Nexsan SATABlade review
Nexsan has an unerring ability to take established network storage concepts and stand them on their head. We first saw this with the PC Pro Recommended ATABeast (see issue 123, p213), which combined no less than 42 400GB low-cost ATA drives to deliver a huge 16.8TB storage capacity in a 4U-rack chassis with masses of fault-tolerant features.
The SATABlade shows Nexsan has done it again. This low-profile, 1U-rack chassis is the company’s first use of SATA technology and provides an impressive 3.2TB of storage with support for Fibre Channel SANs. It achieves this with a unique design, as Nexsan’s compact controller board is located at the rear of the system, leaving most of the internal space free for hard disks. A single double-sided backplane stretches down the centre of the chassis and the SATA drives are loaded from the top into mounting plates. The carrying handle is then used to push them forward to mate with the backplane. Fault tolerance is particularly good, as you get two hot-swap power supplies and a pair of 2Gb/sec Fibre Channel ports, while the drives are protected by an embedded RAID controller and are hot-swappable. Two gigabit Ethernet management ports are also provided, but at present the second is reserved for future use.
It won’t take long to get the SATABlade up and running, as you can access it via the CLI. This provides a well-designed graphical interface, or you can point a web browser at its default IP address. It’s no surprise that the browser interface is almost identical to that provided with the ATABeast, but this does make for easy configuration. Wizards are in abundance and you can use the Quickstart option, which allows the system to take all available drives for a RAID5 array plus hot-standby and use all the space to create and map a pair of volumes to the Fibre Channel ports. There’s plenty of operational information from the homepage. You can view a complete rundown on drives, arrays, controllers and power supplies, and if any faults are detected the appliance will sound an internal alarm and can send alerts to one email address. Drive bays are represented by a simple matrix that uses bold animated graphics, making it easy to see the status of all components.
For performance testing, the SATABlade was introduced to our resident Fibre Channel SAN built from a QLogic SAN Connectivity Kit (see issue 105, p194). We used the default RAID array and volumes created by the Quickstart Wizard and directly attached a Windows Server 2003 system to each Fibre Channel port. With Fibre Channel auto-negotiation supported, it took only a couple of seconds for the servers to see the volumes as new local hard disks that could be formatted from the Disk Management tool and accessed normally from Windows Explorer. We configured the open-source Iometer on each server with two disk workers, ten outstanding I/Os and 64KB sequential read requests, and saw a single test on one server return 185MB/sec. Running two instances of Iometer on separate Fibre Channels and volumes returned a cumulative 368MB/sec.
Nexsan has proved that you don’t need Fibre Channel hard disks to deliver top performance. Not only that, but the SATABlade delivers good fault tolerance, excellent management and monitoring, and all at a price that the competition will find hard to beat.