X-IO storage pivots to the edge with NVMe-based Axellio

New storage strategy for X-IO centers on Axellio appliance with FabricXpress architecture. NVMe flash atop a PCIe edge storage switch allows analytics as data is ingested.

Recapitalized and debt-free, X-IO Technologies is back in the storage business following a year-long retreat.

The newest X-IO storage system is the Axellio edge computing system, a flash-based appliance built to simultaneously ingest and analyze huge data sets. A refresh of X-IO's flagship Intelligent Storage Element (ISE) disk and flash arrays is planned for later this year.

Axellio, available today, marks a new focus for X-IO Technologies, which was known as Xiotech from 2002 through 2011. X-IO describes Axellio as a converged computing and storage server for high-velocity data analytics. The 2U system incorporates X-IO FabricXpress, which meshes commodity-based nonvolatile memory express (NVMe) flash and PCI Express (PCIe) switching.

Target markets include cybersecurity, defense and intelligence, energy and financial trading.

Initial shipments come with 8 TB NVMe drives and about 500 TB of raw storage. Customers could create a 1 PB persistent Axellio data store when 16 TB NVMe drives are available.

Can X-IO bounce back?

The X-IO strategy pivot comes in the wake of a 2016 corporate shake-up aimed at stanching red ink. Although it never formally dissolved, Colorado Springs-based X-IO was forced to retrench after failing to secure financing.

X-IO shuttered manufacturing and sold off non-core assets. Most of its 107 employees were fired -- the bulk in sales, marketing and back office jobs. Direct sales were discontinued. X-IO storage now is sold solely through OEM and channel partners.

We didn't want to continue fighting an uphill battle in the traditional SAN storage market.
Bill MillerCEO, X-IO Technologies

In January, X-IO received about $10 million in operating capital by selling shares to institutional and individual investors. Chairman and CEO Bill Miller said X-IO has sufficient long-term working capital and posted positive EBIDTA the last three quarters, but he declined to share revenue figures. Miller became CEO in 2015 after his private investment company, PV Ventures, provided seed capital.

"We wanted to double down on engineering and product marketing. We didn't want to continue fighting an uphill battle in the traditional SAN storage market," Miller said.

Mark Peters, a senior storage analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass., said X-IO storage is trying to reinvent itself at the same time competition heats up among NVMe flash storage vendors.

"A good way to describe Axellio might be Dell EMC DSSD without the pain," Peters said. "Up to now, the existing X-IO customer has been a midmarket ISE storage user. The company has had a few stumbles, so the biggest challenge is going to be around building awareness, marketing and acceptability.

"They're also not the only vendor doing NVMe flash at the edge. You've got everyone from legacy vendors to startups."

X-IO Technologies' new all-flash appliance, the Axellio edge computing system.
The new Axellio edge computing system from X-IO Technologies

X-IO storage arrays prepped for Gen 4 upgrade

The Axellio 2U chassis integrates two dual-socket Intel motherboards and up to 72 2.5-inch dual-port NVMe SSDs. That provides 88 cores and 176 threads per box. An Intel 16-lane PCIe nontransparent bridge device handles intraserver node communications.

Thirty-two 6.25 GB dual inline memory modules (DIMMs) on the motherboards provide up to 2 TB of RAM. Two nonvolatile DIMM cards can serve as a DRAM storage cache for failover.

FabricXpress creates a fanned-out PCIe bus that situates NVMe flash close to the processor. Full duplex bandwidth is rated to deliver 480 Gbps, more than 12 million IOPS and latency as low as 35 microseconds.

"It's a server. You put Ethernet NICs on the front end and plug them into your switch," Miller said.

Early beta users include cyber-security firm Ascolta, prescriptive data management firm ISSAC and network analytics specialist Solarflare.

"X-IO needs Axellio to be associated with those types of application platforms. That's the way this thing becomes valuable," Peters said.

Up to this point, the main X-IO storage product consisted of midrange ISE all-flash, disk and hybrid arrays. The vendor claims 1,500 ISE customers under contract and more than 7,500 field installations.

ISE arrays are based on technology originally developed by the Seagate Advanced Storage Architecture Group. The arrays are sold as single self-healing blocks, but Miller said lack of integrated native storage services makes ISE an "also-ran."

Existing ISE customers will continue to receive support. Gen 4 ISE arrays this year will include only SSDs and support Intel Optane drives. Updated ISE firmware will add native deduplication, snapshots and replication.

"While we're doing a significant pivot, we are not abandoning our data storage customers or channel partners. We will bring a great new product to them shortly," Miller said. 

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