SAN FRANCISCO, 19 FEBRUARY 2009 - Not so long ago, I tested the Sun Fire X4500 Storage Server, aka Thumper, which went on to win InfoWorld's 2008 Technology of the Year award for Best Storage Server. Thumper was a dual-CPU, dual-core Opteron-based server running OpenSolaris and housing a whopping 48 3.5-inch SATA drives, all within a 4U chassis. The sheer size and scale of that storage server could only be handled by Sun's own ZFS file system. Thumper was a tank in every sense of the word and carved a niche for itself in a wide variety of infrastructures.
Sun has taken that 48-drive behemoth and turned it into an appliance, the Sun Storage 7210 Unified Storage System. While its lineage is immediately clear, the 7210 differs from its predecessor in key ways.
First, the 7210 runs with two quad-core Opteron CPUs and 64GB of RAM, roughly doubling the processing power present in the original X4500. Second, it's a true appliance, not just a server. It does run OpenSolaris, but all interactions with the server are via the FishWorks GUI, not the command line. In fact, if you try to gain root access to the box via serial console, a large warning informs you that doing so will void the warranty, cause irreparable damage to the server, and possibly open a portal to another dimension. While this is somewhat disappointing from a flexibility perspective, the completeness of the FishWorks GUI makes up for it.
The 7210 isn't merely filled with SATA drives, either. In fact, there is a solid-state drive (SSD) present in the system, specifically designed for write operations. This SSD is configured as the ZIL (ZFS Intent Logging) drive and provides for faster access times for the file system, leaving the physical disks to handle the data storage tasks. Sun dubs this drive "Logzilla." It's an 18GB write-biased SSD in a 3.5-inch form factor, and aside from a slightly different bezel, it looks identical to the hard drives in the 47 other internal hot-swap slots. The system uses RAM as a read cache.
On the software side, the 7210 offers a wide range of file-serving protocols: NFSv3, NFSv4, CIFS, iSCSI, FTP, and HTTP. It supports onboard virus scanning; snapshots; cloning; compression; SNMPv3/v4; NDMP (Network Data Management Protocol) backups; and CLI scripting in Perl, Python, Java, and more. There's even an SSL-based phone-home option that can automate support services.
For authentication and authorization, the 7210 can be linked to Active Directory, NIS (Network Information Server), or an LDAP server, or it can run with local users and authentication.
The FishWorks GUI is not only entirely Web-based, but entirely AJAX. At first, I wondered how wise that might be, but after only a few minutes of use, I was smitten. It's very attractive and very accessible. In fact, it may be the most complete filer interface I've ever seen, blowing the doors off Network Appliance's Web-based manager.
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