Vendor: IBM Systems & Technology Group
Product: SONAS Enterprise NAS System
What is SONAS?
IBM recently announced SONAS (Scale-Out Network Attached Storage), a high-end Tier 1 NAS file system. The price range is upwards of $500,000 list price, and it is aimed at bringing the same levels of performance, manageability, recoverability, and resilience to file-based storage that is available in Tier 1 block-based storage arrays. The number of files could be in the billions, and the number of users in the tens of thousands and higher.
Figure 1 shows the overall design of SONAS. The storage pods provide the high density storage, IBM System X provides the server power, they are interconnected with InfiniBand, the management nodes are IP interconnected, and the users see a global namespace. Access is via CIFS, NFS and FTP, with future support for HTTP and SCP.
What's the Secret Sauce Inside SONAS?
IBM has brought together a number of file-based technologies to provide scale-out NAS. The key challenge IBM had to solve in our view was achieving the high performance required to support emerging applications while at the same time scaling industry-standard protocols. For example, video handling requires I/O rates of >10Gb. Files that need to be kept for many years (e.g., health industry) and files that are accessed and updated by tens of thousands of users are all long term candidates for SONAS. In 2008, IBM discussed the details of Sofas, the precursor of SONAS in an excellent article in the IBM Research and Development journal. Figure 2 is taken from this article and shows the technology components that provide a global namespace with very high performance.
The SONAS components are:
- General Parallel Files System (GPFS), which allows high performance by spreading the files over many storage elements. This supports high I/O rates, and GPFS is used in more than 50% of high-performance compute (HPC) installations.
- Clustered Trivial Database (CTDB), which provides the distributed locking mechanism. This is a key enabler for providing large numbers of users with simultaneous read/write access and good performance while using industry standard protocols (e.g. NFS, CIFS, HTTPS, etc).
- Tivoli HSM to provide archiving and ILM support for compliance data held for many years, providing immutability and the ability to upgrade technologies.
- Tivoli Storage Manager to provide data protection and disaster recovery.
- IBM High-density storage Pods.
- IBM System X servers clustered with InfiniBand.
What's the User Impact of SONAS?
Figure 3 shows that file-based storage capacity is now ubiquitous and growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 75%, while traditional block-based storage is growing at a CAGR of 26%. The current file-based topology in large organizations is based on a large number of separate file systems, with little or no centralized management. Existing global namespace implementations are constrained by performance, especially in high-update environments. As the storage environment matures, there is a strong market requirement for a file-based storage “Tier-1 equivalent” that will provided high performance, multi-user read/write access, long-term manageability, and mission-critical availability and recoverability that is required by businesses and government institutions. High performance computing (HPC) tends to be build-your-own. Mission critical computing mandates bringing together standard components in an integrated and tested environment.
What is the Competitive Impact of SONAS?
This announcement introduces a new type of enterprise class NAS system. Many customers with NAS sprawl (hundreds of filers from many vendors) will find the IBM SONAS product an interesting and easy to justify approach. We believe all other enterprise NAS vendors will need to respond to this announcement and in many cases are already working on similar technologies:
- BlueArc has provided a single namespace and high levels of performance but has not solved the locking problems of read-write access or very high levels of scalability.
- EMC is a market leader in NAS files. It would need to combine technologies from the Celerra and Centera product lines with CTDB to create a “Symmetrix equivalent” for high-end Enterprise NAS.
- Isilon has traditionally been a provider to the HPC market, and is now finding greater acceptance of its high-end products in the enterprise marketplace.
- NetApp has been integrating its Spinnaker Network Solution acquisition which has excellent clustered scalability based technologies rooted in the Andrews File Systems (AFS) for many years. NetApp should prioritize the integration of Spinnaker and ONTAP quickly if it is to compete in this space.
Action Item: Enterprise organizations with NAS sprawl, a business need for high performance, integrated management, and large numbers of users requiring sophisticated access should take a hard look at the IBM SONAS. Key metrics to focus on for financial justification are the current user & IT management costs of file-based storage and the risks of business non-compliance due to unwieldy information management practices and technologies.