Isilon – Scale-Out NAS

EMC recently aquired Isilon.  This is a technology geared toward storing LOTS of data on an single huge filesystem.  Prior to the EMC acquisition and some recent product training I had no exposure to Isilon or even knew what they did.  When I sat through the first product training for Isilon my first impression was “damn that is awesome”….. and that doesn’t happen often.

First let me say that this product has very specific market and most people reading this blog (if there are any ) will probably not have a dying need for it but the capabilities and ease of configuration are impressive.  Isilon is a Scale-Out NAS solution that allows you to have one big file system.  By “big” I mean Petabytes!  It is a RAIN based system similar to EMC Avamar where you have a series of redundant nodes comprising the solution.  These nodes are integrated together on the backend using a very fast Infiniband network.  On the frontend it supports most of the industry standard protocols such as NFS, CIFS, HTTP, FTP……    With this RAIN type architecture your data is written across the nodes and provide incredible redundancy. On top of that you can set your redundancy level from N+1 to N+4 whereby you could loose 4 complete nodes and still not loose any data. RAIN architecture and N+ availability is certainly nothing new but the capability to do this with a single file system up to 10PB is definitly impressive.

All this is great but by far the coolest part of this system is how easy it is to expand it.  Just like Avamar if you need more capacity you slap on another node.  Unlike Avamar once you slap on that node – configuration of that node takes 60 seconds!  The system automatically rebalances itself across all nodes which obviously takes more than 60 seconds but from an end-user effort standpoint a minute or two is all that is required.  Why can’t all storage be that easy?!

There are lots of uses for this technology including archiving and backup but it really made its name is in the video and multimedia industry such as TV stations and cable networks.  If you are a company that creates and stores huge video and audio files this is the solution for you.  Even if you’re not CNN you can still benefit from this technology though.  From a cost per GB standpoint you can get down in the neighborhood of $1/GB and systems start with as few a 3 nodes.  So depending on your environment, this could make a very feasilble backup target or archiving platform.

The nodes for Isilon systems come in a couple flavors from high speed with SSD disks to large capacity with SATA disks.  The cool part is that these various type nodes can all be combined in the same system.  There is also a full array of enterpise software for snapshots, replication, data protection and content delivery to handle just about anything you throw at it.

Isilon is certainly no replacement for a production SAN but I am impressed with what it can do and its easy of management.  So if you’re a company with large amounts of NAS data give Isilon a look.




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