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Panasas ActiveStor chases Lustre users with portable PanFS

With ActiveStor Ultra, Panasas ports its PanFS parallel file systems to Linux. The vendor's plans include OEM server deals to sell PanFS on commodity gear for HPC customers.

Scale-out NAS vendor Panasas on Tuesday gave an early glimpse of ActiveStor Ultra, the first of its hybrid arrays engineered with a portable file system on industry-standard servers.

Traditional Panasas ActiveStor arrays are also getting rebranded. ActiveStor Classic is the new name for ActiveStor AS18 and AS20 systems, and the ActiveStor Hybrid family is now known as ActiveStor Prime.

The PanFS 8 parallel file system includes newly engineered software for the Panasas storage nodes. Customers can cluster different ActiveStor blade sets and manage them as a single realm.

Panasas ported the PanFS 8 to Linux to take advantage of standard hardware drivers and storage software. Up until now, Panasas has bundled PanFS on custom-designed ActiveStor NAS appliances.

"It's a little bit in contrast to the term 'software-defined storage,' in that we are not going to sell the software separately on any storage platform. PanFS needs to run on properly configured and qualified storage hardware," said Jim Donovan, the Sunnyvale, Calif., company's chief sales and marketing officer.

Donovan said the vendor will have agreements with server OEMs in the run-up to the Panasas ActiveStor Ultra launch, which is scheduled for the second half of 2019.

Metadata tiering to NVMe tier

The earmarks of the engineering updates emerged in 2017 when Panasas added a separate ActiveStor Director control plane to disaggregate metadata from the storage blades. It added non-volatile dual inline memory modules for transaction logging, along with an InfiniBand gateway.

Panasas ActiveStor Ultra underscores an effort to sell more storage for high-performance computing (HPC). The launch comes in the wake of competitor DataDirect Networks' June acquisition of Lustre file system code from Intel, which had been the latest of several recent custodians of Lustre.

"There is a lot of anxiety around the future of Lustre, so we think the timing is good for making PanFS a portable file system," Donovan said.

PanFS has penetrated certain HPC sectors that have struggled to use a parallel file system, said Addison Snell, CEO of Intersect360 Research. Portable PanFS should broaden its appeal, he said.

"At a minimum, increasing the footprint of PanFS would give Panasas a toehold in more markets. Beyond that, it opens the door for partnerships that could significantly increase growth opportunities," Snell said.

PanFS layers Portable Operating System Interface semantics over an object back end for scale-out, using erasure coding for data protection. For performance, Panasas ActiveStor stores small files on SATA SSDs and larger files on SATA disks. PanFS 8 adds an NVMe tier for metadata.

This marks the most significant engineering of PanFS in more than a decade, said Praneetha Manthravadi, a Panasas director of product management.

"This takes what we did with the Director node to another level. Metadata is becoming more and more prevalent with HPC workload. We put all metadata in a dedicated database on a low-latency NVMe SSD," Manthravadi said.

Customers can purchase ActiveStor Director hardware separately for previous models. The Ultra product includes the Director, PanFS and Panasas' DirectFlow parallel-access protocol hardware.

The 4U Panasas ActiveStor Ultra enclosure comes with four storage nodes. Panasas said customers need a minimum realm of three enclosures, or 12 nodes, for efficient RAID striping. Panasas rates performance at 7.5 Gbps per 4U enclosure and as much as 22 Gbps per 12-node cluster.

When implemented as a hybrid configuration, ActiveStor Ultra supports two 3.84 TB SSDs and six 12 TB HDDs. Raw capacity per 4U shelf scales from 96 TB to 288 TB.

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