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Does BlueArc's Titan 2000 networked attached storage array give users what they need?

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When it was first introduced, BlueArc's family of Titan 2000 network attached storage (NAS) appliances made claim to being the world's highest performance, most scalable storage system.

Aimed at enterprise data centre and high performance computing environments, all Titan 2000 variants (the 2100, 2200, and 2500) are effectively NAS gateways that present multiple-attached disk arrays as a single pool of storage.

As such they allow companies to create 'in-the-box' tiered storage solutions with a mix of Fibre Channel and SATA drives, as well as write-once/read-many (WORM)-protected disks.

That said, the Titan 2000 provides in a single box what many rival NAS systems - from the likes of EMC and NetApp - can only present in multiple devices. The 2100 connects up to 256Tb of storage capacity, for example, while the emergence of new, small form-factor hard disk arrays has given the 2200 and 2500 the ability to provide up to 2Pb in a single storage pool.

BlueArc claims that using its own specially-programmed field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), rather than commodity CPUs, to execute core processing functions and TCP/IP, provides significant performance advantages over rival systems that handle these in standard operating systems like Windows Storage Server.

Based on the SPECsfs benchmark suite, BlueArc rates NFS SpecOps/Second at up to 100,000, for example, while the passive backplane supports an estimated 5Gbps of throughput for the 2100 and 10Gbps for the 2200 and 2500.

Enclosed in a 4U rack, the Titan 2000 series feature four bays that accommodate four 1U system modules. The File System module supports a global unified namespace for CIFS and NFS file systems, making it easier for administrators to move users around, and houses the NVRAM that copies data to memory to ensure it is not lost during system downtime. The Titan 2000 chassis has dual redundant hot-plug power supplies to guard against accidental shutdowns.

Support for the iSCSI protocol might prove useful to any IT administrator looking to provide block-level storage access to specific applications; but most companies will typically use the Titan 2000 to migrate tier 3 content from older, slower disk or tape libraries, in order to improve data access and retrieval times.

It also presents a good option for any firm looking to add near line storage onto a second site for replication and disaster recovery purposes.

Another component, the Storage Interface Module (SIM) attaches the Titan to the disk arrays behind it, and features four Fibre Channel ports and two 10GbE (Gigabit Ethernet) ports for clustering multiple Titans together. Two choices of network interface module (NIM) are supplied, depending on the type of network the Titan is being attached to - one sports dual, 10 Gigabit Ethernet fiber XFP interfaces and another six Gigabit Ethernet fibre or copper SFP ports.

Day-to-day storage administration is handled by the System Management Unit (SMU), accessible via either a command line interface (CLI) or through a browser. This also gives storage managers a number of useful software utilities designed to help them consolidate and manage the terabytes of storage under their control.

One of these is BlueArc's Virtual Servers facility, which can be used to split attached physical storage resources into up to eight different virtual storage entities (64 in a clustered configuration), for example, each with its own IP address and file system. An optional software upgrade adds the ability to give each Virtual Server a separate security domain authentication, which means public and private storage networks can co-exist on the same Titan server, for example, without security being compromised. 

BlueArc also provides a migration utility that can be used to move data from one tier of storage to another, with a management console that allows storage managers to define settings that automatically move files off expensive Fibre Channel based disks and onto lower cost SATA drives according to compliance rules, thereby delivering basic information lifecycle management (ILM) features.

Snapshot, remove volume mirroring, and replication tools are all provided, along with optional dynamic read caching and protocol acceleration utilities designed to boost data access performance.

BlueArc also introduced an entry-level system, the Titan 1100, priced at around $75,000 (£36,500 excluding VAT), last November. This scales up to 128Tb of capacity and supports two-node clustering, a four-blade chassis, four Gigabit Ethernet ports, and four Fibre Channel ports. BlueArc claims 2.5Gbps throughput for the Titan 1100, and up to 50,000 SpecOps/second.

The entire BlueArc Titan family is also sold by storage vendor Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), re-badged as the Hitachi High Performance NAS Platform.

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