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Startup Quobyte joins software-defined storage fray

The vendor joins the crowded software-defined storage market and touts a parallel file system, fault tolerance and the ability to run on commodity servers.

Add Quobyte Inc. to the list of startups emerging from stealth this year with hopes of differentiating themselves in the increasingly crowded software-defined storage space.

The Berlin-based company, which also plans to open an office in Boston, cites its product's highly scalable, POSIX-compliant parallel file system, fault tolerance and ability to run on commodity Linux-based server hardware as key distinguishing points.

Quobyte made available the initial version of its eponymous software in March and has reference customers in the works, according to CTO and co-founder Felix Hupfeld. He declined to name customers other than to say they include service providers and high-performance computing and OpenStack users.

Hupfeld and fellow Quobyte co-founder Björn Kolbeck met in 2006 at the Zuse Institute Berlin, where they researched fault tolerance and helped to develop a distributed file system that eventually became the open source XtreemFS. They went on to work as engineers in storage infrastructure at Google before leaving in 2013 to form Quobyte, backed by venture capital funding.

"At Google, we saw this level of fault tolerance in play and the many advantages it has in day-to-day operations running the systems, and also in the scale it enables," Hupfeld said. "Then it became very tangible that this is a technology that needs to go into the enterprise, and it's the right time to start on software storage as a business."

Hupfeld said running on commodity server hardware doesn't necessarily equate to low-end or cheap. He noted that the storage software could run on good server hardware with a high-performance network and offer users the flexibility to scale resources and performance simply by adding servers. Yet, the system could be managed with a low head count, like at Google or Amazon, he said.

"At the top end, the IT at large enterprises has to compete with Amazon, and they need an infrastructure that can compete with Amazon," said Hupfeld. He said he also foresees the software-based storage approach being useful for smaller companies, which would likely purchase the software and hardware through systems integrators.

Hupfeld compared Quobyte's parallel file system to IBM's General Parallel File System and the open source Lustre. But he characterized it as "way more modern," akin to technology in use at Google and Amazon and with Ceph storage, whether open source or Red Hat variant.

Quobyte's file system is not based on XtreemFS, according to Hupfeld. He said the company took ideas from high-performance computing technology and 10 to 15 years of research on fault tolerance with distributed systems, based on the Paxos algorithm. The end result is no single point of failure, partition tolerance and fully automated fault tolerance on commodity hardware, he said.

Quobyte's software has interfaces for block storage (virtual machines and databases), NFS, Hadoop/Spark, Amazon S3, and OpenStack. The software supports the Icehouse, Juno and Kilo releases of OpenStack and has drivers for OpenStack Cinder/Nova and Manila. He said some customers run OpenStack Cinder/Nova on top of Quobyte's storage to enable better manageability and performance.

The product supports parallel, sequential and small block random I/O workloads, and all data is available on any server or virtual machine. Use cases include OpenStack cloud deployments, analytic applications that require high scalability and throughput and archiving rich media files.

Arun Chandrasekaran, research vice president for storage, cloud and big data technology at Gartner Inc., foresees Quobyte's chief competition as EMC's Isilon, IBM's Spectrum Scale, Panasas ActiveStor/PanFS, and open source Lustre-based products.

"They need to execute on the product roadmap with a sense of urgency given where the competitors are," Chandrasekaran wrote in an email. In order to succeed, he said, "they need to expand the routes to market with tight OEM & ISV relationships. They need to match their deep-pocketed competitors in marketing and direct sales expansion."

Simon Robinson, a vice president at 451 Research LLC, said the key for Quobyte will be making the product simple enough to implement. "This is where many so-called software-defined solutions struggle, especially other file systems," he wrote in an email. Robinson expects Quobyte to also compete against Ceph and possibly OpenStack Swift, with NetApp FAS and EMC Isilon in the crosshairs.

Hupfeld also noted startups such as Formation Data Systems, Hedvig, Qumulo and Springpath. But he expects Quobyte's parallel file system to be a differentiator.

Upcoming features on Quobyte's product roadmap include erasure coding, snapshots, encryption, compression and georeplication. The product currently supports standard replication and end-to-end checksums for data protection.

Hupfeld said the company is working on certifications with VMware and various OpenStack distributions and readiness for container infrastructures such as Docker and Mesos.

Quobyte currently supports major Linux distributions, but Hupfeld said the company may work on adding Windows support next year. In the meantime, Windows users can write to Quobyte's storage system via block device or Samba software, he said.

"XtreemFS had a dedicated Windows client, and that's something that we will look into reactivating," said Hupfeld. "That would enable Windows machines also to have full, parallel, high-speed access into our system."

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