Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/01/29/xiotech_matrix/

Xiotech reloads Matrix

ISEbergs warning

By Chris Mellor

Posted in Storage, 29th January 2010 12:47 GMT

Comment Xiotech is aiming to build a Matrix eco-system of storage system app vendors linking its superdisk ISE enclosures with direct storage-controlling apps like VMware, Oracle and Exchange 2010.

Matrix is not an HP-like integrated IT stack product set, but a dynamic set of storage resources coordinated by a Matrix controller doing the bidding of the storage-controlling app and using Xiotech's Cortex API to talk to the ISE boxes at the bottom of the storage stack.

Xiotech's chief strategy officer Jim McDonald says the firm sees a new way of storage resource control and management, with server apps like VMware and Exchange 2010 wanting direct control of storage resource characteristics, like thin provisioning, and thus no need for storage controllers to do those functions. In Xiotech's brave new world, fat storage controllers become thin and dumb storage enclosures become Intelligent Storage Elements (ISEs), containing many disks that function as a single reliable and high-performance superdisk.

These ISE sealed canisters with their extended life can be aggregated together to extend capacity and performance in a linear fashion and out-perform traditional twin controller, modular arrays, even ones with an injection of flash drives in certain circumstances, such as provisioning many virtual desktop images.

It's as if Xiotech doesn't have the time, money or inclination to bulk up the capabilities of its own Emprise controller so that it can effectively compete with 3PAR, EMC's CLARiiON or HP's EVA. What it does have is a better storage enclosure mousetrap, the ISE, and that needs integrating with other storage system resource functions like deduplication, spin-down, content-addressable storage (CAS), replication and other protection functions before it can become a usable resource for customers.

The server world has become increasingly virtualised since Xiotech first launched ISE and Emprise, and there is a trend Xiotech discerns of server apps wanting more direct storage control. So it's inclined to let them take over the functions that are in the cleverest array controllers, while it builds an ecosystem that could provide a dynamically-integratable storage resource stack, and focuses its engineering on continuing to build a better ISE mousetrap.

McDonald says the Xiotech roadmap includes ISE developments and the establishment of Matrix. The company also wants to pursue OEM sales, the lack of which, according to sources, helped persuade Seagate to sell off its ISE-creating Advanced Storage group to Xiotech a couple of years ago. That enabled Xiotech to launch its ISE-using Emprise storage array product line as its next-generation product after the then-current Magnitude array.

Emprise was not as successful as hoped, and last year Xiotech got a $10m funding fillip and a new management team which believes that the product technology is great; it reckons a rearticulated and more energetic marketing message is what is needed to get Xiotech out of the doldrums and have its sails filled by a great big sustainable trade wind.

Matrix

It hopes that Matrix will provide that push. The company is talking to various non-IT stack-aligned vendors about participating in Matrix. McDonald isn't identifying any, but we might imagine Ocarina (dedupe) and Caringo (CAS) are the kinds of vendors he has in mind. The Matrix controller will sit outside the Matrix storage resource containers and provision/de-provision them as needed by the storage-controlling app in the servers.

It doesn't exist yet and will need software and interfaces. We might hear formally about Matrix, see a v1.0 release of some sort, by the mid-year point. The Cortex API, used by storage system resource functions to talk direct to ISE as a control path, with Matrix being a data path, will have a v1.0 announcement this quarter.

Matrix is a very channel-friendly idea, "Isn't it!" says McDonald. On the OEM channel front Xiotech is still immensely keen to recruit OEMs to take its ISE boxes. McDonald says it's energetically talking to prospective OEMs, again not identifying any.

ISE Roadmap

The ISE boxes themselves have their own roadmap but flash doesn't figure on it, yet. There is still no justification, in McDonald's view, for adding flash. It's just too expensive and has hideous read:write assymetry as well as endurance problems. When it gets cheap enough and these issues can be overcome, then we might see a flash ISE.

What's likely to come first is an ISE front-end interface change. Currently an ISE box has two 4Gbit/s Fibre Channel ports. Ethernet is very likely to be added in its 10GBit form, but Xiotech is undecided about whether to offer iSCSI or FCoE layered on top of it.

The drives inside ISE may become 6Gbit/s SAS ones and the drive-ISE controller fabric may change from 4Gbit/s FC to a SAS one as well.

The message is that ISE boxes can be aggregated together in an ISEberg or JBOI (just a bunch of ISEs) and controlled by mid-tier storage resource applications like dedupe, CAS, replication, whatever, and/or by direct storage-controlling server apps like VMware, Exchange 2010 and Oracle. Bypass expensive and complex storage arrays, with fat controllers and high-maintenance disk drives that lose performance as they fill, by using collections of superdisks, ISE boxes, under the direct control of server apps. That's the Xiotech mesage in a nutshell.

Will it fly? Will ISE boxes invade more data centres? It's the big question and the Xiotech team is using its $10m funding to make sure that data centre owners at least understand the ISE and Matrix eco-system message and ask themselves: "Could we? Should we?" ®