One Blox To Rule Them All. . .



This past week, I had the good fortune of attending Storage Field Day 3 (SFD) in Denver, Colorado. Field Days are events where a group of independent IT professionals chosen by a committee of like-minded people are brought together with start-ups, and mature companies who have new, innovative products. These companies all have something to say, and most are interested in direct, independent feedback on what they’re offering. The discussions are two-way, and are usually quite a bit more in-depth, and candid than one might expect during most vendor briefings.

Something was abundantly clear to me during all the vendor meetings at SFD, the industry is being disrupted in a huge way. If you’re stuck in the storage world as it was in 2010 – 2011, you are lost. But have no fear. If you’re willing to move beyond what is rapidly being considered “legacy” storage, you can catch up. I’m here to help.

One of the most exciting moments at SFD was the launch of a brand new storage company called Exablox. These guys are way out there in front of any other company providing storage solutions for midsized companies. Imagine object based, content addressable storage with an enterprise feature set, at a price for small to midsized businesses.

If you’re into storage at all, you’re probably already aware of the advantages of object-based storage.  For those who may be less familiar, object storage is differentiated from traditional file-system storage by ditching the traditional hierarchy, and storing files as independent objects. There are a couple of major advantages to using this method to store files.

  1. Scalability – Amazon’s S3 currently stores 1.3 trillion objects, and adds over 1 billion new objects daily. The sheer amount of overhead that would be required to store that amount in one, or more file systems would be staggering. Keeping track of all the pointers, metadata, and ensuring the integrity of the file systems would require processing power that would be cost prohibitive. Amazon is able to deliver S3 at a compelling price point, as a result of this scalability.
  2. Reliability – When there is no requirement to grow, prune, and maintain the integrity of a gigantic file system, reliability inherently increases. Additionally, the fact that our objects can be located essentially anywhere, and retrieved with a simple object ID, means that we can break a file into as many atomic chunks as we would like, and even distribute it geographically, like S3. When we break these files up into atomic units, we can determine how much data protection, or parity, we want to assign. Most of the object storage out there will allow us to tailor how many of these chunks we can lose, and still rebuild the entire file. So if we have some important data that’s really critical, we can split it into enough chunks, with enough parity, to tolerate failures on a scale that would completely devastate RAID protected file systems.

While this is admittedly a quite simplified, and possibly flawed introduction to the concept, it should be enough to get us to a point where we can understand some of what makes the Exablox product unique, and groundbreaking. The product is called OneBlox. It’s designed to give the advantages of object storage to businesses who don’t have an army of storage guys who are dedicated to the task.  OneBlox is the brainchild of CTO and Co-founder Tad Hunt, who was very adept at explaining all the in’s and out’s of how these boxes work together to create a storage system that is punching far above its weight class.

Normally, to use object storage, one needs to architect an application to use objects, as opposed to a traditional file system. That’s probably not going to be something a midsized customer would want to do up front, considering the investment. OneBlox gets around this requirement by providing a CIFS/SMB interface. You can use this thing like any traditional CIFS/SMB target, integrate it with Active Directory, and still get all the benefits of object storage, right out of the box.

No. . .seriously. . .I’m not talking out of the box, after hours of frustration. I mean, seconds after it boots up, you have storage space available to dump files onto from Windows, or any CIFS compatible OS.

The one thing that seemed to divide some of the delegates was the management system.  Called OneSystem, it’s cloud-based, and comes with the unit.  As soon as a customer receives a OneBlox, and boots it up, it presents storage instantly, and also calls home to OneSystem.  Of course this assumes that a firewall is allowing it to call home.  Once you pull up the site, it’s as easy as pairing a device to Netflix.  You just punch in the 5 digit code on the front of the OneBlox, and that device joins your ring.



If you get another device later, just plug it in, do the same, and bam.  It joins the ring.  The OneSystem management interface is really simple, and clean.

Some SFD delegates questioned Exablox’s decision to make the only management interface for the product one that was cloud-based. From my perspective, I think it’s perfect for the market they are targeting, and it also enables them to come in at an amazingly attractive price point per unit, while selling the management separately.

The OneBlox is packed with features.  In addition to SMB/CIFS, it does real-time replication, dedupe, and encryption by default, and even CDP-like snapshots!  Users can access the snapshots directly within the file structure in their Windows Explorer, or Mac Finder window.



Each OneBlox can support up to 32TB RAW of any type of disk from any manufacturer, although as Lauren Malhoit points out, the system doesn’t do any tiering, so it’s not setup to put hot data on SSD’s or anything like that.  It’s very Drobo-like in its simplicity, complete with red or green LED’s to tell you the status of the drives at a glance.  The chassis is a work of art, and is not some off the shelf rebadged 2U server.  The feet actually slide into place on the unit below for stackability without a rack.  The whole chassis has a solid, hi-fi component feel to it, even though it’s cheaper than many hi-fi components.



I could write a dozen more pages on the inner complexities of how this thing works (the ring), and how amazing it is, but honestly, Tad does such a good job explaining it, I’m going to link to the whiteboard and let him show you.



And here’s a demo of the system, which is equally cool:




Although Gestalt IT covers delegate’s expenses for Field Days, delegates are not obligated to write, review, or produce content on any of the products or vendors we see at these events.