Nexsan Targets Clouds with a 'FASTier' of SSD Storage

By Pedro Hernandez

On Tuesday, March 6, Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Nexsan officially launches its latest mid-market storage line, the NST5000 series. The storage systems provider is billing the NST5000 line as "true unified storage" -- supporting both NAS and SAN protocols -- that improves performance equally, and across all use cases, with a FASTier caching layer that incorporates solid-state drives (SSDs).

Adding a flash component to storage hardware has proven popular in recent weeks, with companies like IBM, Starboard Storage and Tegile debuting arrays with SSD options. With the latest iteration of its FASTier technology, Nexsan believes it has found the right balance of solid-state storage components for speeding up large databases, virtual environments and clouds.

FASTier caching is comprised of DRAM and enterprise-grade SLC SSDs, which work in concert with the write journals produced in the NST5000's controllers to deliver fast performance for data-intensive workloads like those produced by virtualization and large databases, said Don Chouinard, director product marketing for Nexsan.

"The biggest databases in the world use a write journal," said Chouinard. Nexsan's FASTier works as a high-speed, DRAM-powered conduit to disk storage that keeps a second copy of a write journal and aggregates write blocks so SSDs don't incur "flash wear." This provides an extra measure of data protection.

Chouinard explained that this setup allows for snappy system response times since applications aren't waiting for successful writes to the hard drives. Simply put, FASTier will "take the write journal, put it in RAM, take it down and apply it to a database," says Chouinard. It's a setup that delivers triple the random I/O performance of SATA drives or the equivalent of 15K SAS drives at five times the storage density, according to the company.

Nexsan's technology mix addresses the challenges that are pushing CIOs toward unified SAN/NAS systems, according to Mark Peters, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group. "The combination of unremitting data growth, a still-cautious macro-economic climate and massively higher expectations of IT, means users are not only seeking better cost structures in their infrastructure but simultaneously want better performance and application support," he said.

"Nexsan can provide that mix with its FASTier enabled NST5000, by delivering significant advances in unified storage that can help IT organizations to economically increase their productivity in both highly virtualized and/or cloud computing environments," he added.

Three models make up the NST5000 line: the NST5100, NST5300 and NST5500. At the top end, the systems can be outfitted with dual controllers, each with two six-core Intel Xeon processors, and 192 GB of RAM. With an upper limit of 3TB, FASTier can "hold entire working sets" automatically and without manual intervention, according to Nexsan.

Network connectivity is provided by two to 12 1GbE and four 10GbE ports. Hard disk options include up to 3 TB 7.2K SAS drives for the NST5100, up to 3 TB SATA drives for NST5300 and NST5500, and 600 GB 15K SAS drives for all three models. The NST5500 can scale up to 1080 TB.

SSD RAID: Feature Non Grata

Although RAID protection figures prominently in the NST5000's data protection feature set -- it boasts up to 12 RAID engines -- you will not find its SSDs linked into a RAID configuration. "We didn't RAID them," said Chouinard, adding that the practice of applying RAID to flash-based storage is "horrible for performance."

"It's the writes that can kill you on a RAID system," he said. Over time, the constant writes in the name of data protection prematurely age the SSDs, he went on to explain. He adds that between DRAM, SSD storage and primary disk storage, there's plenty of redundancy to go around without sending pricey flash drives to an early grave.

But there's another storage tech "AID" that the company thinks data center operators will appreciate. Nexsan's AutoMAID can help lower energy costs by up to 85 percent by spinning down disks when they're not in use. It takes some configuration, but the option can help keep the system running greener and cooler by powering up drives on an as-needed basis when scheduled, non-critical or seldom-invoked tasks come into play.

Nexsan's NST5000 line is available now via its channel partners. Pricing starts at $16,000 for a base NST5100.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of IT-related websites and as the Green IT curator for GigaOM Pro. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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This article was originally published on March 05, 2012