Service provider hooks up commodity storage with Seanodes

Aenigma, an application hosting and cloud service provider based in London, found Seanodes' hardware-agnostic product more affordable than HP/ LeftHand Networks.

Application hosting and cloud service provider Aenigma (UK) Ltd. evaluated some of the new options that let users create networked storage using commodity servers, and found Seanodes stood out from the rest.

London-based Aenigma has more than 25 TB of storage, according to Geoff Weiner, managing technical director for the company. The company, says Weiner, serves "a small number of customers with big problems," often creating customized offerings to suit their needs.

Previously, the company had been using both FC and iSCSI SANs from vendors Weiner declined to name. Aenigma decided to eliminate FC, but wanted to ensure high availability with the new storage system it would deploy, through redundancy at the node (rather than the disk) level.

One of the vendors Weiner evaluated was LeftHand Networks, which sells iSCSI SAN software bundled with commodity servers from Hewlett-Packard, Dell or IBM. (LeftHand is currently in the process of being acquired by HP.)

Weiner said that LeftHand's product was appealing, but expensive. Meanwhile, storage software from startup Seanodes worked similarly—making commodity server hardware into an iSCSI SAN—but for about a tenth of the cost. "With LeftHand we would've committed to buying an NSM [Networked Storage Module] of a certain size, without knowing exactly how much we would really need," he said.

Aenigma wanted clusters, like those LeftHand creates, that could scale on the fly by adding a node, but wanted to pick or repurpose its own server hardware. (LeftHand's software is technically separate from the hardware nodes, but LeftHand's product reaches the customer prepackaged with hardware by channel partners). "Some of the other products we evaluated that provide that capability," Weiner said. "But many were built on top of Windows—some of them with drivers installed that weren't signed by Microsoft."

Weiner often visits universities to read research papers on technology, and during one of those visits a paper on Seanodes caught his eye. Aenigma now uses Seanodes clusters to offer high availability (HA) services and VMware hosting services to customers, with more than 25 TB of data under management so far.

"The ultimate result is a lot of peace of mind," Weiner said. "We know we have the redundancy to handle multiple simultaneous [node] failures, and we can handle them as a business activity rather than an emergency."

There are features that Weiner would like to see added to the Seanodes software, chiefly thin provisioning and data deduplication. "Exchange and SQL are great places to use [thin provisioning," he said. Weiner would also like to see support for multi-site HA failover. But, he said, "if they offered all that, they'd probably charge a lot more for it."

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