up to 60 individually hot-swappable SSDs (for the 960, 20 for the 920)
  • Writes to SSDs balanced across drives for better wear and performance

ISE Software for “resilient in-place media loss”, meaning

  • Less frequent drive replacement
  • Global parity and spare allocation
  • Failed drives do not have the same urgency for replacement as traditional arrays

Web-based Management Interface

  • Simplified management with X-IO’s OptimISE
  • Support for multi-system management through a single session
  • At-a-glance and in-depth performance metrics
  • Customizable widget based layout

As with most modern storage arrays, the user interface is clean and simple to navigate. OptimISE replaces ISE Manager, although you’ll still need it to manage your Gen1 – Gen3 arrays. X-IO are considering adding support for Gen3 arrays to OptimISE, but they’re waiting to see whether there’s customer demand.

[image courtesy of X-IO Technologies]


X-IO tell me that snapshots and replication are on the roadmap and will be added in the future, with X-IO aiming to have these features available in H1 next year (but don’t hold them to that though). They’ll also be aiming to add support for iglu systems.


Show Me Your Specs

It wouldn’t be a product announcement without a box shot.


[image courtesy of X-IO Technologies]


2U Dual-Controller Active/Active

  • 8Gbps FC (16Gbps field upgradeable in the future)
  • 4 ports per controller (8 ports will be field upgradeable in the future)

Hot-Swappable FRUs

  • Controller
  • Power Supplies
  • Fans
  • Regulators
  • SSDs min – max
    • ISE 920: 10 – 20
    • ISE 960: 10 – 60
  • Two hot-swappable 1600 Watt PSUs

Capacity (*Effective capacity assumes 5:1 deduplication ratio)

  • ISE 920: 9.6TB – 242TB
  • ISE 960: 9.6TB – 725TB

Capacity expansion (up to 60 drives) is done in 10 drive increments.


X-IO tell me they can get performance along the lines of:

  • Up to 400,000 IOPS; and
  • Access Time <1ms.


Conclusion and Further Reading

X-IO released a really good overview of the Intelligent Storage Element (ISE) platform a while ago that I think is worth checking out. X-IO’s deduplication solution promises to deliver some pretty decent results at a highly efficient clip. If you want some insight into how they go about doing it, check out Richard Lary’s presentation from Storage Field Day 13. This is their first array with deduplication built in, and I’m interested to see how it performs in the field. The goal is to deliver the same results as their competitors, but with improved efficiency. This seems to be the goal behind much of the hardware design, with X-IO telling me that they come in around 60 cents (US) per effective GB of capacity. That seems mighty efficient.

X-IO have been around for a while, and I’ve found their Axellio Edge product to be fascinating. The AFA market is crowded with vendors saying that they do all things for all people. It’s nice to see that X-IO aren’t promising the world to customers, but they are offering some decent features at a compelling price.

Have Axellio Edge, Will Travel

The Edge

I had the opportunity to talk to X-IO Technologies about their Axellio Edge product at Storage Field Day 13 (you can read about that here). They recently announced a “Portable Axellio Edge Computing System” that “can be quickly disassembled for travel and reassembled onsite” and fits in equipment cases suitable for commercial air travel. Here’s what it looks like.

[image courtesy of X-IO Technologies]

The main chassis is emptied and stored in your checked baggage, with the data packed in a carry-on case that fits within the size limits for US air travel (although I’m not convinced Air France would put up with it based on previous experience). The idea is that the important stuff (or potentially classified data) is within your sight / on your person at all times and there’s less scope for shenanigans.


Pigeon Powered

There are a bunch of scenarios where having a lot of processing and capacity at the edge makes a tonne of sense. But what do you do when you need to get it back to the core in a timely fashion for further investigation or analysis? X-IO aren’t the first to come up with portable (and ruggedised) solutions optimised for moving a lot of data by air rather than over the wire, but sometimes the only answer to physics is to fly the stuff where you need it to be.

My thoughts are with the fellow passengers who have to put up with the big case of NVMe that will occupy a bit of space in the overhead bins, but I’ve travelled enough in the US to know that it’s probably not the biggest thing people have tried to fit into those lockers. Heck, I had a manager once who took a 1RU server as carry-on luggage. Sure, he wasn’t popular, but he somehow convinced them it was in spec.

I like the idea behind this product, in much the same way I appreciate that the Edge product has a very specific use case and isn’t suitable for everyone. You can read more about the Axellio Edge here, read the press release here, and grab a copy of the data sheet from here. Justin also provided some typically insightful coverage over at Forbes.

