Iomega today announced a new line of small desktop and rackmount storage devices. The PX Series addresses many of the limitations of the IX line, bringing high-performance CPUs, SSD, “bring your own drive” options, and “personal cloud” data protection. But the PX will not replace the recently-refreshed IX; instead, it segments the market between home office (IX) and small business (PX).
A Look Back At the IX
I have been ambivalent about Iomega’s IX line of StorCenter devices since they appeared in 2009. Although they bring impressive features like iSCSI and multimedia at a low cost, devices like the ix4-200d in my lab left me wanting more. This was especially true in the area of performance, where the 4-drive ix4 delivered a mediocre 25-30 MB/s of iSCSI throughput in my testing.
The core issue for the ix4 was its reliance of an under-powered embedded CPU and modest 512 MB of integrated DRAM. It was nice to have a sub-$1000 iSCSI array for VMware ESX and Microsoft Windows Server testing, but there was no way I would deploy it in a production business environment. The performance issue was addressed with the ix12-200r, but it came at a steeper price and that rack-mount device was not intended for use outside the data center.
Another concern about the IX was its dizzying set of features. One got the feeling that EMC’s engineers were given free rein when adding features to the StorCenter’s “LifeLine” platform, and the result was something of a mess. This improved with each successive release, but the IX feels like a servant of too many masters: Is it a home multimedia device, a security server, an office file server, or an iSCSI target for virtualization?
PX: A New Level of Performance?
The PX changes everything, or appears to at least. Clearly aimed at the small business and remote office market, the PX promises an enterprise feature set and the horsepower needed to deliver serious performance.
|CPU||Intel Atom D525||Intel Celeron|
|RAM||2 GB SO-DIMM|
Let’s start with the brain. All StorCenter PX devices include a dual-core Intel CPU: An Atom D525 in the PX4 and PX6 desktop models and a Celeron multi-core in the rack-mount PX4. All three models also feature 2 GB of RAM, and SSD can be used for high-performance applications. The StorCenter operating system should perform much better on this platform, which is reminiscent of the existing ix12 array. Expect that device to be refreshed shortly with SSD support and perhaps a Sandy Bridge CPU.
The new devices have been completely redesigned mechanically. The PX4 is similar in total volume to the IX4, though it appears smaller since it is taller and skinnier. The PX6 is a veritable tower, while the rack-mount PX4 has a conventional look but adds an optional swappable power supply and redundant fans for datacenter use.
Flexible Drive Options
There are three firsts in terms of drive support:
- Iomega has added a “bring your own drive” (BYOD) option, allowing end users to buy an empty or partially-populated PX device and add supported drives in the future. The software does not support dissimilar drives as flexibly as some competitors, but this lowers the price point substantially.
- The PX Series supports solid state drives (SSDs), as we will discuss in a moment.
- Finally, the included drive carriers now support 2.5-inch drives, though capacity and price points make this less interesting except when it comes to SSDs.
This is a big step forward for Iomega, who has long required their own drives to be used in these devices. Iomega will ship 1, 2, and 3 TB Hitachi 7200 rpm Deskstar drives at first, but may add other options in the future. I expect a low-power “green” drive from Seagate or Western Digital.
The PX Series approved vendor list (AVL) includes many popular options, including the Hitachi Deskstar, Seagate Barracuda (including the LP line) and Western Digital Caviar and Green. The company has created an area in their support forums for customers to discuss other drive options, though only AVL-listed drives are supported. Since many of these drives are 4K natively, the PX Series should have no trouble with the shift to Advanced Format.
The introduction of solid state disk (SSD) storage is a major step forward. Iomega will use the excellent Micron C400 (aka Crucial M4) SSD in 128 or 256 GB capacity points. These are installed in pairs and will typically be used as a RAID 1 mirror for performance-sensitive data. The best application for the SSD, therefore, is the 6-bay PX6-300d, along with a 4-disk RAID 5 set.
There is no automated storage tiering or SSD caching in the Iomega PX series. Administrators simply create RAID sets, LUNs, and shares on SSD or HDD and manually place data there based on need. It is possible to leverage the StorCenter’s included “copy job” functionality to create a rudimentary tiering system, but it seems likely that most users will rely on manual data placement.
It will be interesting to see what the combination of the dual-core 1.8 GHz Atom CPU and C400 SSD will offer in terms of performance. This represents a “maximum speed” configuration for the Iomega device and will likely set a new benchmark in the segment. Although just two Gigabit Ethernet ports are available for connectivity (no 10 GbE or USB 3.0), iSCSI and NFS performance should be very respectable. Iomega tells me they will be demonstrating a VMware VDI “boot storm” scenario using a PX6 with SSDs at EMC World next week.
Beyond the hardware, Iomega has revved the LifeLine software stack for performance, features, and integration. Iomega previewed many of these updates in the “Cloud Edition” versions of the IX2 and IX2 products earlier this year. This includes a cleaner interface as well as “Personal Cloud” software for SOHO or small business users.
The Personal Cloud is pretty clever, allowing different devices (StorCenter, IX Cloud, PX, PC and Mac) to share data using a peer-to-peer architecture. Desktop users experience Personal Cloud similar to Dropbox, using Explorer or Finder to mount a volume for drag and drop copies. This Iomega technology can be accessed remotely or scripted for data distribution between locations.
Owners of older Iomega IX devices can’t officially upgrade to Personal Cloud, but I’m told it is possible. Call the support team and ask for help. Sadly, this upgrade is destructive to data, so back up first!
One important change (necessitated by the BYOD option) is that the LifeLine operating system image is stored in (and executed from) flash rather than on the disks. The iSCSI stack finally supports SCSI-3 persistent reservations and trusted domains for clustering, and Iomega also promise that the updated iSCSI target software performs better with simultaneous file and block traffic.
Pricing and Availability
The PX Series is shipping to resellers now, and will be in end-user hands next week. Pricing is up from previous offerings, but still reasonable, especially in BYOD configurations. CDW has an exclusive on the pre-populated models, but others will sell BYOD versions (and the pre-populated arrays after 30 days).
Iomega will continue to sell the IX lineup for SOHO users but will focus on the PX for business and server use cases.
The StorCenter PX line is a major step forward for Iomega. The BYOD option is welcome, as is SSD performance and improved specs. With official Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Windows Server, and VMware ESX support, the PX is finally up to the task of business computing. We look forward to putting these new devices through their paces in the future!
Strategically, it makes sense for Iomega to segment their “network storage” offerings into the home/home office-oriented IX line and business-focused PX series. I would prefer even stronger differentiation and perhaps the elimination of home media features from the PX line. It pains me to mention it, but perhaps the IX no longer needs iSCSI support, since it was so woefully underpowered and unable to deliver on the promise of block storage. At least these features should be de-emphasized since they don’t appeal to the intended audience of the products.