EMC Announces Plans to Make Isilon Announcements in 2016

[NOTE: This post has been updated with answers to some of the questions I had at the time of the announcement. The updates are inline, below.]

Today, EMC made some announcements about some new Isilon products that they hope to make Generally Available (GA) in “early 2016”. If you’ve been following Isilon closely like I do, nothing in the announcements will be a big surprise as everything talked about is something the Isilon folks have been talking about in roadmap presentations for a while now.

After presenting more marketing about the Data Lake message (I’ll summarize: Put all your data in one big place. That place is Isilon. That Isilon Data Lake can now (OK, in “early 2016”) be expanded from the Core to the Edge and even to the Cloud”), the announcement covers plans to announce:

  • A software-only version of Isilon called “IsilonSD Edge”
  • An extension to SmartPools allowing tiering to public or private cloud called “CloudPools”
  • An upcoming new version of OneFS

I’ll go through each of these, plus more, in some detail below.

IsilonSD Edge

IsilonSD EdgeThe first part of the announcement of “things to come” focused on a software-defined version of the Isilon called “IsilonSD Edge”. In the conversations I was involved in, EMC emphasized that IsilonSD is the name of an “entire family” of products to come. They then followed up by saying that “other products may be released in the family if EMC sees a use case” (emphasis mine), so it’s clearly a small family so far, with no immediate plans to expand anytime soon.

To my surprise, IsilonSD Edge is not the software-defined Isilon that had been described to me in past roadmap presentations (a virtual Isilon that could be run in an AWS instance). Instead, IsilonSD Edge is “tightly integrated with VMware” and can be run on “commodity hardware”.

It was later clarified for me that “tightly integrated with VMware” actually means “is a virtual machine that can run on the vSphere 5.5 hypervisor”. It includes a plug-in for vCenter.

That commodity hardware? Well, obviously, it must be on VMware’s vSphere Hardware Compatibility List (HCL), but it’s actually more limited than that. The hardware will need to be on the VMware VSAN HCL — even though IsilonSD Edge does NOT use VSAN (emphasis theirs). The reason for this is that the IsilonSD Edge will use virtual disks (VMDKs)  that will reside on local disks on the ESXi host. (I guessing that, like me, you’d assumed it would use shared storage for more HA.)

Actually, initially at least, the IsilonSD Edge-supported hardware will be only a specific sub-set of the hardware on the VSAN HCL, presumably because the Isilon folks won’t have time to test everything before GA. The actual list of hardware that will be supported will be available closer to GA (although, in light of the upcoming acquisition, I’m predicting that at least some Dell hardware will be on that list).

The other reason for requiring that hardware for the IsilonSD Edge to be on the VSAN HCL is that IsilonSD Edge will require the use of local SSDs for metadata.

The IsilonSD Edge is intended for a branch office use case. It won’t scale anywhere as much as its hardware-based big brother. IsilonSD Edge requires at least three instances (VMs) to create a cluster, but is limited to a maximum of six VMs in a virtual cluster.

An IsilonSD Edge cluster is limited to 36TB. That 36TB is made up of a maximum of 12 VMDKs at a maximum of 2TB each. I’m unclear if this is a raw or usable number, but since EMC compared it to the raw space numbers of the hardware-based Isilon, I suspect it’s raw.

[UPDATE: EMC has confirmed that the 36TB is a raw capacity number.]

EMC intends to offer two versions of the IsilonSD Edge, one which comes with the regular EMC Support options, and one that is downloadable for free, that does not come with Support.

Isilon CloudPools

Isilon CloudPools

Think of CloudPools as an extended-functionality version of the Isilon SmartPools software, but instead of moving files between different disk pools within the Isilon cluster (e.g.: from S200 nodes to NL410 nodes), Clous Pools will allow administrators to set policies to move files from the Isilon cluster to (supported) private or public cloud instances.

Similar to SmartPools, CloudPools would still allow clients to connected to the Isilon cluster to retrieve their files, without having any knowledge of of whether the files are actually stored on the cluster or in the cloud. If the requested file is on the cluster, Isilon will serve it as usual. If the requested files in in the cloud, the Isilon will retrieve it, then serve it. This will allow CloudPools to be transparent to users and applications.

This will be a licensable feature that customers will need to purchase in order to use.

Naturally, the only supported private cloud option, at least initially, will be EMC’s ECS solution. Given my knowledge of actual ECS implementations at customer sites, this rules out any Production use of private cloud with Isilon for me.

For public cloud, CloudPools will initially support Amazon Web Service’s (AWS) S3, and Microsoft’s Azure. EMC notes that in the future CloudPools will also support VMware’s vCloud Air Network, but since that would be a future feature of what is still at this point a future product, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it.

EMC never said so explicitly, but based on the way they’ve spoken about it, I’m assuming that a CloudPools license will require that customers also have a SmartPools license.


No, seriously, that’s what they called it in the announcement.

