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Samsung spins Stellus Technologies for file storage

Samsung created Stellus to develop new-fangled file system built on key-value storage and optimized for NVMe flash drives, scalability and high throughput.

Samsung spinout Stellus Technologies today launched a new file system designed to bring hyperscale technology to traditional NAS workloads.

The Stellus Data Platform uses what the startup calls key-value over fabrics technology. With $70 million in funding, the San Jose, Calif., vendor developed a file system that can run on Samsung's key-value solid-state drives or other flash storage.

Key-value storage is a simpler method to access data than through traditional relational database storage, and requires less memory -- although it can have performance tradeoffs. Public clouds and hyperscalers commonly use key-value databases such as NoSQL. AWS S3 is also a key-value store.

Instead of developing its own file system for its key-value storage, Samsung created a startup in 2016 with engineers from Facebook, Google and other hyperscalers. Stellus Technologies' public unveiling came today but has had customer deployments since 2019, and claims Disney, DreamWorks, Cleveland Clinic and the UCLA Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology as customers.

The Stellus Data Platform consists of data managers (DMs) and key-value storage (KVS) nodes. The data managers are 1U appliances running data movement software. The KVS nodes at launch consist of Samsung NVMe over Fabric storage, with Mellanox switches. Customers can also use Nvidia GPUs and Intel Optane DIMMs to stoke performance. Ken Grohe, senior vice president at Stellus, said the company will also sell its software on other x86 hardware, and has already signed up Super Micro Computer as a partner.

Stellus scales up and out

Grohe said the performance is best suited for life sciences and media and entertainment customers. The Stellus Data Platform can scale DMs and KVS nodes separately. For example, a customer starting with an SDP-220 base configuration that includes two DMs and two KSVs can upgrade to an SDP-420 by adding two DMs. The SDV-420 can become an SDP-440 by adding two KVSs. The systems scale from two DMs and two KVS nodes to eight of each. Each DM pair provides 20 GBps of read throughput, and each KVS has 24 SSDs and 184 TB of capacity. So clustered systems range from 20 GBps to 80 GBps in read throughput, 19 GBps to 70 GBps in write throughput, and from 368 TB to 1.5 PB of capacity in a 17U rack.

Stellus Technologies claims the upgrades require a few clicks to bring the new components online, and the system automatically rebalances compute and capacity resources. Stellus supports NFS, SMB and S3 storage.

Grohe said Stellus gets a price break on Samsung hardware and sells it to customers at cost, but the startup has not published a price list.

Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst Steve Duplessie said traditional NAS systems have done a good job of scaling for capacity and IOPs but lagged when it came to throughput. Modern applications need the throughput to meet demands of expanding data.

"We didn't need throughput before, we needed IOPS," Duplessie said. "Scaling up was good enough for the EMCs and NetApps, etc. I think the need for IOPS came about because of IoT as much as anything, but you have so much data coming at you now that throughput matters."

Grohe said Stellus has created a file system that is much more modern than the most popular file systems, such as ZFS, Lustre, NetApp Write Anywhere File Layout, Dell EMC Isilon OneFS and the IBM General Parallel File System. All those file systems were created at least 16 years ago.

"Those file systems were created in the day when they were based on rotating disk drives," Grohe said. "Not in the day when everyone had flash and nanotechnology."

There have been newer file systems that Stellus will also compete with, such as WekaIO, Elastifile (acquired by Google) and Avere (acquired by Microsoft).

Silverton Consulting president Ray Lucchesi said Stellus is also trying to make file storage efficient enough to justify the cost of running on flash storage. Most NVMe systems were designed for block storage, not files.

Stellus is saying, 'We can do it better and get consistently high performance with a distributed share-everything key-value data model.'
Ray LucchesiPresident, Silverton Consulting

"SSDs -- especially NVMe -- have been too costly for unstructured file system data," Lucchesi said. "But Stellus is saying, 'We can do it better and get consistently high performance with a distributed share-everything key-value data model.'"

Samsung spun up Stellus

Stellus Technologies CEO Jeff Truehaft was previously CEO of cloud file storage vendor Zetta and a former executive at SSD storage pioneer Fusion-IO. Grohe said Stellus has around 100 employees. He said Samsung created Stellus as a separate company because it wanted to avoid following in the path of drive makers Seagate and Western Digital. Those vendors started systems divisions but sold them off after gaining little traction.

So can Stellus make it?

Duplessie said Stellus' technology and its funding from Samsung gives it a fighting chance -- but it's always difficult for storage startups to survive.

"Their competitors are huge and fierce and well-enriched, and it's expensive to go head to head with Goliath," he said. "They have good technology money behind them in Samsung, but we all know companies that have raised lot of money and still failed. Nothing's a given. But for power users that need this kind of throughput, there's no place else for them to go."

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