Imation’s Nexsan boosts storage value credentials with eMLC flash and 4TB SATA

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Nexsan Technologies has launched a range of high density storage systems, offering a five-fold increase in storage capacity up to 5PB and halved costs for its FASTier SSD cache capacity (also increased) by switching to enterprise multi-level cache (eMLC).

Its well-trailed hybrid NST5000 Series has three new models, the 5100, 5300 and 5500, all offering enhanced management capabilities and VMware vSphere server offloading through VMware’s VAAI API. It is hybrid because it unifies NAS and SAN, and CIFS, NFS and iSCSI protocols are able to run side by side; FASTier is also hybrid with volatile DRAM plus NVRAM solid state flash drives.

Nexsan estimates that, when fully populated with SATA drives alongside FASTier SSD, it will cost no more than $0.40 (40 cents) per GB. A top-end 5PB 5500 will achieve 54,000 IOPS. SAS, SATA and FASTier SSD can be mixed as needed, with Nexsan offering 4TB SATA drives for the first time.

Nexsan has focused primarily on the SMB/SME market, but the feature-functionality of its solutions have driven departmental and secondary data centres within medium and large enterprises, all attracted by low CAPEX and OPEX with ease of management – both further improved with this release. The company estimates that up to a third can be saved overall versus previous offerings.

The release follows hard on the heels of the announcement (January 2nd) of Nexsan’s acquisition by Imation, valuing the privately-held company at around $120m. For its part, Imation had revenues of $1.23bn in 2011 (a majority earned outside the US in 100 countries). Known especially for its consumer media, it has more recently increased SMB storage and data protection focus with its DataGuard and InfiniVault appliances and Assureon secure archive in particular. Having set a new direction, it has also reorganised into two divisions – consumer storage and accessories and tiered storage and security solutions.

Nexsan boosts the latter division and will help Imation speed up its transformation roadmap (and it would not surprise me if Imation soon made another purchase to further fill out its offering). Imation’s partners and customers should applaud a strengthened tiered storage and security solutions portfolio and the added Nexsan and channel partner skills, while Imation offers greater global coverage and channel strength and greater resources that should accelerate product development.

The low-end NST5100 has 8 Xeon CPU cores, 24GB DRAM and up to 31 NL-SAS and/or SATA drives (max 93TB); the NST5300 has 8 or 16 cores, 48 or 96GB DRAM and up to 360 drives (1440TB); the NST5500 has 24 cores, 96 or 192GB DRAM and 1260 drives (5040TB/5.04PB). So all kinds of workloads can be accommodated (with 2½” 10K or 15K SAS also offered).

FASTier cache includes 8GB NVRAM, 200 or 400GB (except 5100) eMLC and choices of MLC and SLC flash. I-O support includes 1 and 10Gb Ethernet ports front-end and bus bandwidth supports 4, 8 or 12 24Gb SASx4 connections depending on model or 8Gb Fibre Channel (FC) (not on the 5100).

Part of Nexsan’s OPEX-saving capability also comes through its now well-established AutoMAID (automatic massive array of idle disks) solution; this is policy-based so can drastically reduce disk power consumption without user intervention and not necessarily degrade performance.

Enhanced administration and management includes an SNMP agent, a dedicated management interface (eNet port) and a new look “single pane” GUI (with “gesture” technology) and a CLI for advanced users. Enhanced data protection includes higher capacity asynchronous replication between NST5000s. Nexsan estimates that offloading vSphere servers to an NST5000 will improve server performance by 40-50%; it incorporates smart copy and VMware thin provisioning with dead space reclamation.

This looks like an attractive SMB/SME package but there may be a tension between Nexsan and Imation over how fast to advance further up the enterprise food-chain. For instance, I understand that clustering is on the roadmap, giving another big boost to total capacity, and inclusion of FC support suggests that Nexsan, at least, favours greater enterprise encroachment. (For now both companies continue to use their own names.)