Expect weighty issues when installing Atmos

A new user of EMC’s Atmos cloud storage product had weighty problems – literally and figuratively – when implementing its new systems.

Macquarie Telecom’s cloud spinoff Ninefold has adopted EMC’s Atmos for its new cloud storage offering, and says that the product is everything is in no way lightweight ... and that’s its problem.

“We started researching a cloud storage solution in April 2010” said Brian Goodman-Jones, Ninefold’s Innovation and Technology Manager. “We made trips to the USA and looked for alternatives and solutions. Atmos was already there, already had proven customer installations at scale and has an API that is quite widely adopted.”

“It was a solution that we could buy today,” Goodman-Jones concluded, so Ninefold did.

Installing the system was quite straightforward, other than the task of accommodating the WS2-360 node (PDF link) that is one of an undisclosed number of Atmos devices installed in Ninefold’s data centre. EMC says the node weighs more than 1100 kilograms and can house up to 360 disks, dimensions that Goodman-Jones says meant “the sheer weight of this amount of disk caused challenges in its own right, from a data centre perspective. The dimensions and the weight caught us out.”

Lavish assistance from EMC, which Goodman-Jones said provided a “direct line to the engineering team” helped to get the Atmos rig running. EMC also provided a lot of help with the significant challenge of building the systems to support Atmos’ operations as part of a public cloud service.

“Standing it up was less about the racking and stacking and more about integration with the cloud layer,” Goodman-Jones explained. “We had to integrate Atmos into the cloud layer that enables people to pay and bill. That was the most complex piece. We have separate billing and portal and cloud orchestration layer systems that sit on top of Atmos, which provisions the storage and tracks the usage. We need to take that usage data and massage it into what we want it to be and present that to the user, not just in bill form but also in realtime.”

Complicating matters further is the nature of Ninefold’s product. “We have the smarts to create users and we operate a concept we call ‘projects’ that means one customer account can set up multiple bills and invoices and thresholds,” Goodman-Jones explained. “The Atmos platform lets you create user accounts and groups of storage volumes,” but the rest meant more integration between Atmos and Ninefold’s own applications.

Backup was another challenge. “The thing about cloud is that you have to maintain mutliple copies of the data,” Goodman-Jones said. “You have to design a policy that define how you store the data, how you make it redundant, what kind of file format you store it in.”

Ninefold’s answer is to store data in multiple copies across multiple Atmos nodes, but all on one site.

“We surveyed customers about the risks that come with one site and they were more focussed on flexibility, credit card payments, low latency and local support,” Goodman-Jones said.    

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