Crossroads Drops Rack Requirement, Adds De-Dupe in VTL
November 4, 2015 Alex Woodie
Mega-huge data centers are hot topics in the news, but mom and pop businesses often run their IBM i servers in cozy little data closets. This fact drove Crossroads Systems to launch a workstation version of its SPHiNX virtual tape library (VTL) that doesn’t require a rack. The Texas company also gave a preview of upcoming VTL features, including data de-duplication across the wire.
Crossroads debuted the SPHiNX WS at the Fall COMMON Conference and Expo last month. With 3 TB of usable storage (expandable to 6 TB) and a starting price point of $6,800, the new VTL with the workstation form-factor will save customers money, says Crossroads Senior Product Manager Glenn Haley.
“We have a number of customers who want to utilize a virtual tape solution, but who have stricter budgets,” Haley tells IT Jungle. “The previous 3 TB offering that started at a $9,500 [the SPHiNX 1US] was a problem for budgets. So the workstation we believe is going to position SPHiNX as a VTL solution for these smaller-sized IBM i shops.”
Then there is the matter of that workstation form-factor, which is a first for Crossroads. “A lot of the clients we spoke to don’t even have a data center. They have a closet, so forcing them to purchase a rack would add $5,800 to the cost,” Haley says. “So they welcomed the tower or workstation form factor.”
But the SPHiNX WS has a neat trick: It can be installed in a rack if needed. Mounted horizontally, the SPHiNX occupies 4U of rack space. When it’s installed this way, everything works the same, including the ability to access the optional LTO 5 tape drive in the front.
Which brings us to the VTL’s next neat trick: incorporating an LTO 5 tape drive in the front of the device. It may seem odd to include a tape drive on a virtual tape library, but Crossroads customers are demanding it, Haley says.
“We have a customer moving from Power5 to Power 8. They were using the internal tape drive in the Power 5, but the Power8 servers from IBM no longer have an internal tape drive,” he says. “Our new SPHiNX WS has a 5.25-inch slot on the front. We have, as an option, the ability to include an LTO 5 tape drive.”
Having a tape drive on a VTL doesn’t sound so crazy when you consider the need to physically move backups away from the production site as part of a proper disaster recovery (DR) scenario. While SPHiNX devices can restore backups to an IBM i very quickly (much faster than a tape drive can) and can also perform an IPL, good old-fashioned magnetic tapes still provide good value for DR purposes.
Like the Crossroads VTLs that it replaces (the 1US and the 2US models), the new SPHiNX WS connects to IBM i servers via 8 GBps Fibre Channel connections. The company is working to certify the new EJ10 SAS adapter cards that IBM debuted with the Power8, Haley said, and presumably these will be supported across the entire spectrum of Crossroads products.
There are some internal differences with the new SPHiNX WS, however. For starters, Crossroads elected to go with 1 TB SATA drives instead of 1 TB SAS drives in the new device. While the less-expensive SATA drives have a lower mean time between failure (MTBF) rating than the SAS drives that are used in all the other products (including the forthcoming models that we’ll describe below), they are within tolerances, Haley says.
Also, the SPHiNX WS sports twin SSDs, which is a first for Crossroads. The drives are used to host the operating system running atop the device’s Intel Haswell chipsets, and are replicas of each other to provide operational redundancy.
The SPHiNX WS comes with basic features, including support for compression and data replication. It also supports optional features like encryption and WAN acceleration, which is widely used by business partners who use the VTL to offer network-based backup services to end-user organizations.
Next month, Crossroads is planning to deliver support for data de-duplication over the network. This feature will be useful for reducing the amount of data that customers send over the network when using the device’s data replication functionality.
The data de-dupe functionality was added in response to competitive pressures from Data Domain, which was part of EMC and is now part of Dell. Crossroads lost a few deals to Data Domain because of that company’s data de-duplication capability, Haley says, but now the company has something to offer customers who face the bandwidth crunch with backups.
“That technology is going in and essentially finding out where the end of file marks are, so we can perform a de-dupe, so we don’t send repetitive data across the link,” Haley says. “That will allow our customers to subscribe to smaller bandwidth connections, and therefore you send less data over the wire with the available bandwidth in the required timeframe.”
It’s worth noting that Crossroads is not de-duplicating data at rest. Data Domain will continue to be able to tout that as an advantage. However, Haley says that de-duplicating data at rest isn’t as big of an advantage as it might seem, because it takes away some other capabilities–namely the capability to export backups to tape.
“Most of [the data de-duplication vendors] have to rehydrate the data before they write it off to tape,” Haley says. “Sending it over the wire de-duped has advantage, and now we closed that gap with our new enhancement that’s available in December.”
The company is also gearing up to launch a completely new line of SPHiNX VTL devices in the first quarter of 2016, including the CS, ES, and NS line. These will be in addition to the entry-level WS line, and the pre-existing 3US line.
The new CS (corporate system) will start with 6 TB of SAS-based storage and scale to 18 TB. The ES (enterprise system) device will start at 36 TB of SAS-based storage and scale up to 72 TB. The NS (no storage) is a software offering that utilizes external, third-party storage arrays.