Monthly Archives: April 2010

Xiotech Storage Blade – 101

How Xiotech Storage Blades have the potential to change the storage paradigm.

It’s inevitable, whether I’m talking with a value added reseller (VAR) or a net-new prospect, I’m always asked to explain how our solution is so different then everyone else’s.  I figured it was a great opportunity to address this in a blog post. 

Xiotech recently released a whitepaper authored by Jack Fegreus of OpenBench Labs.  His ISE overview was so spot on that I wanted to copy/paste some of the whitepaper here.  I would encourage you to read his full whitepaper as well, which includes his testing results.  I’m pretty sure you will be as impressed as I was.

Before you continue reading, I need you to take a moment to suspend everything you understand about storage architecture, both good and bad.  I would like you to read this post with an open mind, setting aside your biases as much as possible.  If you can do this, it will make a LOT more sense.


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The heart of ISE—pronounced, “ice”— technology is a multi-drive sealed DataPac with specially matched Seagate Fibre Channel drives. The standard drive firmware used for off-the-shelf commercial disks has been replaced with firmware that provides detailed information about internal disk structures. ISE leverages this detailed disk structure information to access data more precisely and boost I/O performance on the order of 25%. From a bottom line perspective, however, the most powerful technological impact of ISE comes in the form of autonomic self-healing storage that reduces service requirements.

In a traditional storage subsystem, the drives, drive enclosures and the system controllers are all manufactured independently. That scheme leaves controller and drive firmware to handle all of the compatibility issues that must be addressed to ensure device interoperation. Not only does this create significant processing overhead, it reduces the useful knowledge about the components to a lowest common denominator: the standard SCSI control set.

Relieved of the burden of device compatibility issues, ISE tightly integrates the firmware on its Managed Reliability Controllers (MRCs) with the special firmware used exclusively by all of the drives in a DataPac. Over an internal point-to-point switched network, and not a traditional arbitrated loop, MRCs are able to leverage advanced drive telemetry and exploit detailed knowledge about the internal structure of all DataPac components. What’s more, ISE architecture moves I/O processing and cache circuitry into the MRC.
A highlight of the integration between MRCs and DataPacs is the striping of data at the level of an individual drive head. Through such precise access to data, ISE technology significantly reduces data exposure on a drive. Only the surfaces of affected heads with allocated space, not an entire drive, will ever need to be rebuilt. What’s more, precise knowledge about underlying components allows an ISE to reduce the rate at which DataPac components fail, repair many component failures in-situ, and minimize the impact of failures that cannot be repaired. The remedial reconditioning that MRCs are able to implement extends to such capabilities as remanufacturing disks through head sparing and depopulation, reformatting low-level track data, and even rewriting servo and data tracks.

ISE technology transforms the notion of “RAID level” into a characteristic of a logical volume that IT administrators assign at the time that the logical volume is created. This eliminates the need for IT administrators to create storage pools for one or more levels of RAID redundancy in order to allocate logical drives. Also gone is the first stumbling block to better resource utilization: There is no need for IT administrators to pre-allocate disk drives for fixed RAID-level storage pools. Within Xiotech’s ISE architecture, DataPacs function as flexible RAID storage pools, from which logical drives are provisioned and assigned a RAID level for data redundancy on an ad hoc basis.

What’s more, the ISE separates the function of the two internal MRCs from that of the two external Fibre Channel ports. The two FC ports balance FC frame traffic to optimize flow of I/O packets on the SAN fabric. Then the MRCs balance I/O requests to maximize I/O throughput for the DataPacs.

In effect, Xiotech’s ISE technology treats a sealed DataPac as a virtual super disk and makes a DataPac the base configurable unit, which slashes operating costs by taking the execution of low-level device-management tasks out of the hands of administrators. This heal-in-place technology also allows ISE-based systems, such as the Emprise 5000, to reach reliability levels that are impossible for standard storage arrays. Most importantly for IT and OEM users of the Emprise 5000 storage, Xiotech is able to provide a five-year warranty that eliminates storage service renewal costs for a five-year lifespan.


Now, I’m going to keep this same open mind when I say the following: the Emprise 5000 storage blade just makes storage controllers better.  We make one and we’ve seen it first-hand.  We saw a significant jump in performance once we moved from the typical drive bays and drives that everyone else uses with the ISE.  Not to mention, with its native switch fabric architecture, it allowed us to scale our Emprise 7000 storage controllers to 1PB of capacity.  What’s really cool (open mind for me) is we’ve improved performance and reliability for a lot of storage controllers like DataCore, FalconStor, IBM-SVC and HDS USP-V, not to mention significant boosts as well for applications and OS’s. 

Feel free to close your mind now 🙂



The Time for Storage Blades

The time for Storage Blades.

