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Panasas begins second storage assault on Linux clusters

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SC06 Storage start-up Panasas has polished off the first major product revamp in company history with a bang. It secured a mega-win to provide Los Alamos National Laboratory with mounds and mounds of clustered storage.

Earlier this month, Panasas released a pair of new hardware systems that make use of its flagship parallel file system. The company hopes that the boxes coupled with a software overhaul will help it continue to dig deeper into the commercial high performance computing market. In the meantime, however, Panasas remains happy to ride the Los Alamos gravy train.

The vendor - already well entrenched at Los Alamos - has been plucked as the storage supplier for the upcoming Roadrunner supercomputer. The system, built out of Opteron and Cell servers, should end up as the fastest supercomputer on the planet when its done in 2008.

Panasas secured the Los Alamos deal on the back of its file system architecture that boasts high-speed storage performance for Linux clusters.

"The big problem is that I/O did not get parallelized as the world moved to Linux clusters with hundreds of nodes," said Len Rosenthal, CMO at Panasas. "You end up with a parallel application, but it still has serial access to storage."

The likes of IBM and SGI have created their own parallel file systems to provide better communication between servers and storage systems, while other vendors such as HP and newcomer SiCortex have backed the Lustre file system. Panasas too has a Lustre variant.

Panasas has rolled out to new storage systems - the ActiveStor 5000 and 3000 - to back up its file system work.

The company pitches the ActiveStor 5000 unit as a brand new play. The system has been designed to handle "interactive" HPC applications where customers want access to data on a fairly regular basis as well as batch jobs. In the HPC world, these batch jobs could include chip simulation, automotive design and animation.

To pull off this kind of high-end box, Panasas has packaged the ActiveStor 5000 its ActiveGuard HA (high availability) software for handling failures and ActiveImage software for performing backups and instantaneous data restores. Panasas also equips each system with high-speed storage blades.

Panasas eyes Network Appliance as its biggest competition in the "interactive" market.

"NetApp has its Data OnTap operating system, which is similar to our ActiveScale OS," Rosenthal said. "But they charge an absurd amount of money for their software. We're showing 3x, 5x and in some cases 10x better price performance."

Panasas' more standard new system is the ActiveStor 3000 box.

It's aimed only at the batch market and is made up of 1TB storage blades. All told, customers can hold 100TB of data in a 42U rack using the technology.

You can compare the two products here.

Parallel file system work is not for the faint of disk. It often takes year to work out all the kinks in this type of software. Panasas, however, claims to have gotten things right with its kit.

"We shipped our first product in 2003 to get the gear out there," Rosenthal said. "Now the product is stable and revenue is growing."

Panasas, in fact, can lay claim to 75 paying customers - with that number doubling in the last year. The start-up began by attacking classic HPC customers in the labs, but has recently seen most of its business come from the commercial HPC market. While Los Alamos remains Panasas's flagship customer, close to 75 per cent of all sales go to big business, Rosenthal said. ®

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