In anticipation of the upcoming Storage Field Day 5, this post will discuss the new features made available by SolidFire with the release of version 6 of Element OS, the software that drives their storage system.  Much of this information was discussed at the first SolidFire Analysts’ Day, held in February 2014.  If there’s a theme to this release it’s the move to support Enterprise environments.  This means enhancements to connectivity and data availability, as we shall see.

 New Features

Major new feature highlights include:

  • Fibre Channel connectivity.  SolidFire now supports new storage nodes with embedded Fibre Channel connectivity.  This delivers up to 16Gb/s speeds and offers full active/active connectivity.  Volumes can be accessed simultaneously through either Fibre Channel or iSCSI (although the use cases for this are probably few).  In the first releases, FC support will be limited to configurations of only two nodes, although a cluster may also contain other nodes running just iSCSI.  Fibre Channel support is an essential requirement in supporting Enterprise customers, who have invested heavily in the technology and are typically not big users of iSCSI storage.
  • Mixed Node Clusters.  As flash technology has evolved, SolidFire has released a series of node types with different flash capacities, ranging from 3TB (raw) to 9.6TB.  These devices also have increasing levels of memory and processor performance.  Mixed node support allows a cluster to be built from any of today’s supported node types, plus whatever may be released in the future.  Of course supporting a mixed configuration means managing the balance of both performance and capacity and is a key feature in enabling customers to seamlessly add and remove hardware as part of an upgrade cycle.  As Hu Yoshida highlights in this post from 2 years ago, the fully burdened cost of data migrations is high and is a major issue for large organisations when they come to replace hardware.
  • Real-time Replication.  Native array replication is an important feature used in many enterprise organisations.  In Element OS 6, the “real time” description refers to the replication transfer rather than the synchronous nature of the process.  Data is replicated at the individual block level as each block in a source cluster is changed, rather than being batched up for transfer as say, a snapshot in some other array implementations.  Synchronous replication is something that flash arrays won’t deliver as the latency of replicating to a remote location is typically higher than the latency writing locally, negating the benefit of using flash in the first place.  SolidFire’s replication implementation can pair one cluster with up to four others, with bi-directional replication.  Data is optimised across a WAN link through the use of de-duplication which saves physically sending data that may already exist on the target cluster nodes.
  • Integrated Backup and Restore.  This feature is an interesting one.  Most storage arrays don’t do native replication, however SolidFire has taken the decision to implement backup with S3/Swift compatibility, which could enable data migration between multiple clusters, as one use case.  I think this feature has been added more to support the move towards OpenStack integration and is probably a placeholder for things to come.

Element OS 6 also brings in some other enhancements, including better VMware integration through VAAI, optimised metadata layout, optimised snapshot capabilities and enhanced volume reporting statistics.  In total, this is a major release of the SolidFire operating system.

The Architect’s View

Element OS 6 brings much needed enterprise support to the SolidFire offering.  Initially targeting the service provider market gave SolidFire a different route to market, however growth needs to come from moving to the enterprise and that time has come.  Savvy enterprise customers will see the benefits of the new offerings Element OS 6 contains and with the significant advantages of existing features such as scale out design, QoS and full API management, SolidFire’s offering becomes that much more compelling than before.  Element OS 6 is due to be available in 2Q2014.

Look out for more conversation about SolidFire’s recent growth stats, customers and of course the technology in future posts as well as links to the SFD5 presentations.

Related Links

Disclaimer: My travel costs and accommodation have been paid for by the Tech Field Day team as part of my SFD5 attendance.  However I am not compensated for my time, nor obliged to blog on any of the content of the event.  No editorial previews or control are placed on any content I choose to post.

 

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Written by Chris Evans

With 30+ years in IT, Chris has worked on everything from mainframe to open platforms, Windows and more. During that time, he has focused on storage, developed software and even co-founded a music company in the late 1990s. These days it's all about analysis, advice and consultancy.