A Closer Look at the Dell EMC Isilon NAS Storage Platform

Isilon was acquired by EMC in November 2010 for $2.25 billion.

At Dell Technologies World 2018, I had an unscheduled and unscripted hallway discussion with another conference attendee that sparked my interest and led to me doing some further investigation. He stated that the aspect that he considers most important when choosing storage for a datacenter is customer support. He argued that although there are companies that offer scale-out NAS storage with good performance, at the end of the day, if you have petabytes of data and things go south (and they will), you're going to need someone knowledgeable and reliable to fix the problem ASAP.

This conference attendee gave me an example of how at one point he was having some performance issues, so Isilon flew out an engineer (this was a very large Isilon customer) to his site to resolve the problem. He seemed a little bit embarrassed that the issue was a result of the way in which they had architected their application, but the Isilon engineer was able to figure out a solution, and this positive first-hand experience with Isilon's dedicated customer support is the reason why he will continue to stick with this platform in his datacenter. As a former support engineer, I know first-hand how hard it can be to diagnose problems on your own system, let alone someone else's.

After that encounter, I decided to spend some time doing a deeper investigation on Isilon. Isilon, founded in 2001 in Seattle by Sujal Patel and Paul Mikesell, is a scale-out NAS storage platform composed of a cluster of independent nodes that are integrated using the OneFS OS, and it supports up to 50PB of data. Isilon Systems was acquired by EMC in November 2010 for $2.25 billion.

At Dell Technologies World this year Dell EMC announced it's working with Google to allow a Dell EMC Isilon cluster to reside in a Google Cloud Platform (GCP) datacenter, which is being called Isilon Cloud for GCP. Although the details on this offering are still a little bit fuzzy, what I am able to tell is that it will either be managed by Google or Dell EMC and is currently available via an early-access program. This partnership could be an interesting play; I'll be keeping my eyes peeled to see how using GCP compute and Isilon for storage in a Google datacenter will pan out in the long run. This is interesting as compute instances are ephemeral but data is forever.

Last year Dell EMC announced its new Infinity architecture for Isilon, which was a huge departure from its existing architecture in which each node was configured with a specific amount of compute and storage. Infinity has a more flexible, modular design that allows the storage and compute in the nodes to be customized, within specific limits, to fit a customer's needs. Isilon allows up to 60 drives in a 4U package. Isilon products are broken down into three categories: all-flash (for performance), hybrid flash and HDD (general usage)/pure HDD (archiving). The Dell EMC Isilon folks that I talked to said the Infinity architecture was catching on and has gained wide acceptance and approval by its customer base; overall, its customers are very pleased with the new architecture.

As a side note, if you're interested in Dell EMC Isilon and want to work with the platform a little bit, Dell EMC has a fully functional software-only version of Isilon called IsilonSD Edge that you can install as a VM. IsilonSD Edge is available for free for non-production use in a test environment.

About the Author

Tom Fenton has a wealth of hands-on IT experience gained over the past 30 years in a variety of technologies, with the past 20 years focusing on virtualization and storage. He currently works as a Technical Marketing Manager for ControlUp. He previously worked at VMware in Staff and Senior level positions. He has also worked as a Senior Validation Engineer with The Taneja Group, where he headed the Validation Service Lab and was instrumental in starting up its vSphere Virtual Volumes practice. He's on X @vDoppler.


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