Coraid releases ZX-Series NAS – rides file data explosion into big data

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Coraid has today released its new ZX-Series family of NAS servers which integrate with its existing EtherDrive SAN to create a high performance unified (NAS/SAN) storage solution supporting block and file data. It is powered by Oracle Solaris ZFS file system.

At the same time, the company, which began by focusing on SMBs, is pushing up the food chain on the back of massive storage scale-out capability (currently to a theoretical limit of 65,000 racks representing many petabytes (PBs)). This means it is now starting to attack the big data market, for instance, through appropriate channel partners. The need to capture, store and analyse ever-increasing sets of data challenges the scalability limits of legacy NAS systems – and the Coraid architecture offers a way out.

A major plus point is Coraid’s use of using ATA over Ethernet (AoE) for data delivery (which I explained when I previously wrote on Coraid last year). This uses Ethernet’s own frames and results in flat, connectionless and massively parallel transmission without bottlenecks with 10GbE supported. This is low-cost as well as very simple to manage and, for instance, add more capacity – not least because the total capacity appears to the system as a single disk of direct-attached storage (or V-DAS).Performance is also enhanced by separate read- and write-optimised flash caches.

This is complemented by advanced data protection and capacity efficiency from features such as triple-parity RAID, redundant array of independent nodes (RAIN), active-active clustering option, unlimited snapshots, with clones and replication for data protection, and de-duplication and compression to minimise total capacity.

More interesting going forward (to me at least), is that it sweeps away most of the now superfluous accumulated storage access complexity built into most legacy storage systems, so the company claims a 50% or more reduction in cost versus some of the big vendors.

“V-DAS is easy to grow and reconfigure,” CEO Kevin Brown told me last week. “This is diametrically opposed to old storage which was [originally] designed for a couple of big apps; it is well-engineered but over-complicated and expensive. We use ‘lego’ building blocks.”

Not that the company plans to directly take on the big six storage vendors who have 80% of the $30bn market. It has enough on its plate coping with rapidly increasing demand in the rest. (It is anyway likely is that some existing big six users will approach Coraid, initially to try out the technology, and it will make inroads that way.)

Although a fairly recent VC start-up, Coraid now has some 1,500 customers worldwide (about 300 in EMEA) including big names such as Sony, GE, Ford and Samsung. It has grown 10-fold in 2.5 years and added 150 jobs.

Brown was fairly dismissive of some recent solid state disk (SSD)-only start-ups. “Every vendor now has lots of flash. That’s not the next big thing. The trick is to take advantage of democratisation. It is not only ‘how do you scale incrementally but how do you scale like Amazon does?'” he said – a reference to the flexibility and agility that this lego-block approach provides.

Other applications involving large data sets and massive throughput, which the company sees as appropriate to the ZX-Series, include editing for HD and 3D video formats and consumer behaviour analysis.

In practice, it is now suited to almost every type of workload that uses either block or file data in Windows or Linux – and for clouds in VMware – although there are a few bells and whistles to add (especially for block).

Other Coraid system features include real-time analysis and diagnosis of performance (to help enforce service levels for instance) and automated storage hierarchy with hybrid storage pools (containing DRAM, flash cache, and hard disks). Particularly attractive to mixed system customers, there is multiprotocol integration with secure data sharing between Windows, Linux, and UNIX environments – which the company says is seamless.

Coraid’s recent purchase of Yunteq indicates that policy-based automation may be coming down the line. Be assured that the company knows exactly where it’s going and why it has every chance of continuing to make great strides.