News Analysis

Intransa launches 10 GigE IP SAN

Beth Pariseau, News Writer
Intransa Inc. announced the general availability of its StorStac PCU100 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) clustered storage controller, which can be combined with disk storage bricks from either Intransa or other vendors for a standalone 10 GigE iSCSI storage area network (SAN).

Other vendors, including BlueArc Corp. and Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp), have announced the addition, or in NetApp's case, intention to add by the end of the year, 10 GigE connectivity to their existing disk arrays. The PCU100, by contrast, is a 10 GigE controller that can be clustered up to four ways in an active-active configuration and paired with a Storage Capacity Enclosure (SCE).

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The box uses a Neterion Technologies Xframe 10 GigE iSCSI adaptor and supports multiple SCEs that range in capacity from 3.75 terabytes (TB) to 12 TB of RAID storage each and are designed to support 1 petabyte (PB) of aggregate capacity in a multienclosure system. As yet, the largest tested implementation of the system consisted of 15 enclosures with 180 TB.

The product, which has been in beta tests at user facilities since January, will be aimed first at vertical markets, including medical imaging, video surveillance and IPTV, all of which need high streaming throughput rates. IOPs, meanwhile, remain lower than Fibre Channel with 10 GigE devices because the Fibre Channel protocol remains more efficient than Ethernet.

Intransa's vice president of marketing, Jeff Whitney, said his company's product can be compared to Isilon Systems Inc.'s clustered network-attached storage (NAS) systems, but for block storage. "Isilon specializes in big sequential reads and writes for files," he said. "What we're specializing in is big sequential reads and writes for Ethernet."

Applications play catch-up

One beta tester of the product, Dr. Douglas Gibbs, pathology bioinformatics manager at the University of Michigan, tested two StorStac System 10 GigE controllers and two SCE enclosures for a total capacity of 16 TB against a bioimaging program used to train medical students.

The application runs on Windows Server 2003, and while Gibbs said that drag-and-drop performance for his files was 137 megabytes per second (MBps), 42% faster than the 96 MBps he'd previously used or tested, he had trouble getting Windows to challenge the 10 GigE pipe.

According to Gibbs, this is because the Windows operating system uses packets of 64 KB when sending information, meaning that one of the 27 GB test files he was using required the transfer of hundreds of thousands of packets, which the operating system was not able to send out at the bandwidth levels offered by the PCU100.

Eventually, Gibbs said, he managed to put the system through its paces by using Softlink Ltd.'s FastCopy software, which uses much bigger packets to copy files. Using that software, Gibbs said, he began to see throughput of 750 MBps per controller.

"Even with Windows Server 2003, this system is still as fast or faster than anything anybody else has got now," he said, but it's beginning to expose bottlenecks elsewhere, including the operating system.

It's an issue that Whitney said Intransa is well aware of, and that's why it's also announcing a new certification program for software developers to test their applications against the 10 GigE system.

"Most applications have been tuned assuming a single data stream," he said. "For most software developers it's an easy fix, but it still takes time and testing."

Developers who sign up for the program can use Intransa's labs to test their software against at 10 GigE infrastructure, and the lab is offering them "trace analysis" on software tests to identify where bottlenecks lie in source code. So far, Whitney said companies including, VMware Inc., Microsoft, Abrevity Inc. and Ibrix Inc., have begun the testing.

Still, most popular applications aren't slated for 10 GigE readiness until at least later this year; Microsoft's promising 10 GigE support in its next version of Windows Server, code-named Longhorn, which is also still a long way off. But according to storage analysts, the long predicted 10 GigE IP SAN revolution has to start somewhere.

"Ten Gigabit Ethernet is a big deal, and people won't just throw it in," said Steve Duplessie, founder and analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). "Being able to test your applications against new 10 Gigabit infrastructure is going to be important, and Intransa is the first with the ability to test those apps against a storage infrastructure based on 10 Gigabit."

Pricing and availability

The Intransa StorStac PCU100 includes StorStac operating system software for failover, load balancing, volume management, snapshots, replication, multiple physical mirrors and mirror management. Manufacturer's suggested retail pricing (MSRP) for an Intransa StorStac PCU100 with 4TB is $76,400. The company's dual controller, the PCU20, will also now support 10 GigE. Pricing for a 10 GigE PCU20 with 4 TB of storage is $44,000. Products are generally available today from Intransa channel partners.


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