EMC’s Isilon Scale-out NAS Solution: The Storage Architecture of Today and the Future


May 12, 2015

The purpose of this blog is to give you an overview of EMC’s Isilon Scale-out NAS solution, discuss how it is such a transformative technology in the NAS space, and why it is important in today’s day and age.

Introduction to Isilon

There have been a lot of changes in the storage space over the past 10 years. I have found the Isilon solution brings many game changers to the table at exactly the right time. Isilon was created with the intention of creating scale out storage. As a result of innovative technology, Isilon was one of the youngest companies ever to debut on Gartner’s Magic Quadrant due to its ability to make such a difference in the NAS space. A majority of Isilon customers fall in the Fortune 100 and above space. These customers can benefit most from the Isilon NAS solution, which was specifically designed to resolve exploding data growth issues, and the subsequent management challenges associated with these types of environments. To clarify, Isilon is actually a subsidiary of EMC. This means Isilon operates independently, but is able to benefit from the financial stability of EMC.

Addressing data growth and operational cost

A majority of the problems that Isilon is focused on solving involve organizations whose data is growing unbelievably fast. Bottom line, this is a problem that really stresses out CIOs and keeps them up at night. In fact, over 75% of the data ever created has been created in the past 5 years. And this is a trend that is going to continue.

Another issue organizations typically face is dealing with operational cost. Managing unstructured data becomes increasingly more difficult for organizations without the correct solution in place.  Organizations need to be able to scale, from a capacity and performance perspective, without huge capital expenditures, and without affecting the production environment or critical line of business applications.

How has Isilon changed the storage market?

In a typical NAS unstructured storage solution, most organizations have a bunch of controllers with memory, CPU, and I/O attached to disk shelves that are all independent units. The only way they maintain their high availability is by having a pair of controllers paired together. The major problem with this architecture is that it creates a ton of separate management points in your NAS environment. This occurs because each of the controllers are siloes of data with no knowledge of any other data in the environment. This is the premise under which Isilon was created.

Isilon was created to be the world’s first fully distributed storage system with the ability to manage your entire environment, under one single light weight file system and one single volume, for a virtually limitless single pool of data. Isilon does this by using nodes that are composed of memory, disk and CPU. The solution starts with a minimum of three nodes. One side of the nodes are connected together via Infiniband fabric. This creates one single pool of data operating under one file system, called the OneFS file system. This file system is then accessed via traditional NAS protocols such as NFS, CIFS/SMB, iSCSI, HTTP, HDFS and FTP on the LAN side, which leverages the customer’s existing local area network.

How do you scale from a capacity perspective?

In a traditional model, your decision (from a SAN administrator perspective) is much more difficult because you need to ask yourself three questions: 1) What system am I going to put it on?  2) Can that system support the application from a performance perspective or a capacity perspective?  3) Do I need to stand up a new system?

Let’s say, for example, you would typically just add capacity to an existing controller because that happens to be where the application needs to reside. With Isilon, on the other hand, we just add another node by simply connecting it to the Infiniband network and the LAN. All it takes is a press of a button to get the additional capacity/performance added to the environment, automatically, in the middle of the day, during production hours. Let’s say you don’t want all that new data going to a particular node, as in a traditional environment, because it would create a performance hot spot. Isilon also has a feature called autobalance, which levels out all the capacity, across all nodes, automatically. The white space is automatically balanced across all nodes, allowing organizations to grow much more predictably, at a much higher utilization rate. Isilon solutions typically have a utilization rate of 85% and above, in terms of the ratio between raw and usable space. Traditional NAS solutions, on the other hand, have a utilization rate between 30-50% because of disparate file systems and inefficient file system design.

This was just a brief overview, but I hope you can see just a few of the compelling reasons why organizations are choosing Isilon to solve their exploding data growth issues. Are you interested in getting more information about EMC’s Isilon Scale Out NAS Solution? Contact a Mindsight Solutions Architect today to discuss this solution further. Mindsight provides exceptional, proven storage technologies that will allow your business to dramatically improve utilization without compromise.  Learn more about our data storage solutions here.

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