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Panasas No Longer 'Lunatic Fringe' Play

Panasas' days of playing to the "lunatic fringe" are waning

Newly arrived Panasas chief marketing officer Len Rosenthal, fresh from PathScale, which he co-founded and sold to QLogic, says Panasas' days of playing to the "lunatic fringe" are waning.

Its value proposition makes it mission-critical, he says, especially as HPC, the company's specialty, goes enterprise.

Panasas is not your daddy's storage company.

It claims to make storage devices that maximize the performance of the applications deployed in Linux clusters, clusters now being the lion's share of the HPC market, the same clusters that by the way they're stuck together create pain-in-neck bottlenecks.

In Panasas' universe, clusters equal parallel computing and parallel computing needs parallel I/O to unknot those bottlenecks. Panasas creates a single storage pool with parallel data paths to the compute cluster, an architecture created by the guy who invented RAID where the nodes talk directly to the storage without a server in between.

Panasas is sold 4.5PB since 2003.

Anyway, now it's trying its hand at unified clustered storage with an ActiveStor 5000 Storage Cluster that's meant to service both the batch user and the workstation user whose requirements differ.

The guy on the workstation wants higher data availability, high I/O and more random access. The batch guy is more focused on extreme capacity and high sequential I/O. One has smaller files, the other mighty ones. One typically resorts to NAS, the other to SAN, and the organization pays the bill for both.

Somewhere in between, Panasas argues, HPC workflow benefits have been lost in favor of specialization, resulting in increased time-to-market (the "data motion" required to cross workflow boundaries), duplicated data sets and increased IT costs.

The 5000 with its cheaper-to-manage single pool of storage is supposed to cure the problem. Pricing starts at $74,000 with availability in January. The widgetry is currently in beta.

It puts 11 StorageBlades XC and three DirectorBlades on a shelf so a shelf can hold 10TB and a standard 42U rack can hold 100TB. The parallel random I/O reportedly accesses data in memory faster than accessing data from the disk.

The new Intel-based StorageBlade XC increases the StorageBlade cache from 512MB to 2GB and the higher speed cache reportedly increases I/O performance as much as 10 times, with up to 20GB of cache per shelf or 200GB per fully configured rack.

The company's new ActiveGuard software is supposed to guarantee non-stop processing and uptime, with complete storage network failover ensured by a second gigE link and metadata failover ensured by the DirectorBlade. Panasas' ActiveImage widgetry supports 32,000 image snapshots. It captures only changes from the previous image.

Panasas has tweaked its object-based ActiveScale Operating Environment in support of the 5000. Now in its third generation, it includes rapid recover to pre-emptively replace failing blades and promises no application downtime for upgrades.

The guys who can benefit from a unified storage fabric include financial risk analysis, bioinformatics, EDA, computational fluid dynamics and special effects animation creators, pretty much the guys it's been servicing.

Meanwhile Panasas also has in hand the ActiveStor 3000, basically an upgrade bound for the batch HPC market. It claims the thing offers the best price/performance out there and starts at $55,000. Like the 5000, it can hold 100TB in a rack with a performance of 4 Gb/s. Cache is limited to 512MB per blade and it too will be run by ActiveScale 3.0. Multiple cabinet can be configured into a storage cluster than runs into the petabytes.

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