Atlantis HyperScale review: All-flash converged infrastructure with SDS and hardware choice

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Atlantis Computing is looking to disrupt the converged infrastructure market with an all-flash appliance combining its own software-defined storage technology and a choice of hardware vendors.

Promises significant cost savings compared to both conventional and alternative converged infrastructure platforms
All-flash storage
Performance enhancement through USX deduplication technology
Choice of hardware vendor to avoid lock-in

Scalability only at the appliance level at present
No support for Hyper-V
No support for other storage sources

£75,000 (ex. VAT) for the HP-based HyperScale CX-12 appliance reviewed

Atlantis Computing may not be the first name you think of when 'converged infrastructure' is mentioned, but it does have some history here, first attracting attention with its software-based ILIO deduplication and compression technology. Designed to boost the performance of enterprise virtual desktop (VDI) deployments, this was subsequently widened in scope to create a more general software-defined storage solution, known as Atlantis USX, which it has now bundled with hardware from four server vendors -- Cisco, HP, Lenovo and SuperMicro -- to create the Atlantis HyperScale appliance.

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Sold through the channel by resellers accredited to these vendors but supported by Atlantis, HyperScale is effectively a four-node converged appliance containing all-flash storage to give either 12TB or 24TB of effective capacity regardless of the vendor concerned. It can be used with either VMware VSphere or Citrix XenServer and, as well as converging compute and storage resources, delivers high availability with a RAID5-like ability to cope with individual node failure.

The leap to HyperScale

For our evaluation the company gave us access to the HP version of the appliance, comprising four 1U ProLiant DL360 Gen9 servers. Ours was a CX-12 (12TB) model, but the same servers are also used to power the 24TB CX-24 (24TB), with each server (node in appliance-speak) delivered preconfigured with dual Intel Xeon E5-2680 v3 (Haswell-EP) processors inside. Clocked at 2.5GHz, these have 12 processing cores or 24 threads each, giving the HP-based HyperScale appliance an impressive 96 processing cores or 192 threads altogether.

Here are two of the four HP ProLiant DL360 Gen9 servers that make up the HyperScale appliance, each fitted with just three SSDs.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research

According to Atlantis, this core count can be translated into 170 general-purpose server VMs using the CX-12 appliance or 365 on the larger CX-24 model. Alternatively, for those wanting to use HyperScale for VDI, the appliance can handle anywhere from 150 to 650 virtual desktops depending on the client configuration.

As already mentioned, storage is delivered using flash only, and you get a lot less physical space compared to the promised 12/24TB effective capacity. In fact, you get just 40 percent spread across three SSDs per node, using 400GB SSDs on the 12TB model and 800GB drives on the 24TB product. However, that doesn't matter as the Atlantis USX deduplication and compression software will massively compress data stored to comfortably meet, or even exceed, the figures quoted.

You also need connectivity, of course, so the network side is catered for via two 10GbE interfaces per node with a separate Gigabit interface for the management network.

A USB memory stick is used to install the Atlantis software, a process that takes around an hour using either VSphere or XenServer, with USX implemented in the form of a set of service and high-availability VMs in both cases. Note, however, that hypervisor licensing has to be budgeted for separately and the virtualisation platform managed independently.

The HyperScale advantage

Other than the all-flash storage, there's nothing remarkable about the HyperScale hardware, whether you're comparing it to standard servers or converged platforms from Nutanix, SimpliVity or vendors supporting the VMware EVO:RAIL program. What makes Atlantis stand out, however, is its USX deduplication technology, which allows it to undercut the competition on price by some margin while, at the same time, delivering significant performance benefits.

Despite the use of enterprise-grade SSDs, for example, the fact that you only need three physical drives per server makes the HyperScale appliance a lot cheaper to buy. Indeed, Atlantis Computing claims a saving of 79 percent for the CX-12 compared to conventional infrastructure solutions and 62 percent against comparable converged alternatives.

In practice, of course, actual savings will depend on which of the four vendor hosts you go for: the HP CX-12 we looked at sells for around £75,000 (ex. VAT). The final price is also dependent on the reseller involved and any bundled services. Added to which, customers with existing deals and support agreements with the vendor involved can also have these applied to the Atlantis appliance.

HyperScale at work

RAM is an important part of the HyperScale formula, with 256-384GB available on each node with a 12TB appliance and 384-512GB per node on its 24TB bigger brother. It's here that all the deduplication is done, and it's here that the performance benefits are made possible over and above the use of flash as a storage medium.

The USX console at the heart of the HyperScale appliance shows how effective the deduplication technology can be.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research

Crucially, the USX software works to both deduplicate and compress data right at the top of the I/O stack -- at the hypervisor level where it can be a lot faster than alternatives working, for example, down at the storage controller. It should also be better than inline deduplication working elsewhere in the I/O path, with USX applied to individual volumes and cleverly able to acknowledge virtual writes without involving the I/O subsystem at all.

We tested the HP CX-12 using Iometer from a desktop VM using an 80 percent write, 20 precent read workload and recorded an effective throughput of over 645MB/sec and over 165,000 IOPS. This was with just one volume, but Atlantis claims to deliver an equally impressive 50-60,000 IOPS per volume even on a fully loaded appliance.

Impressive IOPS from a HyperScale volume using Iometer.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research

Room for improvement

Atlantis Computing's HyperScale appliance certainly appears to deliver the goods, and is bound to give other players in the converged infrastructure market plenty to think about. There are, however, a few rough edges with lack of support for Hyper-V one of those -- particularly in the academic field, where Microsoft's hypervisor is widely seen as a more cost-effective solution than VMware.

The fixed configuration of the appliance is another, drawback, with no option to scale simply by plugging extra nodes into the cluster. Neither is it possible to integrate other storage sources, as with the full USX platform. If you need more capacity, it's either a whole new appliance or nothing.

Still, it's early days yet -- both for Atlantis and for its new HyperScale appliance, with further enhancements already in the pipeline to address these issues. It's a good start, with a lot to offer smaller enterprises wanting to build a capable and fast converged infrastructure without breaking the bank.

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