Image: EMC/Flickr

EMC and Backblaze, both standout players in business-class data management, each added cloud functions to their network-attached storage portfolios this week.

Both announcements are about following industry trends. EMC, soon to be part of Dell, is preparing three options for its Isilon series. Backblaze, notable for its online backup business, has a significant upgrade to its open-source hardware design.

EMC’s three new Isilon options

EMC customers wanted Isilon to be more than just a box, explained Sam Grocott, a product management official with the Hopkinton, Mass. storage giant.

We got stuck on the word ‘silo’ and it somehow morphed after a bunch of beer and pizza to Isilon. Sam Grocott

To achieve this, EMC devised SD Edge, which lets customers run the NAS software atop their own commodity hardware. EMC’s block-based and object-based storage software already works in such configurations, so Isilon now fills out the range, Grocott explained. Another new product is CloudPool, enabling Isilon hardware to connect to private and public clouds for a tiered backup system. The third announcement is an upgrade to the Isilon operating system itself, dubbed OneFS, that now allows non-disruptive maintenance upgrades by using a Microsoft Windows feature called SMB3 failover.

EMC is positioning the new changes as part of a data lake strategy, in which customers can manage all of their data in a single pool and, ideally, derive insights from that. Industry analysts at research firm Gartner last year said the downside of data lakes is that finding meaning is easier said than done.

Speaking of finding meaning, what’s an Isilon, anyway? “I was in the room when we named it. The short story is, we believe it’s the Greek god of storage,” Grocott joked. He said the real story is less dramatic: “We got stuck on the word ‘silo’ and it somehow morphed after a bunch of beer and pizza to Isilon. The name was available.”

All three new Isilon options are scheduled to ship in early 2016. Pricing is not yet announced.

Backblaze’s Storage Pod 5.0

Backblaze announced a new version of Storage Pod — a product from which it contentedly gains no revenue. Backblaze open-sourced its internal storage server design in 2009, figuring that it might help other companies save money. “It was never intended as a product we would sell,” CEO Gleb Budman said.

Storage Pod installations work best when they’re scaled up, not standing alone, Budman explained. Previous editions used common RAID setups to ensure data integrity, but the new 5.0 version is intended to support cloud configurations. Budman said he’d be pleased if that cloud were Backblaze’s own, yet noted that open source means just that — people can use it however they like. “You shouldn’t have all your data on one single drive, period, in any environment anywhere,” he added.

Maintenance is simpler because the case itself and all hard drives now snap into place instead of using screws.

The design for Storage Pod 5.0 also calls for 10-gigabit Ethernet connections vs. 1-gigabit previously, along with faster processors. Maintenance is simpler because the case itself and all hard drives now snap into place instead of using screws. Backblaze designed the drive snapping mechanism using a 3-D printer, Budman noted.

Backblaze’s other non-revenue-producing project is a quarterly report on what its engineers learn from using consumer-oriented hard drives in a business infrastructure. “All of the data we publish on hard drive reliability is simply based on us needing to purchase a lot,” Budman said. The company in San Mateo, Calif. has about 150 petabytes of data residing on 50,000 drives currently in production.

An insight from the most recent report is that hard disk quality is back to normal following the 2011 floods in Thailand. Many top disk companies use parts built there, and quality suffered as suppliers returned to production after the natural disaster, Budman continued. “We can’t prove this,” he said, “but it seems to correlate.”

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