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Panasas takes virtualization in new direction

The rapid increase in demand for information bandwidth and the increasing value of data residing on the Internet has created a growing dependence on storage for access to information anytime,anywhere.

Panasas Inc., launched less than a year ago, has developed a technology intended to help answer those needs and extend the functionality of existing storage products. It is the Object-based Network Storage (ONS). According to Panasas, ONS systems are highly scalable networked data systems that deploy "smart" data storage devices - called object storage devices (OSDs) - to eliminate the performance and capacity scaling limitations of current storage solutions. Most current solutions are built on file servers that map logical volumes of end user/server data onto fixed physical blocks of attached disk drives.

According to Panasas, ONS systems are more intelligent and therefore more easily managed -- which should reduce total cost of ownership for data storage.

ISVs scramble

William Hurley, an analyst at Yankee Group, says that by providing an independent scalable global file system, Panasas has "identified the next significant issue on the horizon for heterogeneous storage based on NAS or SAN." Hurley predicts that Panasas, which has not yet announced its products, will probably play on a variety of platforms thus providing even more extensibility.

"We are familiar with a variety of ISVs and legacy players on both the hardware and software side that may soon offer similar products," says Hurley. However, he warns, it is a difficult and complex undertaking with the first products not likely to come on the market from any vendor before the end of the year. "But going forward, this is clearly the next area of work to be done," he says.

Maxing out

Arun Taneja, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group, agrees that the issues Panasas describes are real. "The fact is that the NAS products from EMC and NetApp do, in fact, max out either in capacity (when the box is full) or performance, and then you have to add another box." Taneja says. "The problem is that the two boxes do indeed look like two separate instances of NAS, with two file systems, and they have to be managed separately. It becomes a real issue when you have 100 boxes, which is not uncommon in large enterprises or search sites," says Taneja.

Like Hurley, Taneja notes that a number of other vendors are also aiming at providing true NAS virtualization.

Panasas is based in Pittsburgh, Pa., with strong ties to Carnegie Mellon University, and also has a facility in Houston and in Silicon Valley.

Alan Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, Mass.

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