Clustered storage nears critical mass


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Clustered storage systems, traditionally used by high-performance computing (HPC) shops that need performance and capacity far beyond typical enterprise requirements, have been gaining traction among enterprises over the last two years thanks to data growth. The advent of Web 2.0 apps and the rise of online service providers over the last year has further blurred the line between HPC compute farms and enterprise IT, and pushed demand for massive, easily scalable storage systems.

Until now, startups such as Isilon Systems have been riding this wave, but bigger storage vendors are getting ready to weigh in. Analysts say new products from Hewlett-Packard (HP), IBM and EMC, all slated for 2008 release, will be the catalyst for a major move toward clustered storage in the enterprise over the next year.

HP and IBM are both dipping into the clustering market through acquisitions. HP is planning to couple clustered file-system (CFS) software it acquired with PolyServe last February with its own server hardware to create clustered nodes that combine processing power and storage. In January, IBM acquired Israel-based XIV, a startup founded by former EMC chief engineer Moshe Yanai. Unlike the majority of clustered storage products, XIV's Nextra system is block based rather than file based. IBM is positioning the product as a complement to its monolithic disk arrays at the high end for Web

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2.0 apps.

Perhaps the most anticipated product has yet to be previewed in detail: EMC's Web 2.0 clustered storage system, first revealed by president and CEO Joe Tucci at a press and analyst event last November. The release of the product--hardware codenamed Hulk and software codenamed Maui--will be a tipping point for adoption of clustered storage, according to Robin Harris, senior analyst at Data Mobility Group, Nashua, NH.

"I compare it to IBM's announcement of a PC in the early '80s," says Harris. "IBM wasn't the first to offer a PC, but its blessing made the PC respectable for business." When the PC arrived, the workstation market was dominated by makers of minicomputers, the most famous being Digital. Minicomputers were proprietary, expensive and vertically integrated with apps by vendors, much like today's storage subsystems, says Harris.

Just as the PC introduced a low-cost, industry-standard workstation and the concept of a standardized OS, Harris predicts clustered NAS products built on lower cost, industry-standard components will bring about a similar paradigm shift in enterprise storage.

This was first published in March 2008

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