IBM announces massive NAS array for the cloud

New clustered NAS array can offer access to billions of files from anywhere on the Web

IBM today announced an enterprise-class network-attached storage (NAS) array that is capable of scaling to 14 petabytes under a single name space.

The rack-size array, called SONAS, for Scale Out Network-Attached Storage, is targeted at midsize and large enterprises. It's built in part on hardware and software developed for IBM's supercomputing systems.

IBM said its new clustered NAS array addresses one of the critical components of Cloud computing, which is to provide access to data anywhere any time, while also addressing costs associated with the explosion of storing and managing data.

David Vellante, co-founder of The Wikibon Project, a Web 2.0 community for IT professionals, said IBM is eyeing customers of NetApp Inc. and NAS market leader EMC Corp. "They also see it as an opportunity to commercialize [General Parallel File System] outside of the high-performance computing space," he said.

"Key will be how fast IBM can move and whether it does its typical internal IBM First strategy (i.e., Notes ahead of Exchange, DB2 ahead of Oracle)," Vellante added. "NetApp will start to scale out in its next [NAS] operating system release, so IBM needs to move faster than it usually does here."

SONAS can scale from 27TB of capacity using 60 15,000-rpm serial-attached SCSI disk drives with 450GB each. Or a base model can start at 60TB using 1TB Serial ATA drives and scale up to 7,200 drives and 14 petabytes. The list price for the NAS array starts at $500,000.

"SONAS will allow an organization to snap in resources seamlessly as information requirements increase, but it also provides the capability to scan up to a billion files of data in a matter of minutes," IBM said.

Terri McClure, an analyst at market research firm Enterprise Strategy Group, said that, thanks to the aftershocks of the economic slowdown, IT managers have shown growing interest in using commodity-based scale-out platforms in the data center.

McClure compared SONAS with Hewlett Packard Co.'s X9720 clustered file system, as well as clustered NAS systems from Isilon Systems Inc. and Panasas Inc.

Clustered storage systems provide massive throughput because of an increased port count that comes from cobbling many storage servers together into a single pool of disks and processors, all working on a similar task and all able to share the same data through a single global name space.

Earlier this week, Dell Inc. said it had placed a bid to purchase clustered NAS vendor Exanet Inc.

"Scale-out architectures bring a lot of operational efficiency to the table," McClure said. "With 2009 spending slowing to a near stop, scale-out interest mostly stayed just that: interest. In 2010, ESG expects that interest to translate into actual spending, aided by increased visibility from big-name vendors like EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, HP, IBM and NetApp as they continue to invest in scale-out offerings and validate commodity-based scale-out architectures for enterprise applications."

David Hill, an analyst at industry research firm Mesabi Group, said in a research note that "IBM saw the need for a higher-end solution."

"In IBM's view, classical NAS is general-purpose file storage that only allows capacity expansion behind one- or two-node clusters, making it most appropriate for the small to midrange market. Scalable NAS is the next step up," Hill said. "While it uses a single namespace to view all files, scalable NAS may well support limited node clustering for performance and capacity expansion, though its scaling is not necessarily linear or independent."

IBM said its SONAS array offers automated data tiering, meaning data can migrate between different disk drive types for higher or lower levels of performance based on preset policies.

"Every day, the equivalent of eight times the information that exists in all U.S. libraries combined is created," Doug Balog, vice president of disk systems at IBM, said in a statement. "Companies not only need to cost-effectively store that data, but they need to rapidly locate it and provide ubiquitous access to it instantly."

IBM said its policy-driven automation software for storage management can achieve increased utilization rates in file management systems, allowing a company to predefine where data is placed, when it is created, where and when it moves to in the storage hierarchy, where it's copied for disaster recovery, and when it will be eventually deleted.

The company also said SONAS should help companies save money by enabling them to consolidate hardware and thereby reduce capital costs. "It also minimizes ongoing administration and headcount costs and decreases operational expenditures by streamlining and simplifying the administration, backup, application and access to data," IBM said.

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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