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Two Storage Trends From SuperComputing 2009

The SuperComputing Conference/Exhibition is always a great conference for learning about storage trends in the HPC world. This year the alert attendee could spot two emerging trends: smaller companies developing innovative storage solutions and the rise of flash storage units.

The SC09 conference and tradeshow recently highlighted two emerging storage trends that have the potential to impact the tech industry. At the risk of sounding unnecessarily vague, the first trend is somewhat about technology and somewhat a business development — the rise of smaller innovative storage vendors. The second trend is a technology trend — very dense, high-speed flash storage units. Let’s dive right in.

The Rise of Smaller Storage Vendors

Larger companies, particularly in the HPC space, are not necessarily the hot-bed of storage development they once were. Much of this revolves around the financial realities of running a business exacerbated by the economics of the past year.

Several years ago larger HPC companies could invest huge sums of money into the development of HPC products, including storage. Since economic conditions were much better than today, they could take some risks on new products and develop leading-edge technologies or even risky technologies. Now companies have to seriously think about the return on investment on new products – What is the market? How large is the market? What will the market pay? What is the competition? All of these questions have to be addressed before a product can be launched forcing once very innovative companies to rethink launching new products. Consequently, customers may turn to much smaller companies when they are looking for innovative HPC storage solutions.

However, customers (users) are also living in the same economic conditions as the vendors. So their appetite for high-risk and/or fairly expensive storage products is likely to be low. Rather than looking for “Concordes” that may have great performance but have higher risk and higher cost, they may be looking for much better price/performance or performance/watt solutions such as what “Southwest Airlines” offers. In essence, they are looking for the best “deal” in terms of price, performance, power, and risk. In some cases, this “deal” may come from smaller companies that traditionally would not have been examined.

Scalable Informatics
An example of a smaller company developing innovative storage solutions is Scalable Informatics, who was at SC09 in the Intel partner booth. They are offering a very high performance storage unit called JackRabbit.

What Scalableb Informatics does is very simple in concept but is innovative in terms of technology from an integration perspective and innovative from a business perspective. They take commodity hardware and open-source storage software and integrate, tune, and support the entire combination. Their “magic,” if you will, is that they know how to tune the hardware, including the RAID controllers, and integrate and tune the software stack with it to get the fastest performance from commodity solutions of probably any vendor. The storage units, the JackRabbit series, are arguably the fastest storage units available today on a per “unit” basis. There are currently 6 JackRabbit models:


  1. JRDS: A deskside model with 5 hot-swappable drives, 2 GigE ports, and a RAID controller
  2. JR2: A 2U rack unit with up to 12 drives, 2-6 GigE ports, 0-2 10GigE ports, 0-2 IB ports, and a RAID controller
  3. JR3: A 3U rack unit with up to 16 drives, 2-6 GigE ports, 0-2 10GigE ports, 0-2 IB ports, and a RAID controller
  4. JR4: A 4U rack unit with up to 24 drives, 4-10 GigE ports, 0-2 10GigE ports, 0-2 IB ports, and 1-3 RAID controllers
  5. JR5: A 5U rack unit with up to 48 drives (top loaded), 4-10 GigE ports, 0-2 10GigE ports, 0-2 IB ports, and 2-4 RAID controllers
  6. JRFlash: A 2U/4U rack unit with 12/24/48 SSD drives, 2 GigE ports, 0-2 10GigE ports, 0-2 IB ports, and 1-4 RAID controllers

The units all support IPMI 2.0 with KVM over IP integrated into the unit for lights out management. You can also get redundant power supplies for the units as well. Figure 1 below is a top view of the JR5 taken from the white paper on the Scalable Informatics site:

JR5_top_view.png
Figure 1: JR5 Top View

Scalable Informatics offers Linux, Windows 2003/8 x75, OpenSolaris, and BSD operating systems or you can use an appliance oriented OS such as Openfiler, Open-E, and Nexenta.

The hardware and concept sounds ordinary, but the performance is not. Scalable Informatics has achieved some very impressive performance results with their units:


  • A read speed of 1.6 GB/s and a write speed of 2.0 GB/s (link)
  • 1 GB/s NFS over 10GigE between a single JackRabbit and a single client (link). This is about 80% efficient.
  • They have measured performance in excess of 1,500 MB/s on RAID 6 volumes

Their site has a pretty good benchmark report where they use some of the “good benchmarking” skills discussed here (still need to work on a few things but the report is far better than most). This performance capability is coupled with the comment from the site, “… with most systems starting price under $1USD/GB.” (emphasis is theirs).

While the hardware and even the software may sound ordinary, Scalable Informatics integrates and tunes everything to achieve very high performance at a very attractive price point, which is definitely not ordinary. It has no seductive new technoloy but instead has really sound engineering coupled with a fantastic price point, producing, arguably, some of the best innovation in HPC storage solutions today.

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