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Inktank supports new enterprise release of open source Ceph storage

Carol Sliwa

Inktank Storage Inc. raised the ante of its backing of open source storage software this week with the release of the subscription-based Ceph Enterprise, featuring

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new graphical management tools and beefed-up support services.

Open source Ceph is a highly scalable, unified object, block and file storage system that runs on commodity hardware. Sage Weil, who created the Ceph project, is the founder and chief technology officer of Los Angeles-based Inktank. Last year, Inktank brought out a supported release of a community edition of Ceph, which became available under an open source license in 2006.

This year's Inktank Ceph Enterprise product updates the Ceph storage software to its fourth major release (version 0.67), code-named Dumpling, adds graphical user interface-based tools to help with management and monitoring, and offers support services backed by a service-level agreement.

"This is a potentially disruptive proposition in the storage market," said Ashish Nadkarni, a research director in the storage systems and software practice at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

Nadkarni said storage vendors such as EMC and NetApp currently view Ceph storage as a greater competitive threat than they do OpenStack storage, an increasingly popular open source software project that also offers object- and block-based storage and is working to support file-based storage. He said they're more wary because the unified Ceph storage platform provides much of the same functionality that the core storage products of established vendors such as EMC and NetApp supply.

For object storage, Ceph and OpenStack Object Storage, also known as Swift, pose more comparable threats to the products of established vendors. Storage vendors, including EMC and NetApp, support the Swift application programming interface (API) to guard against the proliferation of Swift, but they have no such opportunity to do that with Ceph, Nadkarni said.

"OpenStack, as an offshoot of Apache, supports a 'co-opetition' model, wherein commercial suppliers are allowed to support the body financially and contribute code, but they're not allowed to strong-arm or influence the projects for their own interests," he said. "Ceph has a different business model and, to a large extent, operates as a startup with private funding and less as a community entity like Apache and OpenStack."

For block storage, OpenStack functions in a different and more complementary way to third-party storage and permits third parties such as EMC and NetApp to integrate their storage products as back ends. The software-based Ceph is also a back-end option for OpenStack Block Storage, which is also known by its project code name, Cinder.

"A lot of vendors are throwing their weight behind OpenStack as a hedge against Ceph," Nadkarni said. "They don't want Ceph to become more dominant, because the moment Ceph becomes more dominant, they suddenly are competing with an open source variant, much like what happened when Linux took off. And how are you going to compete with something that's free?"

Inktank's supported version of Ceph is not free. It's available in the same vein as Red Hat's and SUSE's fee-based commercial variants of enterprise Linux. But Ceph's ability to run on commodity x86 Linux-based servers presents a chance for savings over traditional disk arrays. Pricing for Inktank Ceph Enterprise varies based on the amount of storage deployed.

Arun Chandrasekaran, a research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., said research organizations, educational institutions and government agencies have shown interest in open source storage software largely because of the opportunity to scale at reduced acquisition costs and the flexibility to operate on industry-standard technology with lower switching costs.

The use case focus for Ceph currently includes Storage as a Service, Web application storage, and virtual machine storage for Infrastructure as a Service within open source platforms such as OpenStack and CloudStack, according to Chandrasekaran.

"Ceph's close integration with OpenStack will be a crucial entry point for it into enterprise IT," Chandrasekaran wrote in an email to SearchStorage.

Still, Inktank faces a number of challenges in cracking the enterprise IT market, where organizations tend to be hesitant about using open source software, especially with important applications and data. Chandrasekaran pointed to potential concerns over long-term vendor viability, "enterprise-class" global support, integration with independent software and broad ecosystem interoperability.

"I honestly think that the bigger problem they have is reference customers," said Wayne Pauley, a senior analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enteprise Strategy Group. "They have a great idea. They have a good roadmap. We need to start seeing adoption, and they have to be more transparent on what kinds of customers they have to show that it's more than something that works well in a sandbox."

Pauley said Inktank Ceph Enterprise's main competition includes EMC's ViPR, NetApp's clustered Data Ontap and Red Hat Storage Server, which is based on open source Gluster. Like other storage products, Ceph supports Amazon S3 and OpenStack Swift APIs and storage features such as copy-on-write, snapshots and multisite operation.

Although Ceph touts unified object, block and file storage, analysts say its distributed file system is still not production-ready. Like OpenStack Storage, Ceph also lacks support for technologies such as erasure coding.


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