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.
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 🙂