BlueArc Titan 3200 a giant among NAS systems

The new BlueArc Titan 3200 shows significantly improved performance over previous models.

We don't have Olympic Games for file server systems but the SPEC SFS (System File Server) benchmark serves as the next best thing, providing a comparable rank of file server performance. If you sifted through all of the SPEC SFS results published to the SPEC Web site, you'd find that the fastest NAS systems are from NetApp, BlueArc, and EMC, who take what in Beijing would have been a gold, a silver, and a bronze medal, in that order.

Like Olympic records, SPEC results tend to change over time. In fact the current top 10 list, which reflects results as of June 18, 2008, looks quite different from a SPEC SFS results snapshot I took about two years ago.

Other differences aside, one important fact I want to highlight is that the new BlueArc Titan 3200, which the vendor announced in March, shows significantly improved performance over previous models, and puts the Titan 3210 Cluster into second place for number of operations per second, surpassed only by the NetApp Data Ontap GX.

With the Titan 3000, BlueArc claims to have doubled the theoretical performance of its systems, a claim the company has maintained at each major release. Combined with a full set of storage applications including snapshots, replication, mirroring, and WORM (write once read many) capability, to give only a short list, the amazing performance trajectory provided enough incentive for me to review the system.

I conducted the review at the BlueArc Customers Training Lab in San Jose, where BlueArc had prepared a redundant test bed with two Titan 3210 servers connected via FC (Fibre Channel) to a SATA storage array with 90 drives and a second array with 128 FC drives. A separate machine ran the BlueArc management software.

Network, storage, and file system modules

The Titan 3210 has a modular hardware architecture with four blades mounted horizontally, each providing specialized functionality. For example, the NIM (Network Interface Module) blade hosts six GbE or two 10G Ethernet ports and controls connectivity to the application server side of the storage network.

For storage connectivity, the Titan 3210 mounts a SIM (Storage Interface Module) with eight FC ports. Each of the remaining two slots of the unit hosts a FSM (File System Module), which manages protocols such as CIFS, NFS, and iSCSI.

While more primitive NAS solutions run on beefed up servers and queue up parallel tasks on general purpose processors, each module in the Titan 3210 has built-in ASICs programmed to execute in parallel. Multiple dedicated chips on the NIM handle IP, TCP, and UDP, speeding up processing of multiple tasks in parallel. Similarly, the FSM takes advantage of ASICs to expedite the processing of file operations.

Other performance-enhancing features include battery-backed NVRAM (Non-Volatile RAM) and, in clustered configurations, an optional Dynamic Read Caching feature. Dynamic Read Caching expedites read access to selected files while maintaining a consistent cache across as many as four nodes.

How far can you push a Titan 3200? According to BlueArc's specs, the system can scale as much as 4 petabytes of storage, with each file system ranging up to 256TB. Performance rates are on the order of 1600 megabytes per second and as high as 380,000 I/O operations per second.

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