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NetApp brings out new version of StorageGrid object storage

NetApp expands its low-profile StorageGrid object storage with a Webscale version to go beyond its healthcare niche.

With object storage gaining momentum, NetApp today dusted off its StorageGrid platform and launched a new version...

of the product.

NetApp picked up StorageGrid when it acquired Bycast in 2010. But it hasn't done much with the product and lost ground to a tide of startups dedicated to object storage.

NetApp claims its new StorageGrid Webscale can store 100 billion objects in one container that can be distributed across data centers. It also stores 70 PB of data in a single namespace. NetApp added Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) support to Webscale so customers can move data to the public cloud. StorageGrid has supported the SNIA-backed Cloud Data Management Interface standard since 2012, one of the few changes it made in the platform since the Bycast acquisition.

Webscale is available on NetApp E-Series storage or as standalone software. Its S3 support replaces the built-in file system gateways in the previous version of StorageGrid. Webscale customers can use third-party gateways that support S3's API.

The first version of Webscale is generally available and NetApp is already working on the next version, which will include geo-distributed erasure coding and cloud tiering for on-premises and off-premises repositories. The vendor is set to begin an early adopter program for the next release with plans for general availability in 2015.

Ingo Fuchs, NetApp's senior manager of cloud solutions, said the company will continue to sell the original StorageGrid, but "this is going after new use cases that require massive scalability and S3 support." Those use cases include Web data repositories with billions of small high-transaction loads, archives with large objects and long retention periods, and media repositories used in broadcast and entertainment that require streaming data access and large throughput rates. StorageGrid's biggest market so far has been healthcare.

StorageGrid Webscale creates a digital fingerprint of data as it is ingested, and uses that fingerprint to ensure the object has not changed and remains available. It uses node-level erasure codes with replication on E-Series arrays to protect data, with the geo-distributed erasure coding on the roadmap.

Webscale's dynamic policy engine determines where each piece of data should be stored, depending on what type of document it is. Customers can set policies according to network resource availability, latency, geographic location and compliance rules. Customers set acceptable latency levels, their data retention requirements and how much network bandwidth they want to assign to types of data.

Scale-out NAS vs. object storage

Object storage is gaining in popularity because many organizations find their NAS file storage does not scale enough to handle billions of files dispersed across data centers. As a leading NAS vendor, NetApp will find its traditional Data Ontap FAS arrays in competition with object storage, including its StorageGrid platform.

Fuchs said it is "sometimes a gray area" when determining if a customer needs scale-out NAS or object storage.

"The number of files or objects is the first criteria," he said. "Second is the number of data centers. It's quite difficult to maintain a single namespace across multiple locations with network storage. Object storage is built from the ground up to accommodate that. And data in long-term archives will outlive many generations of hardware. Webscale will accommodate underlying hardware for generations."

He added: "If you're talking about regular home directories, object storage is not the right approach. NAS will continue to be extremely relevant, but some edge cases are difficult to do with NAS."

NetApp has been almost absent on objects

IDC analyst Ashish Nadkarni said the Webscale version is a sign that NetApp is getting serious about StorageGrid. "This is the most significant announcement since the [Bycast] acquisition," Nadkarni said. "The biggest change is the scale."

Nadkarni said NetApp has been slow to embrace object storage. In an object storage marketscape report published last year, IDC ranked NetApp far outside the leaders group of EMC, DataDirect Networks and startups Cleversafe, Scality and Amplidata.

"NetApp sees it is giving business away to these startups," he said. "Not many people associate NetApp with object storage. They need to make people aware of StorageGrid."

NetApp had only one storage platform -- Data Ontap-based FAS -- when it acquired Bycast. But it has since added the E-Series through acquisition and developed a Mars operating system to run its FlashRay all-solid-state drive arrays. Nadkarni said that may indicate the company will increase its StorageGrid support as well.

"When it acquired Bycast, NetApp was still all about 'Ontap, Ontap, Ontap,' but [E-Series] and its new flash system signals a change for NetApp from being a single kind of storage company into a multiple platform company," he said.

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