Taming Unstructured Data with Dell EMC Isilon

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 19. My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event. Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

Taming Unstructured Data

A common thread discussed by almost every vendor we visited was the issue of taming unstructured data. Vendors are building products that their customers can use to turn massive amounts of unstructured data into information. They all told us that their customers are demanding intelligent insights that are available anytime accessible anywhere. The groups from Dell EMC Storage were no different, they are also tackling this problem.

Four storage product teams came to chat with us during SFD19: Isilon, the Project Nautilus team, a team building devops tools, and PowerOne. What’s interesting is that in addition to tackling the challenge of taming unstructured data, each of these product groups are working on the innovations to traditional storage products that enable them to integrate with products and services we usually think of as with cloud native solutions, for example Kubernetes.

I’ll tackle each of the areas that I mentioned above, and this post will concentrate on Isilon.

Taming Unstructured Data with Isilon

Isilon Systems was founded in 2001 and acquired by EMC in 2010. Dell EMC Isilon is a scale-out NAS that is run on a file system called OneFS. The team has even won an Emmy for its early development of HSMs (hierarchical storage management).

Isilon’s definition of scale out is policy-based management. Every node is independent and able to access data coherently. The files aren’t being split, but you can keep snapshots in a diff tier. Users write the policies and the system takes care of it from there.

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CloudIQ (Dell EMC’s SaaS infrastructure management tool) now supports Isilon. They also acquired a tool called ClarityNow which is included with an Isilon license (as is CloudIQ) although you are charged for non-DellEMC storage.

OneFS Gets Data Closer to Cloud Compute

Isilon OneFS is also available to run with compute in the public cloud. Dell EMC partners with service providers to offer Isilon OneFS on Dell EMC metal at their co-los that are located close to public cloud providers. It’s offered as a SaaS service and is great for current on-premises Isilon customers who want to extend their Isilon implementation to the cloud for  DR, replication, or even to perform new types of compute like machine or deep learning.

But *why* would customers want to do this? If you’ve stored your unstructured data in an Isilon for even 10 years, that is a tremendous amount of data gravity. It’s going to be hard to move this data to the cloud, even if the services and tools you’d like to use are there. Isilon’s OneFS structure allows you to extend this data to other locations, and if the locations are connected via a fast pipe in a co-lo center to a cloud, you can design to take advantage of the best of both worlds.

Real Talk

This is a great example of how traditional storage product teams are working with cloud product teams to create offerings to support the customers who are writing apps and taming unstructured data. Customers realize to do that, they have to go beyond polarizing architectural attitudes like “everything cloud” or “cloud is evil”.

These customers understand that when it comes to taming unstructured data, the devil is in the details. It is still the responsibility of the architect to understand what you’ll be signing up for with any of these types of solutions. Ask lots of questions, and weigh you’re the risks and benefits to be sure this type of solution will work for your organization.

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