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The Third Generation BlueArc Titan Puts Oomph in Networked File Systems; Is There an “Oops” in its Support?

It isn’t enough for a vendor to make claims about their storage system; they should have to prove it. In a recent briefing with BlueArc it was quite clear that it was ready to back up its claims which really shouldn’t have surprised us since BlueArc has taken control of its destiny from the beginning. A quick look at various U.S. Patents shows BlueArc’s ingenuity, direction, and leadership.

By taking a unique approach and not following the crowd, BlueArc elected not to use off-the-shelf servers in the design of its Titan storage system. Instead, BlueArc adopted a new architecture that was to be its staple for optimizing data movement. By developing and owning its own architecture, BlueArc could write specifications for whatever it thought the market demanded.

When it developed the Titan, BlueArc made a significant advancement in the evolution of the architecture — taking an object based file-system and moving it entirely into the hardware. Its unique approach of putting the file-system in its Titan hardware and not on disk along with not having a general purpose operating system enables BlueArc to continuously improve the performance and scalability for each consecutive generation of its Titan. Part of the rationale behind this design is that BlueArc believes networked file systems will follow the same roadmap as other networking operating systems such as Cisco’s IOS and move into the silicon. In this way, file system performance will improve as hardware speeds increase. So far this theory appears to be working. By way of example, the first generation Titan could generate 400MBps & 50K IOPS, the second generation Titan 800MBps & 100K IOPS, and now the third generation Titan generates 1600MBps & 200K IOPS.

But what else enables the Titan to perform so well? At its core the Titan makes use of a bi-directional high-speed read-write bus that allows the concurrent reading and writing of data without the conflict of shared buses. At each stage of the data path there are dedicated processing and memory resources that it enables to act upon data at wire speed. The Titan also uses a massively parallel architecture with no centralized processing bottlenecks, no general operating system and all core functions are performed in hardware and completely optimized for moving data at high speeds.

As a practical example, let’s assume you need to take advantage of any number of the current industry trends such as RAID, clustering, virtualization, access control, consolidation, or global namespaces. What you’ll find out is that the typical NAS device will experience drastic degradations in performance. Let’s face it. This is totally unacceptable in an era that is becoming more and more performance, energy, and cost conscience.

But because BlueArc’s Titan implements these rich features in hardware the overhead on the Titan remains at well under 1%. This enables IT to take full advantage of its robust features without compromising cost. Additionally, the Titan’s flexible and modular design enables customers to leverage their existing configurations. For instance, the Titan has had the same chassis since the first generation. So if you started with a first generation Titan that delivered approximately 50K IOPS, you can now upgrade to the current third generation Titan that delivers 200K IOPS while keeping all your data in place and doing nothing more than a blade change.

The flexibility of the Titan is further enhanced by its ability to accept firmware upgrades (which occur about four times a year) that contain major new features. Past features delivered through firmware have included new protocols, iSCSI, cluster namespace, data migration capabilities, and many APIs. Performance, design, advanced features, quality, reliability and support continues to draw appeal in the current market as confirmed in a recent award from Storage Magazine.

So while BlueArc’s design is sound and tuned to meet the cost, capacity and performance needs of today’s data centers, a larger question that remains is how ready is BlueArc internally set up to meet the support needs of enterprise data centers? Stories have surfaced that its field upgrade processes are not always as tight as they need to be which has resulted in problems in customer environments. While BlueArc is not alone in these types of support issues, because its focus is on consolidations in high end shops, it has to set the bar a little higher in terms of seamlessly delivering the type of support experience that enterprises will expect and demand if they are going to look to BlueArc in lieu of traditional solutions.

Step into any data center and you will find it storing an increasingly amount of data as well as a myriad of applications accessing it. Yet without the storage infrastructure to support this infrastructure, companies will eventually hit capacity, performance and revenue bottlenecks. The BlueArc Titan gives companies the flexibility to scale capacity and performance but yet with enough versatility and simplicity for customers to explore, discover research, create, process and innovate in data and performance-intensive environments. But for BlueArc to ultimately succeed and displace existing file system technologies, it needs to create a buzz about more than just the oomph its technology provides but also an oomph that enterprise companies expect to receive when they look to it for enterprise support.


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