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I interviewed Ron Bianchini CEO of Avere Systems about their new third generation FXT appliance. (Ron was the CEO of Spinnaker Networks acquired by NetApp in November 2003 for $300M).

We started the conversation by looking at the key values of Spinnaker, it’s ability to scale and cluster NAS filers, a technology long since incorporated into the NetApp OnTap environment. Ron rather wistfully, told me that when the acquisition completed Spinnaker hadn’t done a lot of work on optimising performance in the way he had wanted to do it. Avere has been busily addressing this over the last four years resulting in the AOS 3.0 FXT Edge Filer.

Ron has had the opportunity to use Flash Technology in his new product with integrated SSDs as well as a load of DRAM and some 600GB SAS drives. Back in the Spinnaker Network days, if you wanted performance you integrated Fibre Channel disks and striped across lots of them. The new start has enabled the low latency, high read rate characteristics of flash technology to be integrated as a standard feature.

There is nothing unique about the hardware – it is a SuperMicro server with a good mix of RAM, SSD and SAS disk, as one would expect, it’s the software that makes the Avere FXT Edge Filer interesting. Ron told me that the FXT is the first device that delivers both read and write cacheing.  Not only that but the FXT can act as either a stand-alone NAS appliance if the working set fits within it’s own capacity or as a cache if it overflows. This is very interesting as some of the other features of the FXT make it an ideal front end for a Cloud Storage based back end where all of the latency and performance issues of cloud can be eliminated.

Ron explained that the block management algorithms in the FXT are designed to simultaneously deliver high performance and to manage the write issues often seen with SSD based storage controllers. Writes get staged to battery backed RAM and then blocked up in large chunks onto the SAS disks, later being moved, in bulk and as necessary onto the SSD middle tier. He gave an example of frequently accessed, large PowerPoint file where the first few blocks are held in the SSD with the next blocks on internal SAS and the remainder of the file on the back end cloud or legacy NAS SATA based filer. By carefully managing the streaming of the file to the consumer, and kicking off requests for the subsequent blocks ahead of the actual SMB or NFS request the FXT filer can deliver SSD level performance whilst using only a small portion of the SSD capacity.

Large NAS filer environments are extremely difficult to manage in an operational environment and Ron’s experience at Spinnaker with these massive scale operational problems has led to some of the really smart features of the FXT:

  • The FXT can run in full cacheing or synchronous write through mode – this enables servers to be migrated to the Edge Filer one by one without having a major (and impossible to schedule) planned outage – this is similar functionality to block storage virtualisation functionality seen in IBM’s XIV
  • The FXT is just as easy to take out as it is to put in, the same principles apply, switch to write through mode, flush the cache and start moving servers one by one
  • The FXT works in a cluster (minimum 2, optimal minimum 3) which enables non-disruptive firmware and software updates
  • FlashMove capability enables large mounted filesystems to be migrated from an old back-end NAS to the Cloud or to a SATA based Filer without interruption of service
All in all, this is an extremely interesting product in a hot space, delivering a large performance uplift at a relatively modest price, on a legacy NAS estate as well as offering some significant operational advantages.

Here is a copy of the Avere Press Release:

Avere Unveils Edge Filer and New Architecture for NAS

 

AOS 3.0 transforms FXT appliance into Edge filer optimized for today’s storage challenges

 

PITTSBURGH – March 28, 2012 Avere Systems today unveiled a new NAS architecture that will ensure enterprise IT is best positioned to leverage the performance benefits of Flash, the consolidation benefits of virtualization and the collaborative and economic benefits of the cloud. The new architecture for NAS puts the fastest media and the intelligence to manage it closest to the user, boosting performance and removing storage bottlenecks created by legacy NAS architectures.

Avere’s Edge Filer

As part of today’s announcement, Avere introduces its first NAS filer, the Edge filer, which operates in concert with legacy or Core filers, to implement the new architecture for NAS. The Edge filer has all of the data handling capabilities of legacy, or Core filers, but differs in data management.  Edge filers manage the global user namespace across multiple filers and remote facilities.  The new data management capabilities available with AOS 3.0 allow customers to easily move, synchronize and replicate data between storage devices, from data center to data center or remote office, and from data center to cloud.

Avere’s Edge filer overcomes the traditional and costly approach of adding larger and more expensive controllers and over provisioning all types of high-speed storage media to boost performance, which adds cost and complexity to the data center and does nothing to solve the latency problem inherent across long geographical distances that has relegated cloud storage to backup and archival use only.  Additionally, it provides a model to ensure that the gains in efficiency realized by virtualization aren’t negated by losses in storage performance due to changes in I/O profiles. Avere has created a new NAS architecture that eliminates trade-offs between performance and cost and enables primary storage to be located where it makes the most economic sense for business.

“Since its inception, Avere has been challenging the concept of using a traditional, monolithic NAS filer as a single tier of storage,” said Terri McClure, ESG Senior Analyst.  “With the introduction of its first full-fledged filer, the Edge filer, Avere is well positioned to offer an alternative model to solve some of the biggest technological and business challenges of NAS deployments, including the latency associated with remote storage deployments.”

FlashMoveä and FlashMirrorä

FlashMove: Avere FlashMove takes the pain out of data migrations.  With FlashMove, there is no need to halt applications or suspend access to data during migrations.  FXT Edge filers serve active data to application servers and users while behind the scenes FlashMove software moves data transparently between Core filers.  FlashMove dramatically simplifies the management of NAS environments; it enables live data to be load-balanced across existing systems, transparent archival to secondary storage, new storage and new vendors to be added to the NAS environment, and old storage which is past its useful life to be decommissioned.

FlashMirror: Avere FlashMirror dramatically simplifies the implementation of a disaster recovery practice on a NAS infrastructure.  FlashMirror replicates data on primary and secondary Core filers and keeps them closely in sync by sending updates directly and in parallel to both filers.  FlashMirror offloads the replication-processing load from the storage and supports clustering to scale replication performance to any level required.  FlashMirror is simple to install in existing environments and is the only storage-side replication solution that works with all NAS vendors’ products.

“Within the last few years, we’ve seen the potential benefits of powerful new technologies – Flash, virtualization and cloud – be addressed in a piecemeal fashion by incumbent storage vendors that still rely on product architectures built for an older generation of technology and a twentieth-century data center silo. It’s time for a fundamental change in NAS design — one that opens up the network across the globe, makes it much easier to manage, and delivers efficiency without sacrificing performance,” said Ron Bianchini, President and CEO of Avere Systems. “With the introduction of AOS 3.0 and the Avere Edge filer, we are poised to be a catalyst in enabling customers to reap the maximum benefits from the latest technologies.”

Pricing and Availability

AOS 3.0 will be generally available within the next 30 days. The 3.0 software release is a free upgrade for existing customers. For new and existing customers FlashMove and FlashMirror require separate licenses.

About Avere Systems

Avere Systems brings to the market NAS Optimization solutions designed specifically to scale performance and capacity separately and take advantage of new storage media using real-time tiering. Avere’s FXT Series Edge filers allow organizations to achieve unlimited application performance scaling, free applications from the confines of the data center by eliminating latency and cut storage costs by more than half. Learn more at www.averesystems.com, and you can follow the company on Twitter.com/averesystems.