Stonefly – An Affordable Modular Storage solution

Have you ever wondered how much data you will store on computers throughout your life?  I started my working life with the humble 1.44MB floppy disk drive. This made me very choosy about what I saved and what I deleted.

Those days are thankfully well past us and now, we are given, what seems like, an endless amount of space at our disposal to store everything we ever do.  We then get into the mind set that we can keep multiple versions of files and snapshots of our systems in case we need to go back.  For the average PC user, many don’t backup at all, but this post is about explaining the benefits of a modular approach to storage provision as opposed to the fixed appliance method available to the marketplace today.

Modular Decision making

As an IT Manager of any company knows, the choice of hardware to use to provide the employees with systems to run the company is huge.  The question of buy today, for today’s needs is a tough one – nobody can really predict a company’s growth.  Buy today for today, may leave egg on the faces of IT decision makers and even lead to dismissal if the wrong choices are made.  Servers can easily be upgraded, rather than replaced, as technology improves each year, with processor and RAM improvements.  Servers have a modular nature in software too, with clustering and load balancing options available to many large scale products.  This makes upgrading or “Scaling Up” an easier path for server farm growth.  The choice of servers in a hardware purchasing decision does not usually lead to a wrong decision where the company quickly grows.

Storage systems create a different problem.  Most all in one storage appliances from the large suppliers (NetApp, EMC, HP) provide a shelf full of disks, with dual controller and PSU capability.

Here we can see a typical SAN device – it could be 2U, 3U or 4U high and have provision for 8, 16 or 32 HDD or SSD.  This gives a total storage space defined by the number of drives slots and the type of RAID chosen.

These appliances often cost as much as $100,000 or £60,000.  For the purposes of this post we will assume that the device has 16x 300GB spinning HDD giving a total of 4.8TB and 3200 IOPS and has dual 10GB Ethernet ports per controller – each controller has a single CPU and 32GB or RAM.

When the decision to purchase this piece of kit was made, the requirement was defined and this item from a well known vendor was chosen and matched the company’s requirement.

This device typically serves as a SAN appliance to the server farm.

What happens if it’s not enough?

This question has a couple of additional caveats to it – What happens if it’s not enough space?  What happens if it’s not got enough performance?  Well the simple answer is to buy another one.  This approach to storage provisioning is expensive and often does not address the performance issue.

Can I not just upgrade the SAN appliance?

With today’s software and server requirements using SAN appliances for Virtualisation as well as Block storage – the SAN appliance is now faced with a myriad of demands placed on it:

  • Snapshots
  • Mirroring
  • Async-Replication
  • Sync Replication
  • De-duplication
  • Encryption
  • Thin Provisioning

Each task demanded of the appliance will cause a degradation in performance.  This puts a strain on the storage infrastructure and performance inevitably suffers.  Most vendors of SAN Appliances do not offer an upgrade path – The systems are built on SBC (Single Board Computer) controllers using simple and low power hardware. 

When new technology and advances in processor, RAM and networking transfer technology appears on the scene, there is no opportunity to apply this to the Storage Architecture.

Introducing Stonefly’s Modular approach to SAN Storage

Stonefly’s Modular approach to SAN Storage starts with their Storage Concentrator.  This is effectively a server that does all of the processing and IO required for communication with the actual storage devices whether they are HDD, SSD or PCIe based SSD.  These devices have dual PSUs. Two of them are required for a system to provide redundancy.  The CPU, RAM and communication technology (card interfaces) are all upgradable and fully interchangeable.  There are 1U , 2U and 3U options and have increasing number of card slot and CPU numbers, RAM capacities as the U goes up.

The Base unit can be 1U, 2U, 3U or 4U and can accommodate SATA-6G, SAS-6G or SSD in 2.5 inch format as well as PCIe.  The Base unit takes care of the RAID configuration and is defined through a very simple web interface from the SC. 

This setup can also act as a SAN as well as a NAS within the same device by connecting servers either to a file share for NAS or by block for SAN.  All can be configured from the simple web interface.

Here’s the Modular part. To expand on the system you just need to purchase additional expansion units.  These are inexpensive units and allow for growth in a natural modular way without loss of performance.  In fact the growth of the system improves performance in a Scale Out method where adding additional storage produces higher IOPS and greater performance.

In fact a single pair of Stonefly Storage Concentrators (SC) and a Base unit can be expanded by a further 6 chassis.

It doesn’t stop there

Truly Modular Storage

Adding 2 additional Base units and the full compliment of Expansion chassis provide a huge amount of storage real estate and amazing performance at a fraction of the cost of the competition.

It doesn’t actually stop there.  To expand on this you just add 2 additional Storage Concentrators and a Base unit and the required number of Expansion chassis.  There is no limit to this and can be added to endlessly.

Stonefly upgrade path

Now here is the cool part (although the start is also quite staggering when you compare it with the competition).  Soon to become available is 12GB SAS as well as 40GB Ethernet.  To upgrade a traditional system would involve changing the entire controllers  within the appliances as a minimum.  It is likely most vendors will not offer an upgrade path and to get this extra throughput will require replacing the architecture.

Not so with Stonefly products which are all fully upgradeable.  If you need more RAM or a faster CPU, a quicker interface for faster Ethernet – you can just change the items in each device that requires it.

This provides a much safer purchasing strategy for any Infrastructure build project and is the ideal method for providing storage.

Affordable Cloud Storage through modular design

Cloud storage is the latest in services offered to the world, storing large amounts of data connected through the web is an attractive service offered by many companies to individuals and companies alike.  They often offer unlimited Cloud Storage due to the same reason that I started this post.  Nobody wants to buy xx GB of storage – what if you need more?

Stonefly offer a truly modular method for storage infrastructure and all products are available through Future Storage.

If you are looking for an affordable solution to your SAN Storage project – get in touch

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