Yes, that’s right. Part of the announcement was that, at some point in “early 2016”, Isilon will release a new version of OneFS. (You heard it here first!) They weren’t willing to say what the version will be called yet. I’m guessing it will be OneFS 8.0, but that’s just speculation on my part. All EMC would say about it was “OneFS.NEXT”.

(I suppose that it’s possible that — for once — I’m not interpreting things too literally, and that instead of 8.0, “NEXT” is the actual name of the next version…)

I’m guessing there will be more to it, but I’ve only heard EMC talk about two new features in OneFS.NEXT:

  • Non-disruptive upgrades
  • Release rollback

Remember how after OneFS 7 (OK, 7.2…) you were never going to need to reboot an entire cluster all at once during an upgrade? With 7.2 and later, that seems to be the case. Instead, customers can perform a “rolling upgrade”. In a rolling upgrade, a single node in the cluster is upgraded and restarted at a time.

Today, if a client is connected via a stateful protocol like SMB, a rolling upgrade can cause what EMC calls a “minor disconnect and reconnect” as the connection fails over to another node during that node’s reboot.

For several of my customers, however, this disconnect isn’t minor at all. These customers are running analytics jobs that can take anywhere from 8 hours to four days to complete. That “minor” disconnect causes that entire job to fail and need to be restarted from the beginning.

With OneFS.NEXT, the client connections should failover to another node seamlessly. Well, provided that the client is connecting to the Isilon node using either NFS or SMB 3.0 or later. Clients using any version of SMB prior to 3.0 (like the majority of my customers) will still be SOL.

Of course, upgrading to OneFS.NEXT will still require the disruptive rolling upgrade. But the upgrade from OneFS.NEXT to OneFS.EVENMORERECENT will be non-disruptive (for clients using NFS or SMB 3.0 or later).

The second feature that EMC is touting in OneFS.NEXT is called “Release Rollback”. The idea here is that, if having performed an upgrade, you realize that you don’t want that upgrade, you can easily roll back to the version of OneFS you were running immediately prior to that upgrade.

There was no mention of whether or not the rollback is disruptive.

[UPDATE: EMC has confirmed that in OneFS.NEXT, the rollback is disruptive, requiring a simultaneous reboot of all nodes in the cluster.]

My Thoughts

I’ve been a big fan of Isilon for a while now, and normally I’m excited about every new Isilon announcement that comes out. I have to admit that I’m somewhat disappointed with this one.

First, I used to work at EMC and was involved in some of their past announcements. We used to take great pride in not “pre-announcing” anything. If something was announced it would be going GA within a month (or less) of the announcement. We enjoyed poking fun at competitors would would make a big deal about announcing futures. I remember getting to write internal articles with titles like “NetApp Announces That Next Year They Will Announce When They’ll be Announcing Their New Product”.

This announcement is for products that won’t be GA for anywhere from two to five months from now.

Second, what’s being announced feels like minor stuff to me. It’s possible I’m being unfair and had unrealistic expectations, but I do feel myself feeling like there’s a lack of substance in this announcement (which may be why three product announcements were grouped together).

For IsilonSD Edge, I hadn’t expected the first software-defined Isilon to be so limited. I also thought that there was a great disaster recovery use case for having a virtual Isilon running in the cloud. Customers could use SyncIQ to replicate their data up to the cloud, without having to purchase a second data center or second Isilon cluster.

If something like that were available for sale today, I could spend the next week doing nothing but taking orders for it.

For OneFS.NEXT (I’ve cringed every time I’ve had to type that), I’m really hoping there are more features than the ones we’ve been told about so far. The new rolling upgrades will give customers a reason to move to SMB 3, but that’s the one big plus I see.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but the release rollback feature feels a little bit too much like an admission of a quality control issue with new releases…


Folks I talked with seemed uncomfortable saying anything other than “early 2016”. When pressed, it was adjusted to “Q1 2016”. Given that, I’d predict closer to 31 March than to 1 January…

At no point was it ever stated such, but it may be possible that both IsilonSD Edge and CloudPools will require OneFS.NEXT in order to be used, in which case I expect the GA to be late and “all at once”, or to be staggered out and pushing at least something into Q2 — again, pure speculation on my part.

[UPDATE: EMC’s “Ask the Experts” Discussion on ECN referred to both IsilonSD Edge and CloudPools as “features of OneFS.NEXT”.]

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4 Responses to EMC Announces Plans to Make Isilon Announcements in 2016

  1. NetWorker 9.0 – before it was released – also used to be called NetWorker.NEXT so I assume .NEXT stands to any code which comes with next generation of changes/features/etc… until released.

    • GeekFluent GeekFluent says:

      I’m familiar with the convention.

      However, “.next” is usually what you say during Development cycles or roadmap presentations. It’s used when you don’t know yet what the actual release number is going to be. Use of the term in this context leads me to believe either:

      • EMC Marketing is trying to appeal to the Dev community
      • EMC isn’t actually sure how many releases there will be before the one that contains the features they announced will be GA

      I hope it’s the first, as the second brings to mind more concerns about quality control on the software.

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