Panasas launches parallel storage

By Kevin Komiega

-- Panasas today announced a refreshed product line comprising a pair of clustered storage systems and its first secondary storage array, all of which are designed to bring high-performance computing (HPC) technologies to commercial enterprise customers.

The new ActiveStor product family includes the ActiveStor 6000 (AS6000) and ActiveStor 4000 (AS4000) parallel storage clusters, as well as the ActiveStor 200 (AS200), which Panasas touts as the industry's first parallel second-tier storage solution. 

The AS6000 is designed for commercial organizations in research and product development for design, modeling, and visualization applications. The system includes 20GB of cache memory per storage shelf with an integrated 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) switch that boosts throughput performance per shelf to more than 600MBps. The AS6000 also features ActiveImage snapshots and ActiveGuard High Availability software.

The AS4000, which is aimed primarily at companies dependent on simulation and analysis applications --  such as those in the oil and gas, aerospace, and automotive industries -- also includes an integrated 10GbE switch and data availability features via the Panasas Tiered Parity architecture.

The Tiered Parity architecture addresses disk reliability challenges via error detection and correction codes. The system isolates and repairs media errors at the disk level before they are detected by the RAID array, uses ObjectRAID technology to reconstruct data, and prevents "silent data corruption" by performing data integrity verification at the client node.

An entry-level configuration of the new AS200 includes 104TB of capacity, five Gigabit Ethernet ports, and Tiered Parity data protection.

Matt Reid, director of product marketing at Panasas, says the AS200 extends parallel storage capabilities to second-tier applications, such as archiving, creating a unified parallel storage configuration for both primary and secondary storage.

The AS200 can drive about 350MBps of throughput from its five disk shelves. The performance is significantly lower than that of the AS4000 and AS6000, but Reid claims it is still better than competing products. "Base JBOD solutions will be cheaper than our secondary storage, but the AS200 is really designed for parallel environments. Its performance is not as high as our primary storage, but it is more than adequate for [our targeted] applications," says Reid.

All three products can scale through the addition of storage shelves into a single global shared file system capable of supporting more than 10PB.

The products include the new third-generation ActiveScale 3.2 operating environment. The ActiveScale file system turns files into data objects and then distributes data activity across StorageBlade modules. This object-based storage clustering architecture enables parallel data paths between StorageBlade modules and clients, circumventing the inherent performance and capacity bottlenecks of traditional file systems.

ActiveScale 3.2 also includes NDMP support, which allows for the use of common backup software packages.

Panasas' plan is to expand its focus beyond its HPC roots to the so-called "commercial HPC" market, which comprises Fortune 500 companies deploying HPC technologies for commercial applications.

"We started out in traditional HPC markets and now a large portion of our business is made up of global 500 companies deploying HPC technologies," says Reid. "[Many of these companies are] going parallel with commodity clusters and scale-out architectures."

Reid expects a boost in commercial adoption of parallel storage systems once the Parallel NFS (pNFS) standard is ratified by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The pNFS specification is an extension of NFS. In its current form, NFS does not support parallel I/O operations.

Parallel NFS enables direct parallel data transfer between clients and storage devices without the need for filer heads.

Reid contends customers will remain reluctant to deploy proprietary parallel storage implementations until the industry develops a standard.

"Every parallel storage solution on the market today is essentially proprietary. That means end users have to install client software on every node. It hampers transition paths to next-generation technologies," says Reid. "Embedding pNFS into an operating system removes the need for client software and will help broaden market adoption by making it easier to deploy parallel storage and avoid vendor lock-in."

The IETF NFSv4 subcommittee is expected to conclude its work on the pNFS protocol later this year as part of NFS version 4.1. Support is expected for a range of operating systems, including Windows, Linux, and Unix versions such as Solaris and AIX.

Not surprisingly, Panasas is using pNFS as the foundation for the ActiveStor product architecture.

Panasas prices the new ActiveStor systems on a capacity basis. Reid says the systems cost approximately $5/GB.

Related articles:

Panasas pushes 'tiered parity' RAID
Clustered file storage is enterprise-ready
Panasas shares its software

This article was originally published on August 19, 2008