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MaxiScale out of stealth with Flex clustered file system for Web companies

Dave Raffo
MaxiScale Inc. came out of stealth today with a clustered file system software platform that runs on commodity hardware and is aimed at Web companies that handle millions of small

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files.

MaxiScale has plenty of network-attached storage (NAS) file-serving expertise. Its founders include president and CEO Gianlucca Rattazzi, founder and former CEO of BlueArc; and chief technology officer (CTO) and vice president of engineering Francesco Lacapra, former CTO of Attune. The Sunnyvale, Calif.–based startup was founded in 2007 and raised $17.25 million in VC funding.

Rattazzi said MaxiScale's Flex platform is built for companies that may have billions of files of less than 1 MB, such as pure Web-based companies, enterprises with Web-facing (e-commerce) operations or Web-based hosted services such as Salesforce.com.

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"Our platform is designed for the Internet data center," Rattazzi said.

MaxiScale's first publicly named company is mobile advertising service AdMob Inc., which MaxiScale VP of marketing Gary Orenstein said originally tried to build its own storage system "but decided it didn't want to be in the infrastructure business."

Orenstein said MaxiScale scales to 50,000 nodes, supports a single namespace to hundreds of petabytes and uses a separate repository optimized to handle files under 1 MB. By mapping file names to a specific disk location and serving requests in a single disk I/O, Orenstein claims Flex speeds file lookups.

"We don't believe that all files should be treated equally across the system," he said. "We break things out. Small files are the predominant file size on the Internet."

He added that MaxiScale also uses Peer Sets, which are mini-clusters across drives that can heal drives if a node fails.

Orenstein said MaxiScale is an alternative to clustered NAS products such as Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Ibrix or PolyServe, Isilon Systems Inc., NetApp's Data Ontap GX or IBM's General Parallel File System (GPFS), as well as open-source file systems such as MogileFS or Gluster. Many of MaxiScale's competitors require proprietary hardware controllers and Fibre Channel or InfiniBand networks.

MaxiScale will offer its product as software only, instead of on a hardware appliance. However, Rattazzi said he will seek channel partners to package the software with commodity hardware.

"Our customers can buy hardware for less than we can sell it to them," he said.

Analysts: Enterprise-class functionality needed for future growth

Noemi Greyzdorf, research manager, storage software at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, said MaxiScale's ability to handle small files could give it a leg up with Web companies and eventually lead it to other opportunities.

"Web-facing applications often have really small files and a lot of them," she said. "What it does well is increase the IOPS for files under 1 megabyte and pick up a file on one operation. There are other market segments where that can fit as well, although as they evolve, they may have to add enterprise-class functionality."

Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at Stillwater, Minn.-based StorageIO Group, said MaxiScale is trying to avoid being "lumped in" with parallel file server vendors and other storage vendors chasing the Web market by claiming a unique approach to handling small files.

"MaxiScale's trying to carve out a new niche; it's trying to create a new category in the marketplace," Schulz said. "When you do that, you take the risk of alienating and positioning yourself out of the mainstream. If you get lucky and get enough momentum, you can create and establish that new category. We've seen that before, but we've also seen companies miss the mark."

Schulz agreed with Greyzdorf that MaxiScale will eventually have to add enterprise features such as snapshots and replications, but said the company's success will come down to its ability to scale.

"They need to show they can scale in terms of capacity and performance," he said. "A lot of vendors can scale capacity but performance suffers. Sometimes adding nodes means more overhead instead of more performance. Can they boost capacity without negatively impacting performance and economics?"

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