#SFD3: Exablox launch

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Storage Field Day 3 event in Denver has started at full speed, and we were happy and lucky at the same time to have Exablox as our first presenting company: they launch publicly right at SFD3 coming out of stealth mode!


ExabloxesIf I should have to describe them in a sentence: “Object storage for the masses”.

After two years of development before launch, Exablox guys presented their object storage solution, designed from the groud-up to be scalable, reliable, with enterprise level features, but also easy to use and cheap. The solution has two building blocks, the Storage Appliance (OneBlox) and the management system (OneSystem).

The principles inspiring the design are basically four: – Easy to Manage – Easy to Grow – Enterprise Features – Low Cost

The Exablox solution is completely scale-out, and uses share-nothing principles to distribute data and metadata between the appliances forming the cluster (or ring, as they call it).

The first nice solution I saw was the chassis. While almost any new storage vendor uses Dell or SuperMicro chassis and simply re-brands them, Exablox designed their own chassis for better usability of internal space and components placement. Among Exablox disk releasethose, there are the CPU and a really smart way to manage disks: to lower prices, Exablox allows customers to use off-the-shelf disks, and you do not need to use a screwdriver and sliding rails to mount them, but instead it has a simple trigger to release the disk, easy and quick. Even those small details makes a difference!

Inside the chassis, there is an uncommon processor: not an usual X86, but a Cavium Octeon II. It’s a MIPS 64 bit processor, guaranteeing high performances for cypher operations and during SHA-1 hash creations. Each data is in fact saved in an encrypted state; this offers a higher security to stored data, and also eliminates the problem of disk disposal.

About disk management, there is no RAID in the Exablox solution. The minimum configuration of an Exablox design is a single unit with 3 disks. That’s because redundancy can be obtained by using at least three store areas, that can be 3 different units, or 3 different drivers inside the same unit when a new cluster is deployed. This kind of replica has a penalty on the usable disk space; thus Exablox introduced data deduplication, inline and realtime, so they can regain disk space (obviously at variable ratios depending on the type of data).

The several nodes (up to a limit of 6 actually) are interconnected thanks to 4 1G ethernet connections, where the system transmists both data both management commands. A system can be expanded by simply adding or swapping both disks or nodes in a cluster, up to 192 TB of raw space (6 nodes with 8 * 4TB drivers each), that convert into 64 TB of usable space, plus the benefit coming from deduplication.

Also, a “ring” is made of up to 6 nodes, but it can be replicated towards a second remote ring, buying the remote replication licensing. This allows to create a quick and easy Disaster Recovery solution for an Exablox ring.  Data are moved in deduplicated state, thus offering high savings on bandwidth consumption.

From a front-end perspective, actually Exablox only exposes storage to users via network over SMB protocol. This is a design choice, good but limited (NFS or other protocols are not supported right now). Please however remember we are talking about a 1.0 release launched today.



Exablox OneSystem GUI

The management activities of an Exablox cluster is possible thanks to OneSystem.

This solution has a unique way to work: it’s not a software you can install on-premise, but a web-based service offered by Exablox itself. The solution is well designed, and allows to create shares, connect to an Active Directory, and other activities.

One of the design goal in the creation of Exablox was from day  multi-tenancy: each part of the solution is delegable, assigned to different users and groups, even coming from different customers. This is a perfect design for an MSP willing to offer this solution to his customers, while managing all of them via a single console.

I still have a doubt, about the need to connect a system to internet in order to be managed, and about the fact some activities (like new shares provisioning or authorization changes) are not usable if the internet connection is down. Again, in the future those feature would probably be added if enough customers would ask for them.

Use cases

For sure, this solution is designed and targeted to SMB markets. Ease of use, simple interface, auto-configuration activities, scale-out, cost reductions thanks to off-the-shelf disks are all aimed to SMB customers. I still have doubt about a “internet-dependant” management solution, but remember it’s a 1.0 version.

I see some clear use cases like for example backups or archival, where you often need a small amount of space, with the possibility to grow (in small amounts is even better) as your saved data grow. Also, the possibility to replicate a ring to a second one offer an immediate Disaster Recovery solution.

We will see in the upcoming months how this new solution will be embraced by customers, and how it will grows in terms of features.

Last, if you want to learn more about the underlying technology, Tad Hunt, CTO at Exablox, offered us an impressive deep-dive about Exablox. You can see the complete presentation here: