Tributary Flashes Backup To 60 TB Per Hour
March 23, 2015 Alex Woodie
Flash storage is not something you will find in the typical IBM i shop, which doesn’t get all worked up over shiny new technologies. But if a recent test that that pitted an IBM i host against an IBM FlashSystem 840 storage array–with Tributary Systems‘ Storage Director 5.0 managing traffic in the middle–is a sign of things to come, then flash may be here sooner than you think.
Storage Director is virtual tape library (VTL) software that’s typically installed on an X86 server. This VTL appliance appears to its various hosts (IBM i servers, mainframes, OpenVMS, NonStop, etc) as a trusty old tape library, but instead routes backup data to NAS and SAN arrays, cloud storage offerings, actual tape libraries, and arrays equipped with flash-based solid state drives (SSDs). The company is currently shipping version 4.3; version 5.0 is due out in the middle of the year.
In late 2014, Tributary and IBM teamed up with the Edison Group to see how quickly Storage Director 4.3 and 5.0 could feed data from a variety of systems–including IBM i-based Power Systems servers, System z mainframes, and plain vanilla X86 servers running Linux–to IBM’s FlashSystem 840.
According to the test results, which you can request on the Tributary website, Storage Director 5.0 was able to move compressed data from the hosts to the FlashSystem 840 at speeds up to 10.4 GB per second, or 60 TB per hour, which is approaching the line rate for the 16 Gb per second Fibre Channel linkage it was using. That was three times faster than the software could pump compressed data to storage arrays based on traditional spinning disks. Storage Director 4.3, the current release, was able to move data to the FlashSystem 840 twice as fast it took using spinning disk.
“We literally saturated the FlashSystem,” says Tributary’s director of business development Ed Ahl. “We pushed data at the max that the FlashSystem was capable of. IBM’s never even seen that. We ran it faster than IBM’s ever seen anything drive it, and that’s a pretty impressive statement in itself.”
Ahl is the first to admit that performance numbers can be misleading. You may have the fastest, best, most expensive storage array on the planet, but if the host is a slowpoke when it comes to moving data, then all that fancy technology is for naught.
But Ahl says the tweaks Tributary made with the upcoming release of Storage Director 5.0–including support for Just FHM ID Virtualization (NPIV), a Fibre Channel feature that lets multiple FC channel node ports share a single physical port–was instrumental in cranking up the bytes-per-second number. The more Storage Director 5.0 can carve up a single 16 Gb Fibre Channel port into multiple virtual streams, the more data can be siphoned off the host, whisked through the Storage Director layer, and landed into the Flash System 840.
Ahl also attributes some of the speed boost to using the latest Supermicro X86 servers equipped with the newest Intel and AMD processors and SUSE Linux Enterprise version 12. “SUSE 12 has different levels of drivers that allow us to do some things we couldn’t do on SUSE 11,” Ahl says. A fast new compression and encryption card used in the Supermicro box also contributed to the speed boost, he says.
As The Four Hundred has previously reported, IBM is now shipping the newer FlashSystem 900 line of arrays, which offer bigger capacities and better performance than the FlashSystem 840 arrays. Tributary has not yet tested Storage Director against those devices, but Ahl expects that the company will soon. Ahl is also looking to showcase how combinations of Storage Director and FlashSystem devices can be linked together to scale the storage throughput and capacity.
“We can actually do what I call multi-node, where I multiplex my front end,” he says, “So every time you add another Supermicro, you literally double the performance level. You take that 10 GB per second, and for every node you add to it, you can have another 10 GB per second. I can shove data in a clustered environment at 10, 20, 30, 40 GB per second.”
Granted, such systems would not come cheap, and they would only be used by the biggest and most demanding enterprise sites. A 40 TB FlashSystem 840 goes for around $300,000, Ahl says, while a well-equipped Supermico server with Storage Director, SUSE 12, fancy new encrypto/compresso cards (but no actual storage capacity) adds perhaps another $20,000 to the price tag.
But for customers that have databases starting to exceed 200 TB–and there are many IBM i shops in the financial services and healthcare industries who are–the speed afforded by flash-based storage may be the only way they can actually back up their data in a reasonable amount of time.
“We talk to numbers of customers who have 150 to 200 TB databases, and they rarely get a backup, just because they can’t shove the data fast enough out of it to do that,” Ahl says. “They’re time constrained. They’re almost rolling the dice hoping that nothing happens.”