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Review: Armari BrontaStor 822R-E4

by Parm Mann on 6 August 2013, 10:00

Tags: Armari

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Hardware Matters

The fourth-generation Haswell processor is accompanied by a reference Intel cooler, and a further six fans are used to keep the entire system running comfortably at all times. A pair of 120mm exhaust fans help move heat away from the storage bays in the chassis' lower compartment, while the upper section is cooled by four 60mm fans; two intakes and two exhausts.

The four 60mm fans are controlled by the motherboard, while the two 120mm fans are hooked up to a dedicated chassis thermal-management controller to help keep drive temperatures in check with minimal noise output. To our surprise, the box kept relatively quiet throughout testing - it's certainly no louder than, say, a mid-range gaming PC.

Having cherry-picked its components of choice, Armari is evidently keen to take advantage of the Intel server board's flexible PCI Express lanes. With a three-path multiplexor, the motherboard has the ability to auto-configure the 16 PCIe-Gen3 lanes from the processor to suit a wide range of scenarios.

For the enterprise-orientated BrontaStor 822R-E4, Armari has the main eight-drive array hooked up to an Intel 6Gbps SAS hardware RAID module with BBU protection and two SFF8087 connectors enabling the eight internal ports. This leaves all four PCIe slots free for adapter cards, the capabilities of which would vary depending on what it installed.

The BrontaStor unit supplied uses the configuration which provides the most available slots, so all four PCIe slots can be used for adapters as well as having hardware RAID. You get 1x Gen3 x8, 1x Gen3 x4, 1x Gen2 x4 and 1x Gen2 x1 slot. If you were planning on building an array with eight SSDs for example, the BrontaStor can be configured to pass eight Gen3 lanes to a PCIe HBA module (the HJB option on the BrontaStor) which would provide 8GB/sec total bandwidth - plenty to cope with the bandwidth requirements of eight SSDs in RAID. Of course, in doing so, the Gen3 x4 slot becomes redundant, so only three adapter cards would be supported.

With the 822R-E4 configured as is, the two front-facing option/backup bays are hooked up to the motherboard's third and fourth SATA 6Gbps ports, and in addition to that the first and second SATA 6Gbps ports are routed toward the back of the chassis and attached to a dedicated dual 2.5in SSD mount. Hence the model name 822R: 8+2+2 drive configuration with R standing for Redundant power option.

Our pre-production review sample has the operating system installed on an Intel SSD, but shipping Open-e units will have the OS installed on a SATA DOM, with Armari stating that there will also be a mirrored O/S SSD option for mission critical systems. Users of the free Solaris- or FreeBSD-based storage operating systems using ZFS - FreeNAS, for example - should appreciate the fact that one SSD can be used for the ZIL cache and the other for the L2ARC.

Last but not least, our evaluation model came equipped with the optional Intel X540-T2 10 Gigabit Ethernet adapter installed in a PCIe Gen3 slot operating at x8. In using a wide array of Intel EPSD server components, Armari has made the BrontaStor 822R user-serviceable in many key areas, while ensuring high-end performance throughout.

Software Choices

Continuing the flexibility theme, the new BrontaStor will be offered to customers with a choice of operating system or with no OS installed. Armari's first choice for the 822R-E4 appears to be a special build of Open-E's DSS V6, with a bundled unlimited-storage license, but customers will have other options including Windows Server, VMware and FreeNAS. We're told that a custom Linux-based BrontaStor OS is also in the works.

The Open-E DSS V6 interface isn't the most intuitive NAS environment, and certainly isn't as user-friendly as a proprietary OS from, say, Synology, but it has a vast array of features including support for hardware RAID, logical volumes over 16TB, online expansion, iSCSI targeting, integrated backup, and compatibility with Windows, Linux and Mac clients.

Tapping into Open-E's LCD Panel support, the BrontaStor 822R-E4's front display can also be used to check status and configure various settings. This functionality will only be available to BrontaStor servers running Open-E, though Armari is looking into the possibility of programming the LCD display to support other operating systems.

Multiple SKUs

The 822R-E4 is an impressive bit of kit, but when can you get it and how much can you expect to pay? We're told to expect retail availability in September, with a diskless an OS-less base server starting from £1,495 exc. VAT. This would include an LSI 2308 based PCIe3 HBA controller, Intel Xeon E3v3 (Haswell) 3.3GHz processor and 8GB of ECC memory.

The base server in question today fetches £2,295 exc. VAT in its default configuration, which includes an LSI 2208 Hardware RAID module with a maintenance-free battery unit (MFBU), 16GB of ECC memory and an Open-e DSS V6 license with unlimited storage.

Our review sample, meanwhile, came equipped with eight Seagate Constellation 3TB hard disks, an Intel X540-T2 10 Gigabit adapter, a second, redundant PSU, the LCD display and an Intel AXXRMM4LITE remote-management module, pushing the total cost up to a not insignificant £3,912 exc. VAT.

Knowing that different businesses have unique needs, Armari will be offering the BrontaStor in a couple of other flavours. In addition to the enterprise-orientated 822R-E4, a standard 822R-S3 will come to market with an Ivy Bridge processor, a single PSU and a lack of certain enterprise features such as IPMI management support.

On the other end of the scale, an 822R-M5 will be made available at a later date for media types who require extreme performance for real-time video processing. Said model will come equipped with a 12-core, liquid-cooled Xeon processor, up to 32GB of memory and integrated NVIDIA Quadro graphics.

Each BrontaStor 822R will be backed by a three-year warranty as standard, and in effort to maximise market penetration, Armari will also be partnering with resellers who will be free to rebrand and reconfigure the server as they see fit. Scan Computers is expected to be among the first to offer the BrontaStor package.

The goal is quite simple. Whereas most business-orientated NAS solutions pair desktop processors and entry-level hardware with proprietary software, Armari is taking the opposite route by offering server-grade hardware, enterprise processing power and a choice of software solutions.

From a performance perspective, the BrontaStor 822R is shaping up to be one of the most capable storage solutions for those unable or unwilling to consider a rack. Let's see what it can do.