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Pillar's Axiom 600 gets multicore brain transplant

50 per cent performance boost isn't rocket science

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Pillar Data has increased the performance of its Axiom 600 array and laid the foundation for future systems, with a doubled core count in its Slammer controllers and 700,000 lines of new Axiom ONE software code.

The Axiom 600 is Pillar's high-end enterprise-level array, with iSCSI and Fibre Channel block storage and also network-attached storage (NAS) via controller configuration options. It has the ability to provide different qualities of storage service to specific applications and up to 80 per cent storage utilisation.

The company is a start-up backed by Oracle boss Larry Ellison, and has shipped some 1,300 Axiom systems. Most of these are Axiom 600s, followed by its predecessor, the Axiom 500, and then the entry-level Axiom 300 which comprises about 15 per cent of total shipments.

An Axiom array is composed of three hardware elements: the Pilot policy controller is the management interface; Slammers are the data movers and array controllers; and Bricks are the individual storage controllers, each with 13 drives (12 plus hot spare) and its own embedded pair of RAID controllers.

With the second generation or series 2 Slammers, Pillar has moved from dual-core to quad-core Opteron processors and doubled the Axiom 600's total cache from 96GB to 192GB, with each Slammer having 48GB. Pillar CEO and president Mike Workman said: "We have one hundred times the total cache memory Compellent has."

The backend fabric has doubled its speed from 2Gbit/s to 4Gbit/s. Conscious that EMC CLARiiONs have had 4Gbit/s for some time, Workman said: "We have four times the number of ports, though, and beat them in benchmarks at 2Gbit/sec."

The result is a 50 per cent increase in IOPS (500,000 were mentioned), a 30 per cent improvement in backend performance and support for twice as many VLUNs (virtual LUNs)

The backend storage Bricks can now use slightly faster 2TB drives. Pillar announced support for Western Digita's 5400rpm 2TB drives last August, the first in the industry, and is now adding Hitachi GST 7200rpm 2TB drives to the mix. Hitachi GST is a mainstay HDD supplier for Pillar.

With all this extra controller hardware performance and back-end fabric bandwidth increase, the way would be open for Pillar to announce an even higher-capacity Axiom, perhaps a 700 with a 3PB-plus capacity. Instead, Pillar has decided to use the hardware boost as an internal upgrade to the 600. Existing 600 users will be able to retrofit the new Slammers to their existing 600s, alongside the current Slammers, and so provide a new way to differentiate quality of service by routing I/O through the series 2 Slammers.

Pillar could also have chosen to increase the NAS functionality. Currently an Axiom 600 can provide an 8-way active controller NAS capability with a global namespace. With the new hardware, four times more CIFS connections are supported, but there has been no change in the overall NAS configuration maximums.

We get the feeling that much more is to come, especially when Pillar says that there are 700,000 extra lines of code in its Axiom ONE v4.0 software, compared to the previous 3.0 product. You don't need that much extra code just to accommodate new hardware in the Slammers.

The new software is backwards-compatible and will run in the Axiom 500 product. This indicates that whatever new software features are coming, existing Axiom 600 and 500 customers should be able to take advantage of them to some degree. Workman says that, overall, there will be big developments in Pillar's products. These will come as a sequence of announcements in 2010, rather than as one big massive change, as the commpany builds on the Axiom ONE 4.0 software foundation and second generation Slammer hardware.

We expect Pillar to announce automated tiering of data at the sub-LUN level across different storage tiers, from SSD to SATA drives, with two other ways to control data movement. One will be by policy (scheduled) and another by sysadmin command (signalled), as suggested in a Mike Workman blog.

There is no price rise for Axiom 600 series 2 users. Indeed, there may well be a 15 - 20 per cent price reduction for the series 1 600. The first new 600 series 2 systems, 400 - 500TB ones, were shipped in December to European customers. ®

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