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Red Hat faces long-term decisions on Gluster, Ceph in storage portfolio

While launching the latest version of Red Hat Storage Server yesterday, the vendor provided little insight into the long-term positioning of its storage software portfolio and the chances that it might combine its Gluster-based Storage Server and Inktank Ceph Enterprise product lines.

Ranga Rangachari, vice president and general manager of storage and big data at Red Hat, said the company hopes to “get back to our customers and partners in the very near future with a consolidated vision of where this journey is going.” He addressed the topic in response to a question during the company’s Webcast entitled “Advancing software-defined storage,” which he said customers view as the ability to take advantage of industry-standard x86 servers with the intelligence resting in the software.

Rangachari noted simply that Red Hat’s acquisition of Inktank Storage Inc. this year brought object- and block-based storage to the table and complemented the file system capabilities the company gained through its 2011 acquisition of Gluster Inc.

Gluster had sold a supported version of the open source GlusterFS distributed file system in much the same way that Inktank sold a supported version of open source Ceph. Any innovative software development work rests with their respective open source project communities.

“The Gluster and the Ceph communities continue to thrive independently and thrive really well,” said Rangachari, claiming that Gluster and Ceph combined for almost two million downloads during the last nine months. “The innovation that’s going on on both those projects will continue to happen unabated.”

Red Hat put out new versions of each of the commercially supported products this year. Storage Server 3, launched yesterday, is based on open source GlusterFS 3.6 and adds support for snapshots, multi-petabyte scale-out capacity, flash drives and Hadoop-based data analytics. Inktank Ceph Enterprise 1.2, released in July, was based on open source Ceph’s Firefly release and added erasure coding, cache tiering and updated tools to manage and monitor the distributed object storage cluster.

The Ceph open source project claims to be a unified system providing object, block and file system storage. Ceph’s file system runs on top of the same object storage system that provides object storage and block device interfaces, according to the project’s Web site.

“It’s fair to say that file is probably the least well evolved of those three,” said Simon Robinson, a research vice president in storage at New York-based 451 Research LLC. “The file capability is very immature. It’s not enterprise-grade.”

But, as the Ceph technology improves, Red Hat will need to confront the question of whether to continue to focus on Gluster and Ceph, said Robinson.

“I think Red Hat’s bet buying Gluster was, ‘Hey, look at all this unstructured data. Look how quickly it’s growing. We need a play here.’ Three years ago, that play was NAS. Today it looks slightly different,” said Robinson. “When we think about the growth of unstructured data, it’s actually object that is seen as the future architecture rather than NAS.”

He cited Amazon and Microsoft Azure as proof points of the object model working at scale. “It’s just a case of how does that percolate down into the enterprise. It will take time,” he said.

Robinson said he doesn’t think it makes sense for Red Hat to physically merge Gluster and Ceph. He predicted that if Red Hat Storage does catch on, its success will be through Ceph – “the darling of the storage startup world” – tied to the broader success of the open source OpenStack cloud technology platform. Ceph has already started to gain momentum among cloud service providers, he said.

“Everybody’s playing with OpenStack, and if you’re playing with OpenStack, you’ve probably heard of Ceph. And Ceph has the interest of the broader storage community,” said Robinson. “Other big players are really interested in making Ceph a success. That works for Red Hat’s advantage.”

Henry Baltazar, a senior analyst at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Forrester Research Inc., said he sees no problem with Red Hat having Gluster-based file and Ceph-based block and object storage options at this point, since the company doesn’t have much market share.

“They’re going to have two platforms in the foreseeable future. Those aren’t going to merge,” predicted Baltazar. “Gluster is definitely the file storage type. There are ways they could use it that can complement Ceph. It still remains to be seen where it will wind up 10 years from now.”

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