 I’m writing this blog from the El Dorado Resort in the Riviera Maya Mexico while sipping some sort of Frozen Blue Hawaiian cocktail, so my life at the moment doesn’t suck.  When most people are catching up on the latest Twilight novel, or Andre Agassi’s biography, I’m flipping through whitepapers and tech docs I’ve been printing out for the last few weeks.  For those of you that do a great job of “unhooking” from work during vacations, I applaud you. 

I was reading through a few things, and it’s becoming clear to me that the industry is at a crossroads.  I liken this to the same situation the server vendors went through just 6 or 7 years ago with the deployment of server blade technology.  I recall talking with a large independent school district in West Texas back then about connecting the new IBM BladeCenter with our Magnitude 3D solution.  The BladeCenter was a new thing, and this customer was searching for an ability to reduce rack space as well as cost predictability when deploying future applications.  Since then, blade servers have proliferated to the point that they’re typically the server of choice for deploying server hardware.  Virtual servers have taken this to another level.  It’s not uncommon for companies to fully understand the number of virtual machines a certain model Blade can support and buy different types of blades based on those requirements.

I think the storage industry is at this pivot point as well.  We can accurately tell you within a few GB’s the capacity predictability of a solution we quote, so why is it that we have a difficult time being that predictable with performance?  We still get speechless when customers ask what sort of performance predictability can I expect today, in 1 year, in 3 years and in 5 years.  This is going to become MORE important as virtual desktops and other IOP-hogging applications become more mainstream.  I’ve stopped being surprised when talking with channel partners as they recite problems when they deployed a certain storage vendor’s solution and they find out 3 months later it was undersized. Een though according to the vendor’s tools, it was sized according to the vendor’s best practice, and the customer still runs into performance issues as they ramp up the use of the solution.  What’s even more surprising is the storage vendor’s near-giddy response when telling them how they can solve this issue.  SSD anyone?  Can you spare a few tens of thousands of dollars after you’ve already blown your budget on the acquisition to purchase 2 SSD drives? Just to solve a performance issue?

Maybe it’s time for the storage industry to look at Storage Blades as a means to meet this performance/capacity predictability paradigm.  Imagine looking at storage as a building block for an overall storage strategy that allows you to be predictable in both capacity and performance so your sizing of application deployment becomes easier and more cost effective. Imagine knowing the dollars per IOP per Rack Unit on the life of the storage blade?  In other words, you can expect X IOPS per RACK Unit for the 5 year life expectancy of the storage solution.  Imagine being able to do this knowing that the predictability is based on running the storage solutions at 97% utilized  This begins to put you on par with the capacity planning you’ve grown accustomed to knowing.

I believe that Storage Blade architecture has the ability to bring the storage industry to a crossroads.  Do we continue piling on features and functions, already found in typical applications and OS’s, and live with horrible utilization rates and the inability to predict basic performance results?  Or should we stop this controller feature crawl and hit the big issues at hand: cost, capacity and performance predictability?  Storage Blades, like their server brethren, can possibly be the means to this end.  If nothing more, for certain applications, Storage Blades just make perfect sense. 

Oh well – I just saw someone order a Frozen Mojito that looks really good.  Back to the grind that is my vacation 🙂


The COOL things Xiotech is doing with RESTful API

The COOL things Xiotech is doing with RESTful API !!

(Video Demo at the bottom)

So, if you remember a few weeks ago I blogged about Commvault’s launching of their RESTful interface connector.   Well, one of the cool things to come out of this spring’s Storage Networking World in Orlando is Xiotech’s release of our CorteX Control Path RESTful API.  As far as I know, Xiotech is the only Storage Vendor pushing this sort of announcement out.  For cloud providers, this is the ultimate in flexibility around monitoring and managing storage blades.   Just as an example, in the Xiotech booth we are showing our new iPhone/iPad Application called ISEview.

  This should be in the Apple iTunes store in the next few weeks.  Well, as soon as we can get our developer to stop “tweaking/adding” cool things to it. 🙂   


Today this app is more useful in showing what can be done when you move to an open system, RESTful API.  In talking with the developers and marketing, we have some really cool things we want to add to this as we move forward.  As you can see from above, we can view ISE performance statistics as well as look at the MRC’s (Managed Reliability Controllers) and DataPac, power supply and cache battery health as well as some log information.  I can’t wait to see what other things Karl Morgan and Todd Burkey will be adding to it later!!

While the iPhone/iPad app is a “Geeky cool thing to do” again it speaks to what RESTful can do.  In our SNW booth we are also showing some work that Olocity did in their StorageIM monitoring product. 


My understanding is using our RESTful API SDK they were able to add our Emprise 5000 into their monitoring suite in only a few days.

Anyway, over the next few days I hope to catch up on some blogging, and also post a summary of “what I learned at SNW” so stay tuned.  BUT, no promises J

@StorageTexan <–Follow me on twitter!!

PS – thanks for @SFoskett for video taping a demo of the iPad / iPhone Application user interface.