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3PAR F-class jumps into Clariion competition

Quad controller vs high-end dual controller arrays

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Enterprise storage array supplier 3PAR has introduced a downsized T-Class system, the F-Class, to take on high-end dual controller modular storage arrays in enterprise data centres.

The T-class can have up to eight clustered controllers and has found a good market in hosting and cloud/web 2.0 suppliers. The entry-level E-Class can have two controllers and is not powerful enough to answer storage requirements for enterprise data centres adopting server virtualisation and considering upper range EMC CLariions or HP EVA kit.

Many of these enterprise data centre customers find the T-Class is too high-end for their requirements, according to to 3PAR product marketing director, Rob Cummins. Consequently 3PAR has developed its own mid-range offering, the F-Class.

Cummins is emphatic that this is not a storage offering for the SMB market which is served by smaller-scale Clariion and EVA arrays as well as by Compellent and Pillar, saying 3PAR has no intention of entering that market.

The controllers use quad-core Xeon 5400s processors, but the actual data operations in the array are carried out a third generation ASIC (Application-specific Integrated Circuit). Operations such as fat array to thinly-provisioned 3PAR array migration and space reclaimation are carried out by 3PAR's gen 3 ASIC in hardware, very quickly according to Cummins, and it has a RAID5 XOR capability too. The machine can handle mixed storage workloads, including online transaction processing, better because of the ASIC's features.

Cummins says a single F-Class can replace four to five Clariions, with a consequent reduction in data centre floor space and electricity usage. It simply outperforms and out-stores individual Clariion or EVA arrays because it of its four controllers, with data moving and protection accelerated by the gen 3 ASIC.

The F-Class comes as either the two-controller F200 or the much more upgradable F400 which can have four controllers. These controllers, like 3PAR's other arrays have what the company is now calling an active mesh backplane linking all LUNS to all controllers and to every disk drive. This proprietory and passive backplane provides individual links with more than 1GB/sec of bandwidth.

LUNs are distributed across as many as four controllers, not owned by one as in some dual controller arrays. Data is striped across all the drives in the array.

The F200 can have from 16 to 192 disk drives, up to 12 Fibre Channel and 8 iSCSI host ports. The F400 can have up to 384 drives, 24 FC host ports and 16 iSCSI ones. Customers can choose from 146GB, 300GB or 400GB Fibre Channel drives or 1TB SATA ones for a maximum capacity of 125TB on the F200 and 250TB on the F400.

Looking ahead we can expect SAS drives to feature in 3PAR arrays in the future as well as solid state storage. In 2010 we should also see an FCoE interface added to the 3PAR product line. Cummins commented that most 3PAR arrays are accessed over Fibre Channel with only a few using iSCSI. That interface is used for remote copy replication, though.

Another future event might be the adoption by 3PAR of Nehalem, replacing the Xeon 5400s controllers with 5500 ones to deliver another boost in performance.

Cummins reckons 3PAR can continue its aggressive growth despite the adverse economic conditions. He thinks the idea that three to five existing modular arrays could be replaced by a single, faster, more space-efficient and greener F-Class could well start off some Clariion/EVA/IBM DS6000 replacement sales.

The entry-level F200 starts at $80,000, and is priced very aggressively in the UK at £56,000. Both F-Class systems are available and shipping now. ®

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