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Ellison's storage Pillar sits at fork in the road

Finance, founding and two choices

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Paso and Napa

CEO Mike Workman provided some more details but not to anywhere near the extent of pre-announcing new products. Instead there are two main development efforts which could bear fruit in 18 months time. One is called Paso, a re-invention of the Axiom 300 using industry-standard components instead of the proprietary HW. As a recap an Axiom storage array provides unified block and file storage with data tiering and quality of service features, and has a design with dual RAID controller storage enclosures or Bricks linked by Fibre Channel to I/O processors called Slammers. Bricks and Slammers can scale separately and are managed by a separate Pilot box. It's a step on from a dual controller modular array, like EMC's CLARiiON or HP's EVA.

Workman said the 300 was relatively expensive for the medium business market compared to products like Dell/EqualLogic or HP/LeftHand, as it had more enterprise features: "We think we need a lower cost base for that machine going forward." So it could be used, for example in branch offices.

Paso is seen as having 10 times the Axiom 300's compute power and 10 times the 300's IOPS rating, with 100,000 SPC-1 IOPS mentioned, up to 144 spindles and be half the $/GB cost and half the $/IOPS cost of the 300. It will also scale more: "[Extending] to what today would be eight Bricks."

The other development focus is a high-end machine called Napa. Wine-buffs will know value proposition wines come from California's Paso Robles area with the high-quality more expensive wines grown in the Napa Valley. Napa is "the one that will scale to huge numbers and replace 100 NetApp filers in terms of I/O and manageability, and still have just one SW license".

Napa

Napa is envisaged as having three times the Axiom 600's compute power, around 1,600 spindles, twice the Axiom 600's maximum, and hold 3PB of data using today's (2TB SATA) drives. It will have half the Axiom 600's production cost, and that will help Pillar's GM. When fitted with solid state drives (SSDs) Napa will output 1 million SPC-1 IOPS and Workman contrasted this with 3PAR's 200,000 SPC-1 IOPS from 2,000 spindles. It should have 400GB/sec of memory bandwidth between the controllers, will output two million RAID IOPS, and have 12TB of cache, 11TB of that being SSD with DRAM making up the rest.

Workman said: "There's nothing better in the world than instantaneous data progression." With this much cache, hot data can be stored in it from day one instead of having to wait for statistical programs to discover it's hot and then move it into the fastest tier of storage. Speaking of tiered storage in general he was quite caustic about NetApp CEO Tom Georgens' view that tiering was dying: "He is just plain wrong."

Then he said Napa is made up of Pasos, up to ten of them - "It's all the same stuff," - with "the controller in Paso becoming the head of string in Napa". These Pasos should be linked in a switched InfiniBand (IB) fabric. The IB speed wasn't mentioned. We have 20Gbit/s and 40Gbit/s IB products now and we could expect, hope or guess that 40Gbit/s might be needed for the performance Pillar has in mind, but 20 is faster than 8Gbit/s Fibre Channel and cheaper than 40.

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