Gluster: Open source scale-out NAS

Posted on February 17, 2011

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By Drew Robb

Gluster recently introduced additions to its open source NAS platform, claiming the first scale-out virtual NAS appliances for VMware and Amazon Web Services (AWS). The Gluster Virtual Storage Appliances are available in two versions: one for VMware virtual machines and one for Amazon-based cloud environments.

The VMware Virtual Storage Appliance integrates the Gluster File System (GlusterFS) into a virtual machine (VM) for deployment on VMware-certified hardware or cloud platforms. Gluster officials claim that the virtual appliance can be deployed in minutes.

For Amazon Web Services, GlusterFS is packaged in an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) for deployment on the AWS public cloud.

“This is the next step in virtualization – deploying storage resources in a similar way to compute resources,” says Jack O’Brien, Gluster’s vice president of marketing. “The software enables the pooling of back-end disks.”

O’Brien notes that many IT organizations are struggling to virtualize storage. The reason, he says, is that most virtualized storage is SAN-based and uses a scale-up approach: You buy larger and larger hardware devices as your storage requirements expand. However, this can cause some performance problems in VMware environments.

“You get I/O bottlenecks when lots of VMs are banging on the same piece of data,” says O’Brien, “and you’re faced with LUN limitations and complexity, lots of manual management, and the expense of Fibre Channel.”

Gluster provides a scalable NAS alternative with a single mount point. The software handles data distribution and I/O load balancing and can run on commodity hardware. O’Brien says that users running VMware can deploy Gluster on top of the VMware ESX layer or by starting up an Amazon web service.

O’Brien claims that Gluster can overcome some significant limitations on the Amazon EC2 platform. For example, EC2 has a 2TB limitation for its Elastic Block Storage (EBS). Further, an EC2 instance can only talk to one EBS volume at a time.

“Gluster aggregates multiple EBS storage with no size limits,” says O’Brien. “It’s the only way to build multi-client access to shared storage on Amazon.”

Gluster offers its software on a subscription basis. Those already on a subscription don’t need to pay extra for these new services. The fee per storage server per year starts at $4,000, and there are two tiers of subscriptions available.

According to O’Brien, the primary use cases for the open source, scale-out software are on-premise NAS storage where a company has hit the wall on existing NAS performance, as shared storage for VMware, and for service providers offering public cloud services.

Users can begin with 50TB and add more capacity on demand.

Terri McClure, an analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), says that interest in scale-out storage has increased recently as IT organizations look for more effective ways to address scalability and manageability in environments such as cloud computing and virtual servers.

“Gluster’s new offering is representative of the types of major breakthroughs we’re seeing in storage technology for virtualization and cloud environments, delivering a software-based scale-out architecture, says McClure.

Greg Schulz, an analyst with the Server and StorageIO Group, thinks that Gluster has a good solution for companies that want to leverage scale-out NAS for traditional, virtual, private or public cloud environments.

“[Gluster’s] approach of providing flexibility to deploy the technology on different platforms to meet various business or application needs is an example of what scale-out should be about – scale functionality, ease of use, and flexibility to adapt to different needs while supporting performance, availability, capacity and security with multi-tenancy,” says Schulz. “This removes some complexity from cloud and virtual environments by reducing the need for cloud access gateways, appliances or software drivers, which reduces costs -- including management costs.”

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering, and is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

Originally published on .

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