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Nexsan flashes made-over cache creds

Cries FASTiers

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Nexsan is has made over FASTiers – with flash cache-boosted NST Series unified iSCSI and NAS arrays – to compete with other tiered flash-HDD hybrid arrays from startups NexGen Storage, Nimble Storage, Starboard Systems and VMware-focused Tintri.

Nexsan's marketing blitz insists that it is no startup itself: it's established, with 28,000-plus drive arrays installed in 60-plus countries by 10,000-plus customers through a running channel. We'll see if it hits the ground running with its new boxes, re-branded E5000s announced just a few months ago, November 2011 to be precise.

It has a job to do, particularly against Nimble Storage, which reckons it is the fastest-growing storage company in history, seeing revenue jump 5 times from the last quarter of 2010 to 2011's final quarter.

Privately owned Nexsan says it is profitable on an EBITDA basis, although it can't talk numbers because the S1 form filed for its pulled IPO is still active.

The NST gear comes from a company that's having a makeover according to SVP Marketing Victoria Grey, and leaving the nearline and secondary data storage-focused SATAbeast and SATAboy days of "ghetto RAID" a long, long way behind, although they are still available and selling. The generation 2 incarnation of those, the dual-controller E Series, was unveiled a year ago, and then Nexsan took NAND on board and moved front and centre into the primary storage array world with the 3-box E5000 line-up.

This is mirrored by the NST 5100, 5300 and 5500, offering iSCSI or NAS only, or both. These have a head unit running the NEST OS on 4 to 24 Xeon cores with 12-192GB of DRAM. There can be up to 3TB of flash using 100GB or 200GB fast Toshiba SLC flash drives. FASTier uses the DRAM for writes and they are aggregated before being exported to the flash, which is used for read cacheing. Data movement is automatic.

Accessing servers' requests come in over one or 10 gigabit E while the backend drive enclosures talk to the head over 8Gbit/s Fibre Channel. Performance and capacity can be scaled independently.

The back-end drive enclosures can host 3TB, 7,200rpm SATA or nearline SAS drives; or 15,000rpm, 600GB SAS primary storage drives – with a maximum of 360 drives (1.08PB). The 5100 scales from 8TB to 93TB of capacity; the 5300 from 9TB to 720TB; and the 5500 from 9TB to 1,080TB.

Nexsan claims a 3X random I/O performance boost from FASTier and says customers are finding NST5000 arrays are faster than EMC Isilon and NetApp arrays – and even Oracle's Exadata product, according to a Houston-based petroleum company.

The execs at Nexsan are hoping that its makeover will add some glamour and freshness to a company that was founded getting on for 13 years ago, and has had two IPO attempts. It is a startup – although its a little more mature than most – that hasn't progressed to the sunny uplands on the other side of an IPO, and is now competing with sexy and newer startups like Nexgen and Nimble.

Consequently it is flashing is NAND and tiering credentials plus those of its mature NEST O/S with replication and other protection features, and saying it offers a better box than these brash newbies with much less risk.

The products are available now through Nexsan's channel, with the NST5100 starting at a $16,000 manufacturer's suggested retail price; the 5300 at $87,000; and the 5500 at $111,000. ®

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