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Interest in block and object OpenStack storage picks up

Carol Sliwa

All signs pointed to continuing momentum for OpenStack storage technology -- including Cinder block storage and Swift object storage

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-- last week in Atlanta at the semiannual conference devoted to the open source software.

Jonathan Bryce, executive director of the OpenStack Foundation, kicked off the event by calling it "by far the largest OpenStack Summit yet," with approximately 4,500 in attendance. He noted that the Summit drew about 1,200 to San Diego just 18 months ago.

The OpenStack Foundation's user survey showed a rise in OpenStack deployments to 506 compared to 197 a year ago. When breaking out production usage from proofs of concept and development/quality issues, the number of deployments increased to 209 from 84 a year ago.

OpenStack Block Storage, known by its code name Cinder, held an edge over OpenStack Object Storage (Swift) in deployments by a split of approximately 60% to 40%, according to the survey data. In production, the most popular OpenStack Block Storage drivers remained the default logical volume manager (LVM) for Linux, followed by open source Ceph, NFS, NetApp, GlusterFS and EMC.

The conference pointed to interest in OpenStack storage among enterprise IT groups. Bryce invited two enterprise users, Wells Fargo Bank and Walt Disney Co., on stage during his opening keynote, and introduced a foundation-created online publication called Superuser that aims to facilitate knowledge sharing and problem solving among organizations that run OpenStack.

The foundation also launched an online OpenStack Marketplace to help organizations interested in building OpenStack-based public, private or hybrid clouds find and compare products and services that meet specific technical requirements. The Marketplace's five initial categories are training, distributions and appliances, public clouds, consulting and integrators, and drivers.

To participate in the Marketplace, vendors must run current OpenStack software and expose OpenStack application programming interfaces (APIs). In the future, they will also need to complete product testing to merit inclusion, according to the foundation.

"This is really meant to be a resource to help people find their way into OpenStack and be able to get the most use out of it," Bryce said.

OpenStack storage case studies at the conference included the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle; the Georgia Institute of Technology, which built OpenStack Swift clusters to support researchers; and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which claimed to provide on-demand private cloud storage for less than $0.41 per gigabyte using Dell OpenStack and Inktank Ceph technology.

Anders Tjernlund, COO at SwiftStack Inc., which sells OpenStack-based storage nodes, said OpenStack Swift questions from attendees tended to focus more on operational issues this year as opposed to the inner workings of the technology. He said 200-seat rooms were packed for sessions on topics such as how to select the right hardware or how to manage a Swift cluster.

Ashish Nadkarni, a research director in the storage systems and software practice at IDC, predicted it could take a couple of years before OpenStack storage achieves significant enterprise adoption. But he said he saw clear evidence that enterprises and cloud providers are looking seriously at OpenStack, including a user panel with companies such as PayPal, Intel, AT&T and Disney.

"The key message at this year's summit was: This is a force to be reckoned with. OpenStack is not going away," Nadkarni said.

Nadkarni noted the ninth release of OpenStack, known as Icehouse, concentrates on important issues for enterprises, such as platform maturity, stability and standardization.

Cinder additions holding appeal for enterprises included a Fibre Channel (FC) zone manager and new back-end plug-ins for storage from EMC (VMAX/VNX SMI-S FC driver and VNX iSCSI direct driver), Hewlett-Packard (MSA 2040), IBM (SONAS and Storwize 7000) and NetApp (E-Series).

John Griffith, the project technical lead for Cinder and a senior software engineer at SolidFire, said the majority of the Icehouse work centered on improving reliability, the API, the remote procedure call layer and database transactions. He said a good deal of effort also went into replication, but the team decided to defer the feature to a future release "rather than release something that wasn't fully complete."

John Dickinson, director of technology at SwiftStack, said the Swift team postponed the release of storage policies, which will enable users to choose the subset of hardware on which to store their data and how they want to store it. Storage policies will be the focus of the next OpenStack Swift release, called Juno, as will support for erasure codes, he said. In the meantime, the Icehouse release of OpenStack Swift improves performance and reliability.

Dickinson added that he is excited about a new public test cluster that will provide hardware for the OpenStack community to validate Swift object storage deployments. SwiftStack, which sells a supported version of OpenStack Swift software, will build, manage and host the cluster, which will run on hardware supplied by HGST and Intel. Cluster components include Intel's Atom processor C2750, HGST's 6 TB Ultrastar He6 helium-filled hard disk drives, and the Ubuntu and Red Hat Linux operating systems. Dickinson said the cluster will enable the OpenStack community to improve Swift testing by providing a physical rather than a virtualized cluster.

Here are some other storage-related announcements from the conference:

  • SolidFire unveiled its first Agile Infrastructure reference architecture for OpenStack. The pre-validated converged infrastructure consists of SolidFire's all-flash block storage system, Dell's compute and networking technology, and the Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform. SolidFire said the tested reference architecture will enable a start-to-finish deployment of OpenStack in less than an hour.
  • Seagate expanded the availability of its Kinetic Open Storage platform's API, libraries and simulator technologies to enable the OpenStack community to test and design applications and systems to work with the high-capacity Kinetic drives. Last October, Seagate provided code under a non-disclosure agreement and publicly in binary form, according to Ali Fenn, a senior director of product management in the company's advanced storage group. "Now with open source, anybody and everybody can run with it," she said. The Kinetic drive, which adds key value and Ethernet interfaces, is tailored for scale-out object storage. "It performs much better and it can be delivered at a much lower total cost of ownership because you truly are enabled to eliminate an entire tier of physical storage servers," Fenn said.

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