Satellite imagery firm installs Isilon gear, reflecting the rise of alternatives to NAS

July 11, 2005

3 Min Read
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A provider of image-intensive geographic data has displaced NAS to install gear from Isilon Systems, in a move that highlights the growth of alternative clustered storage in several vertical markets.

GlobeXplorer, which sells aerial and satellite imagery by subscription to Internet portals, has installed 13.5 Tbytes of Isilon IQ clustered storage equipment to its main data center.

The company, which has more than 500 Tbytes of imagery in its collection, says moving off traditional disk storage has "revolutionized" its services and cut costs significantly. But it's not officially saying whether it will completely replace its NAS collection with Isilon equipment. A spokesman for GlobeXplorer had not returned a call at press time.

GlobeXplorer, which announced its adoption of Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) equipment in 2002, has had trouble expanding capacity fast enough to keep pace with demand from customers like, National Geographic, real-estate companies, and various federal agencies.

As its canon of maps, land records, satellite and aerial images, flood plain records, property lines, and other information has grown, GlobeXplorer's added numerous NAS arrays. These have been tough to manage, and it's harder to navigate them to get information quickly. That's a drawback, since speed is key to GlobeXplorer's business, because the value of its images is tied to how fast customers can retrieve images (see an example below) in decisionmaking.

Figure 1: Aerial view of the University of California at Berkeley.
Source: GlobeXplorer

Because Isilon allows data volumes to span multiple physical devices while maintaining a single namespace across storage nodes, it's faster to access, easier to manage, and more scaleable than multiple arrays. It holds file systems up to 168 Tbytes and includes replication, load balancing, and Gigabit Ethernet or InfiniBand links between systems (see Isilon Embraces InfiniBand).

NetApp also had not responded to a request for comment on the GlobeXplorer account at press time.

Isilon's gleeful about its success with a series of rich-content customers. These include Kodak EasyShare, Lexis Nexis, NBC, and Sports Illustrated (see Sports Illustrated and Isilon Scores Super Bowl Storage).

"We've more than doubled our customer base in the last six months," boasts Brett Goodwin, VP of marketing at Isilon. He insists it's part of a broader trend among companies with huge amounts of large digital files or high-resolution originals that require streamlined storage and workflow for their businesses.Isilon's not alone in claiming a boom in rich-content customers. Competitors BlueArc Corp., Exanet Inc., ONStor Inc., Panasas Inc., and Xiotech Corp. also claim new accounts.

Indeed, the "neo-NAS" segment is enjoying a rush of funding. Isilon recently scored $20 million in funding (see Isilon Lays On $20M Icing). BlueArc got $15 million (see BlueArc Pulls In $15M More). And OnStor's received $25 million (see OnStor OnTap for $24M ).

As the market heats up, observers predict a shakeout. It's also unlikely that NetApp and EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) will sit by waiting for younger companies to overtake them in key accounts.

There's no doubt, though, that Isilon and company have stolen a march on their bigger rivals by moving to fill important gaps (see NAS Deals Fall Short). Both NetApp and EMC are still offering partial support for global namespace, for example. NetApp says it will provide global namespace in 2006. And while EMC still doesn't have global namespace for the entire NAS, the vendor has expanded the space in which large clumps of files can be managed as one virtual entity (see EMC Launches High-End NAS).

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch0

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