It’s no secret that the enterprise storage market is growing, fueled by insatiable storage demands, and this big problem just can’t be ignored in order to pinch pennies this year.
Most companies need to address storage issues even if they aren’t spending on anything else. So once you make your storage spend, how do you know that you’ve made the right choice and chosen a solution that is scalable, extensible, high-performance, reliable, and available? And above all, will there be unanticipated maintenance costs and downtime?
Xiotech goes where few other storage vendors go in terms of a commitment to high availability and fault tolerance-and then adds an intuitive and powerful management GUI.
The Emprise 7000 is actually a group of products: a single ICON (1U), dual Emprise 7000 Controllers (each 2U) and one Emprise 7000 ISE (Intelligent Storage Element) with upwards of 5 terabytes capacity, all for about $95,000. Customers can then scale up by adding more ISEs. By contrast, the Emprise 5000 will run you about $40,000. Most customers aren’t buying 1 TB, more like dozens of TB and up into the petabyte range.
Xiotech’s Emprise 7000 ISE is very well designed. All subsystems are modular and field-replaceable. It is overall a tight little package for all that you get. The ISE is a 3U module that mounts 20 3.5-inch or 40 2.5-inch drives on two aluminum frames, called DataPacs, in back-to-back pairs, so the drives’ rotational vibrations negate each other. DataPacs become the unit of physical storage. Data is stripped across drives, DataPacs, and even ISEs transparently, quickly and efficiently using the ICON Manager GUI. Each ISE also includes dual active/active controllers with 1 GB of battery-backed-up cache and 4-Gbps Fibre Channel interfaces.
The typical way to grow the Emprise storage infrastructure is by adding 1.1-, 2.4-, or 8-TB DataPacs. This way, as you add storage capacity, you’re also increasing reliability and availability while preserving performance by adding more RAID controllers and more cache memory. On a typical array, adding more drive shelves for new applications would mean sharing I/O channels and cache. An Emprise 7000 system can manage as many as 64 ISEs for as much as a petabyte of storage.
We tested at Xiotech’s New York City facility using an ingeniously racked test center consisting of an Emprise 7000 system, an Emprise 5000 system, two Dell 1950 servers, two Cisco Systems 9124 Fibre Channel switches, power management, and an Ethernet switch mounted in a single 22U portable shock rack that weighs roughly 800 pounds. One of the Dell servers ran Windows Server 2003 and the other ran VMware ESX 3.5.
Everything can be controlled through the ICON Manager GUI, which achieves an excellent balance between ease of use and power. I was able to easily create and resize volumes on the fly and assign them to specific servers from the Server View page. Snapshotting, which can be done on the same unit or between geographically separated units, can be set up with a few clicks.
From the Storage View, I right-clicked a volume, then selected Snapshots, at which point I could choose to run one immediately or schedule a recurring snapshot. Snapshots can be configured to be made at specific intervals (give me an exact copy of the entire volume every three hours) or can be configured for “copy on write,” a way of describing continuous data protection where snapshots are made on the fly every time a change is written to the original volume.
Other helpful views from within ICON Manager focus on the physical status of the units and the statistics for each volume. Environmental View gives administrators a quick way to ascertain the physical health (temperature, system utilization, power supply, fan status) of a system. In addition, each system includes the Xiotech Active Watch service, where the units send alerts back to Xiotech’s monitoring center for improved customer support.
Five-Year Warranty Included
Speaking of customer support, XioTech is so confident in its hardware design and the quality of subsystems that every unit includes a five-year warranty on parts and service.
One of the features I was most interested in testing is Virtual View, an add-on to ICON Manager that dramatically simplifies the task of-and decreases the management overhead of-creating, replicating, moving, and resizing virtual disk or VMDK (virtual machine disk format) files.
At eWEEK Labs, we work with a lot of VMware virtual machines for testing. Provisioning and maintaining those virtual machines is a lot of work. Many enterprises are discovering the same thing, namely that now that a “server” is really just a file on a disk, there are a whole new set of challenges to manage that server.
The use of Web services-based integration between various IT infrastructure hardware and software for management purposes is a growing trend. Many of the software big boys, such as Oracle, Microsoft and VMware, can utilize Web services-based requests for server, network and storage resources directly. In many cases, this means that as an admin, you don’t need to dive into three different interfaces to provision a new virtual machine.
In the case of Xiotech’s Virtual View, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could reduce the usual 16 steps of provisioning a new VMware VMDK to a right-click. After filling in the volume’s name, assigning it to a server, and setting the size, it was done.
Equally significant is that I was able to resize a VMDK instantly directly from the Virtual View interface. In an environment where you spend a lot of time building, backing up, moving, and resizing virtual machines as VMDK or rdm files, then Virtual View will simplify those tasks so much that you might even get to leave the office before dinner. XioTech will add support for Microsoft’s HyperV and Citrix’s XEN virtualization offerings in the future.
I didn’t assess performance in any meaningful way, although I can provide some information. I ran Iometer 2006.07.27 from one of the Dell servers and eventually cranked performance up to 8,500 I/O per second, but that’s not a particularly relevant way of testing a device of this caliber. As evidence that this is an atypical load, when I created a new volume and snapshotted it on the Emprise 7000 while running Iometer, I/Os per second were cut in half. I can say that from my experience with enterprise storage, the GUI is responsive and actions such as creating a volume and snapshotting take place rapidly.
According to Xiotech, the Emprise 5000 is the current record holder in price/performance on the SPC-1 and SPC-2 benchmarks: A single ISE churned out 5,892 I/Os per second for $20,800, for a net price/performance figure of $3.52 per I/Os per second, less than 25 percent of the cost of conventional arrays.
The Xiotech Emprise 7000 is a high-availability SAN solution that will serve you well if you can take advantage of it. In a mission-critical environment with a high-volume of storage service requests, the combination of extremely fault-tolerant hardware design and the easy-to-use ICON manager will be well worth the price.
Matthew D. Sarrel is executive director of Sarrel Group, an IT test lab, editorial services, and consulting firm in New York City.