By Henry Baltazar  |  Posted 2006-07-17 Print this article Print

Nexsan Technologies SATABeast sets new highs for storage density by packing 21TB of raw storage into a 4U (7-inch) chassis. The SATABeast also has a couple of innovative features that should make it an excellent target for long-term data storage and disk-to-disk backup.

A fully loaded SATABeast, with 21TB of raw capacity, costs $42,100, a price that should appeal to IT managers looking for relatively inexpensive storage. And with SATA (Serial ATA) hard drives already at 750GB in size and soon to hit the 1TB mark, eWeek Labs expects the SATABeast to jump up to 42TB in capacity in the near future.

Nexsan has recently added RAID 6 (dual-parity RAID) to the SATABeast, an extremely important feature that should make maintenance of the unit considerably easier. RAID 6 volumes can survive a two-drive failure, a great safety feature in a system with so many hard drives.

We were able to add the RAID 6 capabilities to our SATABeast unit by simply updating the SATABeast firmware. (Units shipping now will come with RAID 6 support.)

After the firmware upgrade, we were able to use the SATABeasts Web-based GUI to create RAID 6 volumes. The GUI has multiple sections and tabs that were a little confusing at first, but it didnt take us long to create and manage new RAID sets. In fact, we found the SATABeast relatively easy to set up and configure in general.

However, there is a trade-off for the units high density.

To install the hard drives, we had to remove the faceplate and the top cover of the chassis. Drives are loaded vertically into the SATABeast, from the top of the device. With most RAID arrays, drives are loaded from the front and are more easily accessible.

Taking care of fallen drives is not a fun chore with the SATABeast, but this inconvenience is the price you pay for having such high storage density in a small form factor, and the trouble is ultimately worth it.

Thankfully, though, the SATABeasts RAID 6 support and two hot-spare drives will save IT managers from having to open up the SATABeast chassis for maintenance for a fairly long time.

Another capability that will appeal to IT managers looking for long-term storage solutions is Nexsans AutoMAID functionality, which puts unused hard drives in idle mode. (The "MAID" in AutoMAID stands for Massive Array of Idle Disks.) AutoMAID is a useful feature that will also help to prolong the life of the drives in the SATABeast. AutoMAID runs in the background and can put RAID sets, as well as individual disks, into idle mode.

The AutoMAID power savings capabilities were fairly easy to configure on our test unit. Using the Web-based interface, we were able to set up three different idle thresholds for our drives. In the first idle mode, the SATABeast parks the hard drive heads of drives that have not been accessed recently. If the drive remains idle beyond the second threshold, the SATABeast reduces the rotational speed of the drive. After the third and final threshold, the SATABeast can completely stop the spinning of an idle drive.

The SATABeast has dual controller blades, each containing twin 2G-bps Fibre Channel ports and a single iSCSI port. We liked the flexibility that the iSCSI and Fibre Channel connectivity options afford, making it easy to hook multiple and different kinds of servers into the SATABeast.

Looking at the chassis, it is apparent that Nexsan engineers have expended a lot of effort to make sure that adequate airflow runs through the SATABeast—hard drives will remain cool even when the device is running at high utilization.

One thing Nexsan hasnt been able to overcome is the noise factor: One consequence of SATABeasts impressive storage density is the excessive noise that is created by the cooling fans. This should not be a concern when the SATABeast is used in a data center rack, but it will make life miserable for anyone who has to sit next to it full time.

Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be contacted at henry_baltazar@ziffdavis.com.

Next Page: Evaluation Shortlist.


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