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Xiotech unveils self-healing storage systems at SNW

Dave Raffo, News Director
At Storage Networking World in Orlando this week Xiotech unveiled storage systems built on technology it acquired from Seagate last year, with two Emprise systems based on what it calls Intelligent Storage Element (ISE) technology.

Xiotech acquired Seagate's Advanced Storage Architecture last November. It got a 100-engineer group as part of the deal and raised £20m to fund bringing the technology to market. But since the deal, Xiotech kept a lid on the specifics of the technology and the resulting systems until a news conference Monday at SNW.

We rolled it against the wall, banged it around, shut power supplies and pulled cables to try and get it to fail. It didn't fail
Len Carella
chief technology officerNewsweek
According to Xiotech, an ISE reduces the two greatest causes of drive failure - heat and vibration - to provide more than 100 times the reliability of a regular disk drive enclosed in a typical storage system drive bay. On average, an ISE, the company said, will incur zero service events in five years of operation.

Xiotech's new system comes in two models. The dual-controller Emprise 7000 SAN system supports up to 64 ISEs and includes the same management features as the Xiotech Magnitude 3D 4000 platform, including intelligent provisioning and a replication suite. Like the Magnitude 3D, the Emprise 7000 supports Fibre Channel or iSCSI. It scales to 1 petabyte.

The second system, the Emprise 5000, is a DAS system that consists of one ISE and can be upgraded to a Model 7000. It supports Fibre Channel only.

Each ISE includes two sealed DataPacs, along with redundant power and cooling, battery backup for 96 hours and redundant Managed Reliability Controllers. The controllers provide RAID, cache and drive management. ISEs come in three capacities, depending on drive type: high performance (2.2 TB), balanced (4.8 TB) and high capacity (16 TB). Drive options are 3.5-inch 15,000rpm disks, 3.5-inch 7,200rpm disks and 2.5-inch 15,000rpm disks. Xiotech executives said the systems support solid-state drives, although they won't be available until later this year.

Steve Sicola, who came to Xiotech with the Seagate team and is now Xiotech's chief technology offier, said the Emprise 7000 is positioned as a midrange to high-end system. Xiotech calls the systems "self-healing" because they can rebuild drives quickly without data loss. "If [the Emprise] should fail, it heals itself," he said.

Then Sicola compared the self-healing Emprise to the Black Knight from Monty Python's The Holy Grail. "Most things are just a flesh wound." Sicola didn't delve deeply into the technology, but he said the packaging eliminates vibration and maximises cooling, and its drive technology recovers smaller increments of data to shorten recovery times.

He chided storage vendors for failing to change the foundation their systems have been built on during the last 20 years. "Caching RAID and device management are weighing down controllers," he said. "The solution is to move the intelligence close to the actual disk themselves and to virtualise the drives within the array. It's about preventing failures, it's about self-healing, it's about managed self-reliability."

Sicola said Xiotech had 14 early adopters for the Emprise, and one of them is US-based magazine Newsweek. Len Carella, Newsweek's chief technology officer, said his team happily tested Xiotech's self-healing claims with an Emprise 7000. "They told us try to break it. My guys really tried to break it," he said. "We rolled it against the wall and banged it around. I even walked up a few times, shut power supplies and pulled cables to try and get it to fail. It didn't fail."

Evidence that Emprise Intelligent Storage Element can repair itself

Newsweek has been a Xiotech customer for seven years, but Carella said he was skeptical when he first heard of the new system. "I thought it was vapourware," he said. "I wasn't sure what they meant until they showed us diagrams of what it looked like."

Carella said his team also reported at least one case of a drive repairing itself without going down or losing data. Now he said he's planning to use the Emprise 7000 to replace his Magnitude 3D as part of Newsweek's move to a new data centre in Manhattan. He envisions using the Emprise system and Dell servers to boot from the storage area network (SAN) and employ diskless workstations.

Xiotech's Emprise is part of a new wave of clustered I/O systems that are appearing. These are the grid systems that IBM acquired from startup XIV and those that newcomer Atrato launched last week.

The Emprise "has a lot of potential," said IDC analyst Benjamin Woo. "They're looking at it from the disk drive up. Most SAN vendors take garden-variety disk drives, but this is a new approach to data protection. The sealed disk DataPac has fewer moving parts."

Still, Woo said Xiotech has its work cut out for it when it comes to competing with larger storage vendors, such as EMC, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems and NetApp. "Xiotech is a $100 million [annual revenue] company in a space with $9 billion companies like EMC," he said. "This technology is new, and it's not fully tested yet."

Pricing for the Emprise 5000 begins at $20,000 (£10,000). Xiotech didn't give a starting price for the Emprise 7000, but it is expected to be priced in the same range as the Magnitude 3D 4000, whose price averages in the $80,000 (£40,000) to $100,000 (£50,000) range.


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