Spectra Logic nTier Verde – simple, affordable Enterprise file storage

Primary storage is being overwhelmed by data growth, much of it unstructured digital content. These are large files that don’t change but must still remain online, often for extended periods of time. Tier-1 storage systems are too expensive, especially over time, and can be complex to operate. What’s needed is simple, affordable data storage that’s still reliable and supported like an enterprise storage system. Spectra’s nTier Verde is designed for this very use case.

Much of this data growth is coming from the explosion of digital content. This can be data that’s generated in the digital production process or rich media files that are destined for a longer-term archive, like tape, but need to be cached as part of the workflow. For another company these could be disk backups that must be kept online to support the restore process or data that needs ‘bulk’ storage, either temporarily or indefinitely, to support the business’s needs.

Traditional Storage not the Answer

Traditional storage arrays are often designed with lots of features to make them a good fit for a wide range of use cases, but not particularly good as long-term storage. Even systems designed as ‘capacity’ storage often come with general-purpose features instead of designs that specifically support long-term data integrity or faster RAID rebuilds (arrays now commonly have disk drives of 1TB or more).

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Spectra Logic’s nTier Verde is a new approach to the storage problem facing many IT organizations. It’s simply affordable storage, from a company that understands the importance of long-term data integrity. The system is also very easy to use with 30-minute set up and an intuitive, browser-based GUI that handles all configuration, monitoring and management tasks from a single computer interface or a smart phone.

No Previous Experience Needed

nTier Verde has designed out the complexity that has crept into most traditional enterprise storage arrays. Users who have no previous experience running storage can easily configure and operate the system. Set up takes 30 minutes (from shipping box to production) and a single-screen dashboard enables management and monitoring remotely with a smart phone. Adding capacity is simple too, as thin-provisioned disk pools can be expanded in less than one minute and the system’s health can be monitored at a glance from the front panel ‘Status Beacon’.

Abundant Capacity

Available in 2U and 4U chassis a single nTier Verde system can start with as little as 24TB and expand well into the PB range. Each 4U node can hold 35 x 4TB SAS disk drives providing a maximum of 140TB of raw capacity. By adding up to nine Expansion Nodes a system can grow to 1.7PB (raw). Each Master Node comes with 3 x 1GbE and 2 x 10GbE data ports (10GbE optional on 2U module).

Affordable

With a list price of $0.48 per GB (non-compressed) and no software fees (compression, snapshots and replication are included), nTier Verde can off-load a lot of data from the primary storage infrastructure and store it cost-effectively. Spectra also offers their PriceLock support pricing, which is guaranteed not to increase faster than the prevailing rate of inflation (as established by the Consumer Price Index). This keeps operational expenses predictable and eliminates the ballooning support prices that some enterprise storage vendors charge after the initial support contract has expired.

Reliability

CIFS and NFS file services are supported, with unlimited hot sparing, data mirroring and single-, double- or triple-parity options to provide the level of data protection the organization requires. nTier Verde features 7200 RPM, 6Gb/s SAS disk drives for excellent performance and 7×24 reliability with a 2 Million-hour MTBF at a 100% duty cycle.

Data integrity

nTier Verde uses SAS disk drives, which are significantly more reliable than SATA, leveraging end-to-end data integrity checking within the drive itself. nTier Verde also runs an ECC (Error Correction Code) checksum on every 128K block of data, which is stored separately from the data itself for added protection. In addition, nTier Verde’s data handling process doesn’t directly overwrite data, to better support snapshots. And all data writes are completed before acknowledgement, as a separate step from parity writes, for better protection against corruption during a power loss.

Intelligent RAID

nTier Verde allows admins to set the number of parity disks to provide protection for up to 3 concurrent disk failures. It stripes data using the nTier Verde system software, not a hardware RAID controller. The system can also monitor drive degradation, identifying a drive that will need to be replaced before it fails and switching to a global spare drive, initiating the ‘resilvering’ process described above.

nTier Verde also uses an intelligent RAID rebuild process that only restores allocated or written-to data, not the entire disk capacity. This can save hours of rebuild time and reduce the window of increased vulnerability that the system is subjected to. With multi-terabyte drives commonplace, especially in the high-capacity use cases, this is a very important feature.

The Real World

As affordable, high-capacity storage, nTier Verde has many uses in the IT environment. One customer, The Tandy Supercomputing Center in Tulsa, OK, has deployed nTier Verde to take some of the load off of their primary NAS systems. Currently, they use it to stage backups, as a high capacity scratch storage area for their users’ projects and for longer term archiving of inactive projects that must still be available on relatively short notice.

As George Louthan, Director of the Tandy Supercomputing Center, put it, “We needed cheaper storage capacity, but not ‘cheap storage’”, so nTier Verde’s data integrity features and Spectra Logic’s support infrastructure were important. They also liked the simple scalability of nTier Verde, since they have to be ready to stand up new supercomputing projects quickly, often with very large storage requirements.

Conclusion

Large file data sets are killing traditional storage. Image-based digital content has always created a storage problem, but even enterprises are feeling the pinch with rich media (PowerPoint files, hi-res graphics and internal/surveillance videos) and the amount of pictures and imagery that’s now part of the everyday workflow.

To make matters worse, much of these data need to be kept long term since digital content represents an investment that companies want to save. Regulatory compliance is also extending the lifespan of these data sets, creating the need for storage that’s designed to maintain data integrity over time.

Expanding those enterprise systems with a ‘capacity’ shelf of storage isn’t the answer, neither is relying on deduplication to somehow render the space required. What’s needed is affordable capacity that’s reliable enough for storing tier-one data, both short and long term, but easy enough for general IT personnel to drop into the environment when needed.

Storage Swiss Take

nTier Verde includes a lot of advanced functionality, but doesn’t include everything. It has a high-density architecture that scales into the PB range, but doesn’t include deduplication. Dedupe is less effective with digital content and often included at the host level anyway. It has a number of sophisticated data handling and data integrity features that support large drives and long-term data retention. But it doesn’t include block storage, caching or tiering software that add cost and management overhead.

nTier Verde is a purpose-built system engineered for this high-capacity file storage use case, not a converted general-purpose storage system filled with high-capacity drives. By eschewing the obligatory list of “checkbox” features for those that are essential Spectra Logic has created a storage system that’s simple enough for any user, affordable enough for any data and reliable enough for any company.

Spectra Logic is a client of Storage Switzerland

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Eric is an Analyst with Storage Switzerland and has over 25 years experience in high-technology industries. He’s held technical, management and marketing positions in the computer storage, instrumentation, digital imaging and test equipment fields. He has spent the past 15 years in the data storage field, with storage hardware manufacturers and as a national storage integrator, designing and implementing open systems storage solutions for companies in the Western United States.  Eric earned degrees in electrical/computer engineering from the University of Colorado and marketing from California State University, Humboldt.  He and his wife live in Colorado and have twins in college.

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