Briefing Note: What does Dell see in Exablox’s Scale-out NAS?

Exablox just received a new funding round of $16M, bringing their funding total to $38.5M since inception four years ago. One of those investors is Dell Ventures. On a briefing call recently, Exablox made it clear that this is not a technology partnership but purely an investment. While it may turn into something more in the future, investments like this are ways that larger companies stay on top of the progress of new tech companies for possible future partnerships. But what does Dell see in Exablox?

We all know that data is growing and that most of that growth is in the unstructured (file) area. Scale-out storage, especially with object-based architectures, offers a powerful technology to address this growth, but most solutions are relatively expensive and designed for the PB-scale end of the market. Exablox is leveraging the advantages of scale-out, object storage, and wrapping it in a plug-and-play NAS system that’s aimed at mid-market and smaller users.

Scale-out NAS

The Exablox system is a scale out NAS product built with OneBlox appliances, two rack units in height but actually about 9” wide so they can sit on a desktop. With 8 x 3.5” drive slots OneBlox can be clustered to build a scale-out, global file storage system that can grow to seven appliances and well over 300TBs of capacity. Exablox’s ring architecture supports non-disruptive expansion with essentially no configuration and no application downtime.

BYO Disk Drives

To keep price per TB down users also supply their own disk drives, and according to the company, well over 90% go that route. They must use qualified drives, but Exablox currently supports over 50 makes and models between 1TB and 6TB in capacity, and actually has 8TB drives in the qualification process now. This strategy makes sense because most high-capacity consumer HDDs have similar reliability characteristics to ‘enterprise drives’ and disk drive economics are such that large retailers can offer these drives for as good or better price than Exablox can get them for.

Plug and Play

The company touts users’ ability to set up the system in less than 5 minutes; just plug in a single OneBlox, connect it to Ethernet and it’s ready to go. Expansion is similar, plug in new nodes and the file system grows automatically. The Exablox system features inline deduplication, continuous snapshot-based data protection and optional encryption. Instead of RAID, the ring architecture uses replication to distribute data blocks across multiple drives and OneBlox appliances, even remotely for geo-distribution. Replication allows the rapid rebuilding of data when a drive fails, making even high capacity 8TB drives a safe option.

Cloud-based Management

Part of the Exablox technology that enables this simple operation is a cloud-based utility called “OneSystem” that monitors every appliance through a web browser. Setup is accomplished automatically, much like a Bluetooth pairing. This eliminates the need for a storage management platform, dedicated hardware to run it on, software upgrades, etc.

This cloud-based platform also allows the company to capture an enormous amount of data about units running in the field, essentially characterizing how their installed base is working. This kind of information is being used by more and more system manufacturers to improve reliability, accelerate software upgrades and even drive new product development.

Exablox’s system is sold exclusively through VARs, integrators and distributors. Expansion of the company’s go to market efforts, including channel partners, is a primary of this new funding round.

StorageSwiss Take

What does Dell see in Exablox? In small to mid-sized company file services they’re addressing a huge market, one that Dell is intimately familiar with. Being easy to use, it’s also easy to sell, making Exablox a very channel-friendly product, another plus for Dell. They seem to have figured out how to apply an object-based architecture to something besides big file, content repositories or big cloud. And while the OneBlox units are sold as hardware, Exablox could easily sell these scale-out appliances in a Dell chassis, much the same way LeftHand Networks transitioned over to HP hardware.

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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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