EMC completes offer for Isilon Systems

Isilon puts EMC into the clustered NAS file server market

EMC this week announced it completed its tender offer for Isilon Systems, a maker of high-end network-attached storage (NAS) systems.

Reports on the deal indicated EMC and Isilon couldn't agree on a price. EMC initially offered $2.25 billion for the company. The final offer of $33.85 per share represents a $2.16 billion bid.

EMC expects to complete its acquisition of Isilon this week. Isilon will become a division within EMC's Information Infrastructure Products business. Isilon founder and CEO Sujal Patel will report directly to Pat Gelsinger, EMC's chief operating officer of Information Infrastructure Products.

Isilon's clustered or parallel file system technology would be complimentary the structured data management software EMC acquired with Greenplum earlier this year.

Currently, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), is working on a draft standard for a parallel network file system (pNFS). The standard file protocol allows client servers to directly access files that are striped across multiple servers or storage arrays through a single domain name space. The direct access to files allows the servers to bypass NAS heads that can be the source of an I/O bottleneck.

Brent Welch, director of software architecture at NAS vendor Panasas, said the advantage of the pNFS protocol is that it's basically a standard client for high performance file systems, which would bring high performance computing to commercial NAS systems.

EMC's other complimentary acquisition, Greenplum, sells a data warehouse platform based on a massively parallel processing (MPP) architecture that can scale out to hundreds of servers running a single database instance.

Greenplum's software is used in business analytics and is flexible in the different business applications for which it can be used. For example, Greenplum has more than 100 customers that include large retailers such as Sears and Sony as well as financial services entities such as Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange or telecommunications providers such as Vodafone and Skype.

Isilon's product, which it calls IQ nodes, are a modular NAS array that use the company's proprietary OneFS operating software to store and serve up large digital files that include audio, photos and video content. Nearly one-third of Isilon's customers are in the media business.

EMC is paying a premium price for Isilon. The public, Seattle-based company reported $123.9 million in sales in 2009 and $114.4 million the previous year. But with Isilon, EMC also gets the company's 1,400 customers, which include MySpace.com, NASA, NBC, and Paramount Pictures.

Along with Isilon, other clustered NAS vendors include Panasas, NetApp and BluArc. Clustered NAS systems offer a more economic way to build large-scale storage infrastructures without having to invest in proprietary, monolithic arrays. Using the pNFS protocol, a clusters NAS system would be cheaper because it could use commodity servers like building blocks, adding them incrementally to clusters without disruption to the existing system.

Mike Eisler, senior technical director for NetApp and an IETF editor, said the dominant play for pNFS today and in the future will be Linux clients using the VMware hypervisor as an alternate way to virtualize disk storage.

"In terms of Linux, the foundation pieces for pNFS code got checked in last year," he said. "In terms of what the impact will be, think of PNFS as primarily a better way for NFS to utilize the network and use NFS servers and other resources on it."

Panasas's Welch, who is also on the IETF pNFS standards body, said his company's clustered NAS products is pNFS compatible today. "We're just waiting for Linux clients to become more ubiquitous. We're not gaining sales on pNFS yet," hesaid. "As the Linux client business becomes more available in the later half of 2011, you'll will hear more from vendors describing their support of pNFS."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at  @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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