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Private cloud outfit chooses X-IO ISE instead of forklift SAN upgrade

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Private cloud outfit RTW Hosting, facing a costly filer forklift upgrade to remedy pressing performance problems, has spent a million dollars on X-IO's sealed ISE storage canisters and says it got itself a twenty-fold improvement in virtual machine deployment speed.

RTW provides VoIP and remote desktop services and has encountered rapid growth in demand for its private cloud services which led to performance degradation in its existing storage facility. CEO Mike Wills says the firm was facing performance problems from its mid-range, dual controller unified storage SAN array. This came from a top four supplier and featured Fibre Channel and SATA technology; he didn't name the actual supplier but said it was "state of the art at the time we bought it."

A note on RTW's website says; "Notable software and hardware partners include Cisco, HP, Fortinet, NetApp, Microsoft, VMWare, Neverfail and Sophos."

RTW needed more performance and more performance headroom. The company began testing X-IO in February 2012.

COO Mark Struthers said: "For us as a hosting supplier performance is a key metric customers judge us on. Never hitting a performance limit is a crucial thing for us."

When it hit the buffers with its previous SAN its supplier said that an upgrade was possible: but it would have been a forklift one, with a jump to a high-end array - a costly exercise with more racks of equipment meaning more space taken up, more power consumption and more cooling. RTW looked around for alternatives, checking out the big four SAN vendors and newer hybrid storage vendors combining disk and flash, as well as X-IO, previously known as Xiotech.

X-IO's distinctive product characteristic is that it offers drive array enclosures, Integrated Storage Elements (ISE) which are modular and sealed. They can be all-disk (ISE-2) or a combination of disk and flash (HyperISE). If disks fail then they fail in place, with smart Seagate analytic software recovering usable parts of a failed disk's storage surfaces, and standby drives inside the ISE enclosure being bought into play. The ISE boxes have a 5-year warranty against failure.

RTW differentiates itself from competition like Amazon by emphasising performance and it cannot afford to have performance slugged by a full-up and slowed-down drive array. It started testing the X-IO kit in February this year and found the ISE enclosures met its performance criteria. The ISE boxes pumped out 180,000 IOPS, which compares to the incumbent drive array's 7,000 IOPS, a 2,471per cent boost. They took up a fifth of the incumbent array's space and needed a fifth of the power.

Struthers said:

"We moved 60 per cent of data off the old storage equipment to the new X-IO products and they are not even touching five per cent of their performance ability. It's basically idling and giving us the performance we need."

Wills added:

"VM (virtual machine) deployment is around 15-20 times quicker. … Our VMware template took between four and six hours to provision; now it takes five minutes."

RTW is sold on X-IO then. It could have got the same level of performance from a pure flash array technology but the capacity requirement meant the costs of going that way were just far too high.

Compared to stereotypical SAN arrays, Struthers said: "The same performance would have needed racks and racks of kit."

How about the newer hybrid array technology?

"X-IO is more reliable and has better technology and design."

How about using JBODS (Just a Bunch Of Disks) and cheap controllers?

"With a big four supplier controller and JBODS the biggest loss on the platform is disk. X-IO offer fault-tolerance over five years, meaning we never have to switch it off."

This 5-year warranty was important, because RTW has to pass on costs to its customers and the less its kit costs to buy, operate and maintain, the lower its prices can be. But X-IO's modularity gained a killer appeal: "With a big four array you can get filer heads and a cluster but you reach a limit. To go beyond you have to fork lift. With X-IO, each unit has more than enough performance for the capacity. There are no centralised filer heads, no bottlenecks. We just buy another … It makes it massively attractive to us from a service provider viewpoint."

It looks as if the rise of the cloud and renewed interest in hosting, meaning service providers have to closely balance performance, capacity, scalability and cost, can give X-IO a fresh run at enterprises and enterprise service providers. Its products hit RTW Hosting's sweet spot and, fresh from its TechEd boost X-IO will be hoping that this sweet spot is market-wide and full of opportunity. ®

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