Start-up strives for real-time data access


Arthur D. Little spin-off Pyxsys is preparing to release beta units of an "intelligent storage architecture" that it claims is a radical departure from existing technologies. The company plans to ship beta units (to DuPont) of its network-attached storage (NAS) device next month, with commercial shipments expected next summer.

"Fundamentally, they have built a 'purpose-built' storage box that can be used as a general-purpose NAS device but excels in certain database-oriented applications," says Arun Taneja, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group consulting firm, in Milford, MA.

"We look at it as a NAS paradigm, but with a massively parallel channel delivery architecture and a silicon-based database acceleration scheme capable of delivering files fast and executing SQL queries in a matter of seconds," explains Dr. George Melhelm, president and CEO of Sudbury, MA-based Pyxsys. The system can be configured with up to 16,384 64-bit processors and is scalable to 220TB of storage.

Of the system's features, the database accelerator is the most important, says Melhelm. It enables the device to execute SQL commands where the data is stored-in the system's storage controller.

Figure 1: Pyxsys is targeting users with demanding applications for both storage and processing. Examples include life sciences, decision support, and high-end NAS.
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The company is positioning the technology to compete in data-analysis-intensive life sciences (e.g., bioinformatics) and decision support (e.g., financial services and retail) markets, as well as in the high- performance NAS arena, where success is increasingly determined by a company's ability to access data real-time.

"It really boils down to whether an application can move data fast enough-and can recognize patterns quickly enough-to be able convert information into some type of competitive advantage," explains Taneja.

Consider the field of bioinformatics-the meshing of biological research and computational analysis. Today's applications have to examine terabytes of data every time a match is made, says Melhelm. Pyxsys claims its system is capable of providing this level of information 10 times faster than-and at one-third the cost of-conventional technologies.

Its high performance is achieved by combining multiple components, including storage, server, communications, database, and data mining technologies into a single NAS device, and by using proprietary silicon to accelerate database and file operations. In doing so, Pyxsys claims to have eliminated the storage/server bottleneck, which means users can extract data at significantly higher speeds.

Figure 2: The Pyxsys architecture consolidates database and storage servers into a single device. Other components include proprietary data processing and communication ASICs, data parallel software, large bandwidth cache, and million gate 64-bit processors.
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This compares to conventional approaches such as clustering and technology "cobbling" (when components from different vendors are pieced together), which tend to be slower, more expensive, and more complicated, according to Melhelm.

NAS users could also see a significant performance improvement with the Pyxsys system, due in part to its large cache (up to 256GB) and dynamic cache pooling capability, which allocates cache on-the-fly to users. Pyxsys claims up to 95% disk usage, versus 45% for conventional NAS devices.

Other potential benefits of the architecture include

  • Reduced management costs-Analysts estimate that for every $1 spent on storage hardware, as much as $7 is spent managing it. Pyxsys claims it can reduce management costs by as much as 80%.
  • Reduced complexity and high reliability-One box means fewer interconnections and potential points of failure.
  • Significantly smaller footprint-A single system can replace a cluster of approximately 138 Pentium III servers.
  • SCSI and Fibre Channel support-Any storage device that supports Fibre Channel or SCSI can be plugged into the back of the system. Pyxsys also recently announced that its next-generation devices will support InfiniBand.

The company plans to sell the system direct to end users but also hopes to land OEM deals with database and NAS vendors. For example, says Melhelm, in the case of database vendors, "their products would serve as the engine for the Pyxsys box but would be connected to the Pyxsys SQL processing layer or database accelerator."

Pxysys received $7.5 million from ADL Capital in its first round of funding. A second round of $15 million is expected late this quarter and will be used to fund beta development, sales and marketing, and initial market penetration.

This article was originally published on October 01, 2001