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Panasas Launches Combo Flash Storage

By Allison Proffitt  

September 17, 2012 | Panasas today announced an update to its parallel storage system: ActiveStor 14, the first product in the industry to use flash memory and an intelligent storage layout for mixed workloads, Geoffrey Noer, senior director of product marketing, told Bio-IT World.   

ActiveStor 14 is the fifth generation of Panasas’ ActiveStor blade architecture, and uses a combination of solid state drives (SSD) and hard disk drives (HDD) to accelerate storage. When designing the newest ActiveStor architecture, Panasas looked for the best and most appropriate way to use flash memory, said Noer. “We started by looking at the real life file systems of a lot of customers and prospects to understand their file sizes and what they actually use the storage for.”  

The findings were a bit surprising.   

“Even customers that described themselves as being predominantly large file throughput-oriented accounts, actually their file systems mostly consist of small files. This may be a little more true in biosciences, where the intermediate files from the genomics sequencers can actually be quite small, although there are a lot of very large files in the mix as well. Pretty much across the board, 50-70% of the files or more are actually smaller than 64K, which is quite tiny relative to hundreds of terabytes of storage.”   

These tiny files don’t take up a lot of capacity, of course, but they impact performance, especially when doing any tasks that involve all of the system files: replicating a volume to another storage system or file system consistency checks for better reliability.   

“That’s the perfect recipe for the use of flash,” said Noer.   

ActiveStor 14 is an “intelligent and unified and cost effective blend” of solid state disks and enterprise SATA storage, said Noer. “In this product, the solid state disk accelerates the metadata and small file performance, whereas the very large enterprise SATA drives with up to 4TB per disk, those are perfect for maintaining affordability of the solution while delivering high streaming throughput.”   

“When you have the challenge of storing all of these little intermediate files, but still want high throughput as well, that’s a mixed workload that isn’t really well served by either just a pure IOPS solution or a throughput solution.”   

Multiple Storage Options  

Each ActiveStor blade features three types of storage: a pair of high density drives, cache storage as RAM, and SSD. Noer says, “We’re being very strategic in our use of SSD so we get most of the performance advantage but at a very low cost impact.”   

The blend of storage options includes ActiveStor 14 with either 1.2 or 3.0 TB of SSD capacity and ActiveStor 14T with 4.8TB of SSD capacity. ActiveStor 14 has a maximum system capacity of 8.3PB and 14T has a maximum capacity of 4.5PB. Noer says Panasas recommends that customers buy the model that allows for storage of “all of the metadata and small files on SSD leaving those hard drives to do what they do best.”   

Flash storage also enables faster system rebuilds when necessary. ActiveStor 14 can rebuild 4TB drive-based blades in the same time as the previous generation took to rebuild 3TB drives. “In many cases you’re talking about hours to do a rebuild instead of many hours or days,” Noer said.    

Compared with ActiveStor 12, the new product offers 9x faster small-file reads; 6x faster directory listings; 5x faster metadata (stats); and 4x faster deletes.   

Noer says one shelf of ActiveStor 14T costs $4/GB and is more than twice as fast on a per-disk basis than Isilon’s fastest system based on 10K SAS drives and SSD at $12/GB and approaches NetApp’s fastest system based on 15K SAS drives and Flash on per-disk basis at $9/GB.    

Noer believes that the biosciences are one of the best examples of fields dealing with the challenges of both small and large file sizes. “We really expect that this is going to have a very positive effect for the company, Panasas. It will strengthen our position in biosciences significantly.”  

The ActiveStor 14 products will begin shipping in November, and Panasas has beta customers for the products now.  

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