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A Pillar of NAS Innovation

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NAS has had its detractors in recent years. Some say, for example, that it doesn’t scale as well as SAN and isn’t really suitable for enterprise applications. Enter a number of NAS startups with technology upgrades that have taken NAS to the next level.

One such innovator is Pillar Data Systems Inc. of San Jose, CA.

“The Pillar Axiom NAS supports native NFS and CIFS and includes robust cross-protocol locking, user authentication with Active Directory/NIS and user mapping,” says Paul Morrissey, senior manager, network storage and software, Pillar Data Systems. “Its rich data protection capabilities include snapshot, replication, D2D backup and NDMP (Network Data Management Protocol) backup.”

The Pillar Axiom Storage system consists of three core elements:

Management software – it allows system administrators to allocate storage resources, specify Quality of Service (QoS), and define storage automation parameters.

Pilot – a single policy controller runs the management function.

Slammer – up to four high-performance, high-reliability data movers and managers provide non-stop data access.

Brick – up to 32 storage enclosures provide the high-performance storage for the common SAN or NAS storage pool.

Starting price is $75,000

“The Axiom NAS is layered on a native common storage pool comprised of high availability SATA and FC disk enclosures,” says Morrissey. “This is the same storage pool that is shared with Axiom SAN slammers (controllers). It has a secure data retention repository for fixed content via our optional add-on SecureWORMfs capability.”

High availability (HA) features include scalable peered NAS controllers, battery backed write memory cache (up to 12 GB) mirrored over Fibre Channel to an active pair node, and virtual IP capability to seamlessly move IP resources between ports when required. It also has a QoS performance manager that automatically allocates resources to guarantee service levels. In addition, it features an Active Journal that tunes cache via algorithms, which enable optimized operation based on I/O profile (sequential/random). It has a scalable online distributed file system with expansion up to 380 TB. The maximum storage system cache is 96 GB per system across eight slammer nodes.

“It’s designed for high availability (HA) to ensure file services remain available despite hardware/software anomalies,” says Morrissey. “It has a single name space which allows the file system to be accessed from any slammer resource, and unlimited file size system expansion to 380TB.”

Customer Applications

He characterizes Pillar Axiom as having appeal for multiple applications in different verticals. This is backed up by the company having current deployments in fields such as online retail, web hosting, publishing and financial services. Law firms are also using this NAS technology in legal forensics, for example, to be able to quickly search huge Exchange or Lotus Notes databases stretching over a long period of time. Further, the technology industry is a fruitful source of clientele, especially those that build and test software, where they can store old code images for reuse.

Campus USA Credit Union in Gainesville, FL, for example, is a Pillar customer. This non-profit cooperative serves more than 60,000 members. It decided to select Pillar Axiom storage rather than competing systems from EMC and EqualLogic. Campus CTO Jim Thackrey says factors such as ease of consolidation, quick implementation and cost savings were among the key factors in the decision.

Campus initially purchased a 9TB combined SAN/NAS system from Pillar at the beginning of the year. Recently, he says, the credit union has expanded to a 12TB system. Further plans include the addition of off-site backup for greater disaster protection.
“The Pillar systems have allowed CAMPUS to have improved redundancy due to the size of the drives and snapshot backups throughout the day,” says Thackrey.

NAS Futures

Pillar’s Morrissey is upbeat about the future. Without revealing a specific company product pipeline, he discussed a bright future for NAS based around several emerging trends. For example, automatic and seamless file lifecycle management will enable users to place data on appropriate tiers of storage automatically. NAS systems will continue to incorporate and advance such features to ensure that NAS becomes an integral part of evolving ILM architectures.

File virtualization, too, he says, is reinforcing NAS growth, as it enables storage administrators to consolidate hardware resources. In addition, he sees plenty of NAS opportunities in file archiving and remote office data management.

“Large scalable NAS will increase available file storage for archived content while improving existing power characteristics,” says Morrissey. “NAS will also help to consolidate access and backup for remote offices to central NAS repositories.”

This article was first published on

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