Can ONStor's green Cougar pounce on the enterprise?

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Written By: Peter Williams
Published: 21st July, 2008
Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

My focus is on storage and infrastructure management so it is unusual for me to review new network-based equipment. What interests me about the ONStor Cougar announcement last week is how it might impact enterprise storage management.

ONStor's Cougar is a NAS gateway storage solution; primarily it doubles (and more) the capacity and throughput of its own Bobcat predecessor. As with the Bobcat, Cougar units can be sold purely to form a clustered NAS gateway fronting other companies' storage arrays, or with its own storage arrays attached. ONStor's gateways already front storage arrays from most vendors, the favourites being Nexsan, Engenio and Hitachi.

A gateway's performance is crucial. It can be a bottleneck to overall storage throughput but Cougar can cope with a huge 3MB/s (double that of Bobcat). Its heterogeneity to handle any array or protocol means, from a management perspective, that the overall network is largely unaffected even if the storage arrays behind the gateway are constantly being swapped out for more capacity.

Looking at raw storage capacity, both Bobcat and Cougar can start with a mere 2GB then expand incrementally—Bobcat to 1PB but Cougar on up to 4PB. In market terms, these capacity and throughput performance figures mean Cougar has broken loose from ONStor's mid-range roots into enterprise-level capacity scalability—to attack the likes of long-time suppliers such as Network Appliance (NetApp) and EMC.

The way the raw performance figures are achieved is interesting, at least to the techies. The clustered NAS filer uses a 64-bit pipelined architecture with 2xQuad MIPS processors plus the operating systems (achieving a maximum of 18 cores per system) with 8Gb/s Ethernet or 8x4Gb/s fibre channel ports and a TCP offload built in. Memory is currently 12 or 16GB (expandable to 32GB in future). As you would expect, there is full hot-swap redundancy built in—and all this in a compact 2U chassis.

What this means in practice is 840 MB/s sequential read gateway performance (basically the 8Gb/E line rate) and a still outstanding 700 MB/s sequential write (array-limited)—benchmarked to 101,000 SpecSFS operations per filer. The company claims this means it achieves 1.5–2 times the price-performance of all competitors and with linear performance scaling.

Other features include PCI Express (native QLogic or Connectix) and the ability to include data de-duplication, encryption and compression (all of which are becoming standard requirements if used in a back-up and archiving environment at least).

But what may also help turn the heads of enterprises is the surprisingly low energy consumption—300W for the 2U unit—and space-saving. ONStor says Cougar achieves 4x the space and 3x power and cooling savings for the same data capacity; the latter is partly achieved through using MIPS processors which have evolved to achieve a lean, efficient pipeline that uses less than half the power of an x86.

All of this needs to be set in the context of rocketing data storage needs—and what that means for IT management. A first thumbs up is that I see little reason for a Cougar NAS gateway to upset existing management procedures; yet it could well provide an immediate fix to storage throughput problems affecting SLAs. A by-product may be that faster data streaming applications can be handled for the first time in some businesses.

There is also a good green (as well as cost) message; wow, the world's first green Cougar! The NAS gateway with storage could immediately address limitations in a data centre with space, power usage, heat dissipation and so on—and reduce ongoing running costs. This can be taken further by the small incremental storage expansion capability; this can keep unused capacity to a minimum (without even deploying virtualisation or thin provisioning), again minimising power and space problems.

ONStor means business as it sees enterprises engaged in rapid globalisation as being prime targets. The company told me it was seeing customers adopting the largest clusters they could get, partly to get five 9s availability; it has one customer with 28 Bobcats.

Taken together these factors do provide a positive management message—and I will be watching with interest to see how the storage vendor "big boys" react.

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