X-IO Technologies Are Living On The Edge

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.


X-IO Technologies presented on their Axellio Edge product, amongst other things, at Storage Field Day 13 recently. You can see video of the presentation here, and download my rough notes from here.


What Edge?

So what is the “edge”? Well, a lot of data has mass. And I’m not talking about those big old 1.8″ SCSI drives I used to pull from servers when I was a young man. Some applications (think geosciences, for example) generate a bunch of data very close to their source. This data invariably needs to be analysed to realise its value. Which is all well and good, but if you’re sitting on a boat somewhere you might have more data than you can easily transport to your public cloud provider in a timely fashion. Once the dataset becomes big or fast enough, it’s easier to move the application to the data than vice versa. X-IO say Axellio focuses on the situation where “moving the data processing power closer to where the data is being generated – closer to the source” makes sense. This also means you need the appropriate CPU/RAM combination to run the application attached to the large dataset. And that’s what X-IO means by edge computing.


Show Me Your Specs

[image via X-IO Technologies]


2RU form factor

4 socket Intel e5-26xx v4 CPUs

  • 16 to 88 cores and 24 to 176 threads
  • Core optimised or frequency optimised

32 DIMMs, 16GB – 2TB

  • Optional NVDIMMs for storage cache

Industry-Standard NVMe Storage

  • Up to 72x 2.5” NVMe SSDs
  • 460TB of NVMe Flash with 6.4TB NVMe SSDs (1PB coming)
  • >12 Million IOPS, as low as 35 microseconds latency, 60GBs sustained
  • Optane ready

Optional offload modules

  • 2x Intel Phi – CPU extension for parallel compute
  • 2x Nvidia K2 GPU – Video processing, VDI
  • 2x Nvidia P100 Tesla – Sci Comp, Machine Learning
  • Solarflare Precision Timing Protocol (PTP) Packet Capture (PCAP) offload



X-IO’s FabricXpress is the magic that makes the product work as well as it does. X-IO says it extends the native PCIe bus significantly.

PCIe based Interconnect

  • Up to 72 NVMe SSDs – significantly more SSDs
  • Between server modules
  • Offload modules

Dual ported NVMe architecture

  • Allows access to the same data on the same SSD from both servers
  • Shared access for HA solutions
  • Enables independent server behaviour on shared data

[image courtesy of X-IO Technologies]


Networking and Offloading Module


  • 1×16 PCIe per server module for networking
  • Supports standard off the shelf NICs/HCAs/HBAs
  • Supports HHHL or FHHL cards
  • Ethernet, InfiniBand, FC
  • Up to 2x100GbE per module

Offloading Module

  • Two centre modules is replaced with single carrier
  • Holds two FHFL DW, x16 PCIe cards
  • Nvidia P100: +18.6 Teraflops (sp)
  • Nvidia V100: +30 Teraflops (sp)


Doing What at The Edge?

Edge Data Analytics Platform

The point of Axellio Edge is to ingest and analyse data at really very high speeds. The neat thing about this is that a 2RU chassis replaces a rack of scale out gear. X-IO claim that it’s “uniquely qualified for real-time big data analytics”.

[image courtesy of X-IO Technologies]


Conclusion and Further Reading

I hadn’t previously given a lot of thought to the particular use cases X-IO presented as being ideally suited to the Axellio Edge offering. My day job revolves primarily around large enterprises running ridiculously critical and crusty SQL-based applications (eww, legacy). Whilst I’ve had some experience with scientific types doing interesting things with data out in the middle of nowhere, it’s not been at the scale or speed that X-IO talked about. Aside from the fact that there’s a whole lot to like about Axellio in terms of speed and capability in this 2RU box, I also like the range of scenarios that this thing delivers.

We’re working with bigger and bigger data sets, and it’s getting harder and harder to move this close to our compute platform in a timely fashion. Particularly if that compute platform is sitting in public cloud. And even moreso if we have to respect the laws of physics (stupid physics!). Instead of trying to push a whole tonne of data from the source to the application, X-IO have taken a different approach and are bringing the data and processing back to the source.

The Axellio Edge isn’t going to be the right platform for everyone, but it seems that, if the use case lines up, it’s a pretty compelling offering. Coupled with the fact that people I’ve spoken to who have been X-IO customers have been very staunch advocates for the company. The people I had the pleasure of speaking with at X-IO are all very switched on and have put a lot of thought into what they’re doing.

For more information on PCIe, have a look here. You can also find more info on NVM Express here. You can grab a copy of the Axellio data sheet from here, and there’s a good whitepaper on edge computing and IoT that you can find here (registration required).