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Nutanix launches dense storage appliance for storage clouds, VDI

Sonia R. Lelii, Senior News Writer

Startup Nutanix Inc. today unveiled its dense storage appliance

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that combines solid-state drives (SSDs), hard drives, compute and a file system into a dense unit aimed at building private storage clouds and virtual desktop infrastructures (VDIs).

The San Jose, Calif.-based startup claims its Complete Cluster eliminates the need for traditional storage-area network (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) by using a “Google-like” storage architecture on direct-attached storage (DAS).

Nutanix’s Complete Cluster is a scale-out compute and storage system integrated in a 2U block that contains four x86 server nodes. Each node has dual Intel Xeon 5640 processors, 320 GB of PCIe flash from Fusion-io, 300 GB of SATA SSDs, 5 TB of SATA hard drives and 48 GB of RAM (expandable to 192 GB).

Each node runs a VMware hypervisor with a Nutanix virtual machine (VM) controller that acts as an intelligent storage controller. The Controller VMs in a cluster work as a unified distributed system. Nutanix claims a cluster can scale to hundreds of nodes.

Nutanix customer Neil Ferguson, technology director at law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, describes the Complete Cluster appliance as “like a mini-data center in a box. What takes up about 72U in space today can sit in a 4U unit," he said. "I have to be honest; we were a bit hesitant [about buying the product]. Then they brought it in, and we were pleasantly surprised.”

Nutanix’s goal is to emulate and commercialize the type of proprietary storage system that Google built to run its search engine. Nutanix co-founder and chief technology officer (CTO) Mohit Aron was a Google engineer from 2003-2007 and worked on the development of the Google File System (GFS).

“The density in something like this is so high, I’m almost in disbelief. It has massive compute capability,” said Arun Taneja, founder, president and consulting analyst at Taneja Group. “What Nutanix is basically saying is what is good for Google is good for everyone else in the market. Everyone can enjoy the cost, performance advantages that Google has enjoyed all for itself.”

A software layer called the Nutanix Scale-Out Converged Storage (SOCS) converts all the storage in the Complete Cluster nodes into a unified pool. SOCS provides shared storage for the virtual machines in the form of virtual disks (vDisks) that can span one or more nodes within a cluster. A vDisk is mounted locally on a VM and as the VM moves from one node to another, the vDisk moves transparently. A vDisk can be allocated with a mix of SSDs and hard drives. Nutanix’s Heat-Optimized Tiering (HOT) ensures more frequently accessed data resides on SSDs while colder data sits on SATA drives.

“We build a distributed system that turns the local storage into a SAN,” said Ajeet Singh, Nutanix co-founder and chief products officer. “In a typical SAN, you have one or two controllers. But with the Nutanix nodes, there's one controller in each node. So if you have a 20-node cluster, you have 20 controllers working for you.”

Each Complete Cluster provides byte-oriented deduplication for primary data, a QuickClone feature for creating writeable snapshots that behave like vDisks, and SnapBack for instant backup and recovery of vDisks. The Nutanix Complete Cluster RAID stripes data across disk within a node for high availability, and the Nutanix Distributed Metadata Service distributes and replicates metadata for fault tolerance.

Nutanix came out of stealth in April 2011 with $13.2 million in funding, and has had its systems in production with several customers.

Customers test Complete Cluster for private cloud and VDI use

Some current Nutanix users are testing the product with an eye toward building a cloud. Ferguson at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe said the plan is to use Nutanix blocks to build a private cloud for its offices in Europe and Asia. He has used one block to test Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint, and is testing Microsoft FAST Search & Transfer on it. “We're getting superior performance over what we have today,” Ferguson said.

Steve Kedem, manager for technology architecture and engineering at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, a $1.3 billion-a-year New York-based law firm, said he's testing the product to use it for a private cloud and VDI. “What is nice is the storage components can be accessed across the different nodes,” he said. “It eliminates the need for a dedicated storage network. Plus, you get linear performance, meaning that as you add more blocks performance improves rather than degrades.”

Nutanix blocks are generally available now. A starter block of three nodes is priced at $75,000. A complete block with four nodes costs $115,000, and five complete blocks with 20 nodes is $575,000. The Complete Cluster will compete with integrated stacks already on the market, such as the Vblock that combines storage with EMC, Cisco networking and compute, and VMware software.

Nutanix's founders came from Aster Data Systems Inc., the big data analytics vendor acquired by Teradata in April. Nutanix CEO and co-founder Dheeraj Pandey was vice president of engineering at Aster Data and previously managed development of the storage engine for Oracle Exadata. Aron, the firm's CTO, was chief architect at Aster after leaving Google, while chief products officer Singh was senior director of product management at Aster.

This article was previously published on SearchStorage.com.