Storage performance still matters

New solutions from NetApp, Panasas may fill midtier and HPC storage's need for speed

Following last week's SNW news feed, I should probably use this week's column to discuss the implications of EMC purchasing Avamar.

Well, I won't -- because it wasn't much of a surprise. Deduplication is the only major storage technology that EMC had not yet bought or brewed in-house. Moreover, it's just too early to tell how the Avamar blossom will flourish in the new landscape.

Let's talk instead about new products, of which there is never want in the storage world. NetApp -- equally relentless as its Hopkinton, Mass., rival when it comes filling the market with new products -- has announced yet another appliance this week, the FAS3070.

NetApp positions the new appliance as a midtier device with an easy migration path to the storage big leagues. You may remember that high-end storage is a relatively recent offering, with which NetApp hopes to lure succulent purchase orders away from its competitors.

With a total max capacity of 252TB and simultaneous connectivity to 4Gbps Fibre Channel and iSCSI networks (10Gbps Ethernet is a possible future update), the FAS3070 fills the gap between its two closest siblings, the FAS3050 on the lower end and the FAS6030 with its higher capacity and performance.

Judging from its name, you might think that the new appliance is closer to the 3050 than to the others; quite the opposite is true. As do its big brothers, the FAS3070 sports a 64-bit architecture and PCIe controllers, which should make for easy, seamless updates, according to Joel Reich, general manager and senior director of the SAN/iSAN business unit at NetApp.

The FAS3070 is NetApp's response to competing solutions such as EMC's Clariion CX3-80. In fact, according to Reich, the new appliance not only offers a better update path than its rival but also better performance and usability.

To prove that point, NetApp commissioned a performance comparison study by VeriTest. I've posted the report on my blog where both readers and vendors will have a chance to post comments.

Storage performance was also at the center of another interesting briefing I had with Panasas Vice President of Marketing Larry Jones, which shouldn't be a surprise. With its ActiveStor 3000 system, the company is one of the leading providers of clustered storage solutions for HPC (high-performance computing). 

Panasas storage clusters are based on 4U shelves interconnected via redundant iSCSI ports, each mounting one Director blade and 10 StorageBlades, giving you a capacity of as much as 100TB in a single rack. Panasas' scalable file system, PanFS, runs on that platform, offering independent, parallel access to multiple hosts via NFS or CIFS protocols.

Customers were achieving impressive performance numbers in the gigabytes-per-second range but had to dedicate separate copies of very large repositories to accommodate for both batch and interactive processing, Jones explains. To fix that, Panasas this week announced the ActiveStor 5000, a first attempt to offer a single storage solution for simultaneous use by both interactive and batch applications.

A new StorageBlade XC adds a significant amount of cache memory to the ActiveStor 5000, as much as 20GB of cache for each shelf, which results in fast interactive response times -- as much as five times faster than typical NFS servers -- while maintaining fast access for batch applications, Jones says.

The ActiveStor 5000 also adds ActiveGuard, a watchful eye to predict failures and provide fail-over, and an ActiveImage capable of taking as many as 32,000 snapshots per system.

One of the recurring critiques of HPC systems is that they are unable to provide a good platform for interactive users. If the ActiveStor 5000 delivers on its promise, Panasas may have opened a whole new chapter in storage.

Join me on The Storage Network with questions or comments.

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