I'm sure you've heard of storage vendor BlueArc and its Titan line of ultrafast storage systems. In case the name escapes you, here's a refresher.
The company is well known for its exceptionally fast flagship NAS system, the Titan SiliconServer, now about 18 months old. The Titan promises fast file transfers, exceptional scalability, and a resilient, modular architecture that facilitates upgrades and minimizes the consequence of malfunctions. On top of that hardware structure, the Titan runs a respectable suite of applications to provide: snapshots and storage-internal data copy, for example.
How does Titan differ from other NAS systems? For starters, key activities such as routing and file-serving are quickly executed in FPGA (field-programmable gate arrays) andASIC chips, which make wire-speed transfers possible. The two 4U servers at the heart of the Titan have dedicated blades for network connections, storage, and file systems that customers may adapt to their requirements.
In fact, in addition to file-serving for Windows and Unix, a Titan can be equipped with network ports capable of sustaining the fastest FC (Fibre Channel) and Ethernet speeds. Add to that the ability to mount FC or SATA disks, capacity ranging to as much as 256TB, and performance levels reaching 50,000 I/O per second for each server, and you have a system that's difficult to outgrow.
This nonexhaustive summary of Titan took three paragraphs, which is an indication of its sizeable set of features. Future summaries could even take longer, because BlueArc recently announced an update with some very interesting additional capabilities for the Titan software, such as the ability to define virtual servers and support for iSCSI and WORM file systems.
Support for iSCSI means that the Titan now provides fast access to block-based volumes for a variety of servers, which will come in handy for applications such as databases and e-mail systems, and allows migration legacy applications to networked storage at a moderate cost.
WORM support is probably the most surprising of the new features, but BlueArc explains that in addition to compliance with regulatory requirements, some customers need long-term, fast, and repeated access to files that must remain unchanged. Bringing WORM to the Titan satisfies both those demands, and partnership with other vendors will add seamless transfer of WORMed data to tape.
The new release also includes the ability to automatically migrate data from, say, expensive FC disks to roomy SATA enclosures. Both types of devices were previously supported by Titan, but the new version allows you to define policies to automatically move data according to criteria such as age or file type. If, after reading all this, you're thinking ILM (information lifecycle management), so am I. Obviously BlueArc doesn't want to leave the ILM stone unturned, nor give that advantage to competing storage systems from, say, EMC or NetApp. Mirroring volumes over dark fiber is another interesting feature of the new release, and it should simplify disaster recovery within a campus or a MAN (metropolitan area network).
Still, I can't help being enticed by the prospect of defining as many as eight virtual servers within a single Titan. You can isolate applications and business units in separate virtual Titans; moreover, those virtual servers seamlessly move from one physical server to another, allowing for maintenance cycles or load-balancing across multiple systems.
The usual benefits of virtualization -- more efficient use of hardware, easier administration, increased application resilience, and so on -- apply to the virtual Titan and should bring a much-needed reassurance of flexibility to customers who still regard the solution from BlueArc as the monolithic giant that its name suggests.
It's important to note that you don't need to buy a new system to take advantage of these new features, because they are available as an update to the existing Titan system for about $10,000 each. BlueArc indicates that the update is available for all systems, even if you have the very first Titan ever shipped.
Money issues aside, the new software could also change customers' perception of the Titan, turning it into a gentler and more pliable storage giant. Check it out.
Mario Apicella is a senior analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center.