Xiotech Unveils ISE Storage Bricks, Goes NUDE


The new Intelligent Storage Elements (ISE) from Xiotech, of Eden Prairie, Minn., are self-contained, sealed storage modules with hard drives; redundant Managed Reliability Controllers with local RAID, cache, and drive management software; redundant power and cooling; and battery backup for up to 96 hours of protection.

The ISE came with Xiotech's acquisition last November of the Advanced Storage Architecture (ASA) group of Seagate Technology, of Scotts Valley, Calif.

Steve Sicola, Xiotech CTO and head of the ISE project when it was a part of Seagate, said ISEs, formerly known as "storage bricks," represent a balance between high performance, data recovery, and data integrity in that they come with error recovery and fault-tolerance built-in.

Sicola said the ISE is all about cost, reliability, availability and performance. He gave those words an easy-to-remember acronym: CRAP. "CRAP is good," he said.

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The ISEs are designed to fix themselves should any problem happen with the hardware, Sicola said. At Seagate, it was discovered that only a very small part of returned drives really had a problem, and that most problems could be fixed by mapping around drive failures if they could be detected in time.

"If a problem occurs, and we can sense it ahead of time, we can move the data and try to repair the disk," he said. "It takes a failure of 30 percent of the ISE to affect the module, but we're only seeing 1 percent. We want to prevent failures from happening, and have the ISE fix itself. It would be like an engine with a failing piston that would try to fix the piston itself, and if it wasn't able to fix it would still continue running."

Sicola, as famous in the storage industry for his acronyms as his technological expertise, said the biggest hurdle during the five year development of ISE was moving from DUDE to NUDE.

DUDE, or Damned Undetected Data Errors, is the bane of SCSI-based storage, because it happens on a continual bases. For ISE, however, Sicola wanted to go NUDE, or No Undetected Data Errors. "We put in end-to-end data checks and hardened the software," he said. "We actually finished the hardware two years ago. We spent the last two years hardening the software."

It is the reliability and scalability of ISE which caused Seagate to sell the technology to Xiotech after investing so much time and resources in its development, Sicola said.

"Seagate found it competed with their customers in a big way," he said. "Other vendors didn't want to give up their RAID controller-based technology. Xiotech was one of the few to be interested in it. It is one of the only array vendors to use server heads for the array instead of RAID controllers."

Sicola said most other storage vendors are not yet ready to move the RAID and caching technology so close to the disks because of fears what might happen to one of their biggest revenue streams: break-fix services.

"They feel their services groups will be hurt because of cuts in break-fix services," he said. "Companies like EMC get up to 37 percent of their revenue from break-fix. Most vendors have a financial stake in repairing products so they can sell warranties. It's recurring revenue for them."

Xiotech's ISE products, on the other hand, come with a 5-year warranty, Sicola said.

Xiotech on Tuesday unveiled two products based on the ISE. The Emprise 5000 is basically a single ISE with up to 16 Tbytes of raw capacity. The Emprise 7000 can be configured with up to 64 ISEs, giving it a capacity of about 1 petabyte.

One of the early testers and adopters of the ISE is Nth Generation, a San Diego, Calif.-based storage VAR which signed as a Xiotech partner because of the long-term relationship between Sicola and Rich Baldwin, Nth's president and CEO.

Nth has been testing and beating the ISE for about a year and a half, and about a year ago put it into production, Sicola said. "When Rich called me and said he was putting it in production, I screamed ahhhh," he said.

Baldwin said Nth has been using its sample for its CRM and test and development environments with no difficulty.

"Almost nobody has the leeway to take five years to build a new technology and test it like Seagate and Xiotech did with the ISE," Baldwin said. "This gives Xiotech a major advantage to test it to the point where all the bugs have been worked out."

The self-repair capability of the ISE is important given not only how expensive it is for a vendor to do break-fix work, but also for how unreliable vendor field engineers can be, Baldwin said.

"I have lots of stories about what happens when the service person fails," he said. "He might come out to service a bad controller, but pulls out the good one. So where before he came the custom had reduced function, now it has no function. Or a service guy pulls out a good power supply instead of a bad one, or a good hard drive instead of a bad one."

For Nth, which is one of the largest solution providers working with Hewlett-Packard, of Palo Alto, Calif., the Xiotech ISE represents a greenfield opportunity.

"There are lots of opportunities outside our HP customer base," he said. "We're going to go out and look who are the biggest storage consumers out there."

Baldwin said he doesn't expect his relatively new relationship with Xiotech to impact his HP relationship. "I was just out at the HP partner conference," he said. "(HP CEO Mark) Hurd told us at the partner conference he doesn't expect partners to be HP-exclusive. In reality, this is like David and Goliath. There's a $100 million company and a $100 billion company. Xiotech is not on the big guys' radar screens. You think HP, IBM, or Hitachi Data Systems worry about them?"

Xiotech is currently taking orders for the Emprise 5000 and Emprise 7000, with shipments expected to start by the end of the second quarter of this year.