Ion SpeedServer Lives Up to Its Name


Keep your eye on Ion.

That’s Ion Computer Systems, a Long Island, N.Y.-based manufacturer of server/drive arrays for high-performance computing applications. The largely unknown company impressed the CRN Test Center editors with its SpeedServer SR-71, a 2U, two-socket Xeon server and SSD drive array with more whistles and bells than a one-man band.

The tested system was populated with two dozen, 48-GB SSD 2.5-inch drives, mounted in front-accessible hot-swap bays, configured in three RAID arrays of eight drives each.
They were managed by three discrete RAID controllers, leaving one additional PCIe x8 slot as well as one x4 slot available for customer options.

The unit arrived with an additional pair of hot-swap boot drives at the rear, one configured to run Windows Server 2008 R2, the other CentOS Linux; the system performs equally well running either. Optionally, the drives can mirror each other, be configured as a two-drive RAID array or as single or separate volumes. They’re mounted atop the SpeedServer’s dual, redundant hot-swap power supplies.

On the subject of power, the SR-71 consumes remarkably little. When running with a moderate load, the SpeedServer consumed just 191 watts, compared with 345 watts of a two-socket server tested recently by CRN. With all drives running at full boar, consumption increased to 335 watts, compared with an average server consumption of 453 watts according to vertatique.com, which follows trends in so-called green IT.

Credited with the unit’s frugal power consumption are, of course, its solid state drives. They’re also responsible for the SpeedServer’s great performance.

In Geekbench 2.15 tests, the unit’s peak score was an outstanding 11,762, the second highest we’ve seen (Dell’s PowerEdge R810 still holds the record at 14,890).

Even better was its input-output operations per second (IOPS) performance. Using Intel’s Iometer 2006 open source benchmark, testers measured the read/write performance of the SpeedServer’s RAID 5 array at about 250,000 IOPS, and 400,000 IOPS when performing only reads. All tests were done with SLC-type SSD drives.

With this type of performance, the SpeedServer is being positioned as a server for streaming media, serving static Web content or as a datastore for online transaction processing, and we recommend it for such applications.

“IBM talked to Ion at [the] SC2009 [conference] about using it to cache data in front of large storage units," but has not yet made a purchase, said Paul Scheremeta, Ion’s vice president of marketing. While nothing exactly like SpeedServer exists yet, according to Scheremeta, the company typically comes up against similar units from Fusion I/O and others that package SSDs in external enclosures and connect with cabling.

“But when you use extenders to get there, you lose the edge of SSD,” said Keith Josephson, the company’s VP of engineering. “We tried that route at first, but we ultimately went with three internal RAID controllers instead,” he said. Ion last month added support for Intel’s FastPath RAID protocol, which optimizes the stack for SSD drives.

Though prices have come down along with the comoditization of memory, SSDs are still not cheap.

As tested, the SpeedServer SR-71 lists for $37,500. That includes three years of technical support with guaranteed four-hour turn around as well as business continuity via a bootable USB stick and data collection utility. With the exception of a proprietary drive-power solution for the SSDs, the SpeedServer uses standard, off-the-shelf components, including an Intel motherboard with dual integrated Gb Ethernet, video and five USB ports; Intel RAID controllers; standard DDR3 memory modules; and redundant, hot-swap power supplies and fans.

Established in 1992, Ion Computer employs 24 full-time workers and is headquartered in Hauppauge, N.Y.