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New Panasas ActiveStor HPC storage system mixes SSDs with SATA drives

Panasas adds SSDs for metadata and small files to its ActiveStor 14 HPC storage system, and relies on hard drives for big data applications.

Panasas Inc. today introduced the latest generation of its ActiveStor scale-out networked attached storage (NAS) arrays, adding small amounts of solid-state drives (SSDs) for metadata and small files while incorporating 4 TB SATA drives for larger files used in high-performance computing (HPC) storage and big data workloads.

Panasas ActiveStor 14 is the vendor's first storage system with SSDs. Panasas varies the amount of SSD capacity according to the type of workload, balancing the requirements of small files that need high IOPS performance with larger files that depend on analytics that may take weeks to process.

Panasas’ scale-out architecture is based on a parallel file system designed to reduce performance bottlenecks by connecting each server client to a separate file system.

ActiveStor systems include one director blade and 10 storage blades in a chassis. In ActiveStor 14, each director operates out-of-band and uses SSDs to manage the metadata mapping, while the storage blades hold the metadata and files. Each storage blade contains from 120 GB to 480 GB of SSD, 7 GB of cache, and two 2 TB or 4 TB SATA drives.

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Panasas will sell three ActiveStor 14 blade configurations based on target workloads. The system for large files includes 1.5% solid-state with two 4 TB hard drives, a 120 GB SSD and 8 GB cache for a maximum of 81.2 TB per chassis. List price is $125,000.

The mixed workload blade includes 3.6% SSD capacity with two 4 TB hard drives, a 360 GB SSD and 8 GB cache for up to 83 TB per chassis. That system is priced at $145,000.

The ActiveStor 14T blade for small file files and heavy random IOPS workloads consists of 10.7% SSD with two 2 TB hard drives, 480 GB of SSD capacity and 16 GB of cache for $160,000. The ActiveStor 14T holds 45 TB and is targeted at financial analytics applications.

The hard drives store files larger than 60 KB, with smaller files going on the SSDs. HPC storage often deals with single files that run into petabytes of capacity, and it would be cost-prohibitive to use SSDs for those large files.

According to Steve Conway, research vice president for HPC at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, large file data sets are a “big hairy problem, so the cost of using SSDs would be astronomical.”

However, these shops also have smaller files that can benefit from SSD performance.

“We went to our customers in major verticals that use Panasas and asked them the size of the file they have,” said Barbara Murphy, Panasas’ chief marketing officer. “We found that virtually across the board 40% to 60% of the file size is less than 60 K. This was a real eye opener to our customers because they considered themselves large file users.”

IDC’s Conway said HPC customers have had to manually place data on SSDs or hard drives if they wanted the type of efficiency they can now get with Panasas ActiveStor 14.

“Customers have been asking vendors to do this in a configuration,” he said. “Customers have been doing it themselves, but now it’s in a product. Putting it in a product is a relatively recent phenomenon.”

Panasas plans to begin shipping ActiveStor 14 systems in November.

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