As indicated by the growing acceptance of NFS-hosted VMware images, many companies are now depending on their NAS devices for more than just serving files, they’re also hosting the storage for business critical applications and operating environments on these platforms. This dependence requires that the NAS provides highly reliable, high performing data storage. An enterprise storage role, such as this, requires functionality that many NAS solutions simply weren’t designed for, leaving companies in the mid-range with limited options. With the E5000 Nexsan is providing an affordable NAS system with the reliability, uptime and performance that’s been previously available only in traditional “enterprise” storage systems.

Nexsan has a long history of building high density, cost-effective storage systems, sold as the SATABoy, SATABeast and Assureon. The company has made its reputation by providing rock-solid, reliable, easy to use, efficient storage systems that offer real enterprise functionality. In the past Nexsan provided NAS solutions to their customers through OEM or reseller arrangements. While these products filled a need they did not  really demonstrate Nexsan’s technology leadership. The E5000 allows Nexsan to do just that, bringing a feature-rich NAS to market that leverages their long-time storage systems reputation for reliability, density, power management, ease of use and, of course, cost effectiveness.

The E5000 series provides NFS and CIFS file services in a modular architecture that leverages Nexsan’s industry leading storage density, providing 720TB in just 19U of rack space. The entry level E5110 supports from 8 to 31 disk drives in one or two, 3U chassis. The E5310 supports from 9 to 240 drives with a 3U NAS head and one or more of Nexsan’s existing E18 and E60 storage systems. The E60 storage system features 60 disk drives in a 4U chassis, configured in three independent drawers, providing significantly more storage capacity in a lot less space than its competitors.

Each drawer can be opened to replace or add disk drives while the system is running, providing a high level of uptime to go along with Nexsan’s reliability. Should a disk drive fail there’s no need to stop file services to replace it. The E5000’s high availability design also includes dual redundant power supplies and storage controllers with automatic failover that are hot-pluggable for replacement without downtime.

Effective power utilization is as important as effective space utilization. The E5000 leverages Nexsan’s data center proven AutoMAID®, a technology that reduces disk drive power consumption when they’re not being used. As discussed in a prior article, Nexsan’s AutoMAID is a multiple-step spin down technology that automatically selects the right drive power level for the application workload, allowing for an effective combination of power savings and performance management.

The E5000 also has a full complement of enterprise software features. The system supports up to 2048 snapshots per share and doesn’t incur a snapshot performance penalty or any snapshot storage space. Consistent with Nexsan’s ease of use philosophy, disk drives can be added to the system on the fly and LUNs added to any storage pool without impacting active clients. The E5000 also supports improved storage and bandwidth efficiency with change-based asynchronous replication, over provisioning, and quotas, reducing the total cost of operation.

With the E5000 Nexsan is introducing a new performance optimization feature called FASTier™, a multi-level cache comprised of two kinds of SAS-based SSD storage. FASTier is implemented with one or more 8GB SSDs that contain battery-backed DRAMs to provide extremely fast write cycles and from one to fifteen enterprise-class SLC 100GB SSDs that can be used as read cache or additional write cache. It provides high performance access to data without having to traverse the storage network or even the storage system’s own internal communication path.

The faster DRAM SSDs are used to hold the intent log for the file system writes, which are applied to the file system on the rotating drives after the write is committed to the CIFS or NFS client. In the case of a power failure, the contents of the SSD’s DRAMs are pushed into flash memory within the SSD. This special write cache does not experience wear spots. In the event a controller fails, its intent log is taken over by the second controller via the SAS bus to provide uninterrupted service to users and applications. The 100GB SSDs are typically set up as read caches, which are filled by performing read-ahead operations from the rotating drives.The net result is highly affordable, enterprise class performance on a densely packed, mid-range storage array that leverages SSD, SATA, SAS or nearline-SAS based hard drive technologies.

For companies looking to expand their virtualized environments and needing reliable, high performance storage, the E5000 is a highly-available solution with integrated SSD and storage tiering at an affordable price point. FASTier’s DRAM and SSD cache can solve the performance bottleneck that hampers many current mid-range NAS systems, especially in the highly randomized workloads common in virtualized environments. Beyond the virtualization use case, any company that needs a scalable NAS that’s economical and easy to use, the E5000 offers a turnkey storage solution that can accommodate the majority of their data needs.

Storage Swiss Take

Compared with traditional block-based SAN storage, NAS can be easier to implement and operate, making it a good fit for the IT generalists that often comprise mid-range data center IT staffs. Nexsan has always focused on making their storage systems easy to buy, easy to use and easy to upgrade, and the E5000 continues that philosophy. The system is designed to be set up and running in less than fifteen minutes, including storage configuration, snapshot policies, and asynchronous replication.

The performance that the system offers, thanks to FASTier and solid engineering, means that more users can be supported per E5000, more virtual machines per physical host and most importantly, less time needs to be spent performance tuning the NAS. In the mid-range company, where the IT team wears many hats, they don’t have the time to constantly monitor the storage system. It just needs to provide data to the various workloads without getting in the way.

Traditionally, companies in the mid-range have had to pay too much to get the enterprise-grade performance and uptime they need, or settle for too little with generic NAS from commodity vendors. The E5000 could be the answer to this dilemma. It sets the bar on how an affordable NAS solution should perform and what an enterprise NAS solution should cost.

Eric Slack, Senior Analyst

Briefing Report

Nexsan is a client of Storage Switzerland