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Inside the AHEAD Lab: Avere Systems’s FXT Edge Filers

AHEAD’s engineers have been working on several projects aimed at helping clients leverage services and capabilities within Amazon’s AWS portfolio. One of these projects is focused on AWS’s storage offerings, primarily S3 and Glacier. There are many organizations looking for ways to properly utilize these storage offerings within their own environments.

One of the many next-generation/AWS-focused products we’ve been evaluating in the AHEAD Lab is Avere Systems’s FXT Edge filers. Avere came out on the top of the list of products we wanted to review that did extension of on-premises storage to S3 due to performance capabilities. And while the evaluation isn’t finished yet, I wanted to provide an overview of Avere Systems, its capabilities, and some initial thoughts around the offering for FXT Edge filers. This isn’t our final evaluation or conclusive findings, but it’s a start on my thoughts of this interesting solution as we’re already seeing great potential.

Overview of Avere Systems

avere_logo.pngAvere Systems was founded in 2008 and is headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As of today, they have had four rounds of funding from investors such as Norwest Venture Partners, Menlo Ventures, Tenaya Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Western Digital. The President and CEO, Ron Bianchini, was previously with NetApp and you can often see this influence in Avere’s products. 

Avere’s focus is to simplify data storage with a focus on unstructured data. Avere does this by allowing organizations to utilize both on-premises and public cloud storage, as well as connecting between and accelerating file services. We feel this is compelling because you can start using Avere to accelerate local NAS or consolidate name spaces, but later use it as your storage extension to S3.

Product Portfolio

Avere Systems has two product families: virtual and physical.

Virtual

  • vFXT – Allows for “cloud bursting” of workloads to the public cloud while still granting access to data stored on-premises.
  • CloudFusion – Provides NAS storage in Amazon with very good performance due to the combination of EBS SSD with standard S3.

Physical

  • FXT Edge filer – Hardware nodes provide NAS performance scaling, as well as tiering to public cloud storage.

As we continue to evaluate products in the AHEAD Lab, I’ll expand upon these offerings.

FXT Edge Filer

As mentioned above, this post will primarily focus on the FXT Edge filers, Avere’s physical offering. The FXT Edge filer is a node-based system that currently comes in several models. The models vary by the amount of RAM and cache in each node. FXT Edge filer clusters provide a scalable, high-performance NAS read/write cache implemented on commodity hardware nodes.

How It Works

  • Clients connect to a VServer on the FXT cluster via NFS or CIFS. A VServer is a virtual filesystem and global name space.
  • The FXT cluster connects to back-end NAS or object platforms, called Core filers, for persistent storage.
  • Supported NAS platforms include Dell EMC Isilon and NetApp filers.
  • Supported object platforms include Amazon S3 and Dell EMC ECS.
  • There are extensive cache policy options to accommodate various implementation scenarios and preferences, (e.g., read-only vs. read/write, tunable write-back delay, tunable metadata sync/verification, etc.). A common implementation scenario is to allow concurrent FXT-cached and direct non-cached access to a given NAS share, (e.g., to facilitate cloud bursting). Cache policies allow the administrator to tune the desired level of consistency.
  • The metadata necessary to rebuild the filesystem is stored along with the data when using an object platform, so filesystem access can be restored anywhere with access to the object platform. This is very useful for DR scenarios. For example, a physical FXT system in a primary data center backed by S3 storage can be recovered to a virtual vFXT system at another on-premises location or in the cloud. No replication is required. S3’s durability and ubiquitous access takes care of the data.

Once in the data path, the FXT has software features that allow non-disruptively moving (FlashMove) or mirroring (FlashMirror) data across back-end NAS or object platforms.

As your environment or performance needs growth, you can grow the FXT cluster. It can start small with just a few nodes and grow to be a very large, fully active front-end caching solution.

Use Cases

The FXT Edge filers system have several different use case targets. These include: 

  • Gaining fast access to S3 – FXT nodes use intelligent caching, which is built into the system, giving you the ability to move both active data sets and archival data to the cloud.
  • Leveraging S3 on-premises – You can extend an existing NAS or use S3 directly. While the FXT cluster acts as a local NAS, the actual storage is in S3 on AWS.
  • Simplifying multiple NAS systems – The FXT Edge filer solution can front-end NAS systems from different manufacturers and simplify the name space and ease of user access.
  • Extending NAS life – The FXT Edge filer cluster acts as a caching system for all of the supporting NAS or cloud storage, greatly increasing performance and extending the life of aging NAS systems.
  • Avoiding capital expenditure – You can use the FXT Edge filer solution to extend/tier an existing NAS system to AWS and avoid a costly expansion or complete upgrade.

The diverse use case options are a big reason why we are evaluating Avere Systems products in AHEAD’s Lab. I feel that point solutions can be too constraining and often we get requests for multiple use cases where a single product like this could be very beneficial. 

Initial Testing

We currently have a three-node cluster in the AHEAD Lab. The cluster is front-ending an Isilon cluster to provide caching, as well as extension to S3. 

Avere_blog_post.pngThe connectivity is pretty simple in that clients connect to front-end ports and the storage systems connect to back-end ports. There is IPMI management and a cluster management network.

So far, initial testing of the FXT Edge filers has gone well. Here are a few things that are worth noting:

  • The base S3 and NFS Core filers were pretty straightforward to set up and configure.
  • CIFS/SMB Core filers require mixed mode to be enabled, (i.e. concurrent support of both CIFS/SMB and NFS, which adds complexity). Read more below.
  • Performance is impressive (there is more to come in future blog posts on this topic).
  • The Avere cluster only supports local administrative accounts with no role-based access control integrated with Active Directory or other authorities, as with most early-stage company products.

Due to some technical requirements, we feel that Avere’s FXT Edge filers are best suited for environments that use NFS. While the system can handle both CIFS and NFS, there are some important considerations. As mentioned, mixed mode access is required for CIFS/SMB Core filers. The control path/ACLs are handled via CIFS/SMB, but data transfer can only be handled via NFS. This can cause problems where NFS isn’t used at all or where there may be different permissions between CIFS and NFS users on the back-end storage system. A means of translating between UNIX and Windows users and groups is also required (e.g., implementing Microsoft Identity Management for UNIX in an existing Active Directory configuration). 

We are continually working with Avere on the roadmap for these items and will continue testing. Look for a more in-depth technical write-up once the evaluation is complete.

 

If you are interested in learning more about Avere Systems, or would like to see FXT Edge filers in action, just let us know. If you’d like more information about any of the other work we are doing to extend the data center to the public cloud, sign up to meet with our experts in the AHEAD Lab and Briefing Center today! 

AHEAD Lab and Briefing Center