Panasas Launches with Panache

Panasas appears to take the word “launch” a little too literally.

The clustered Linux storage start-up came out of stealth mode today with record-shattering performance and the single largest Linux storage deployment to date — a stunning 120 terabytes at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). As if that weren’t enough, the company also announced six other customers.

More than three years in development, Panasas claims its ActiveScale Storage Cluster technology, with “appliance-like management” and “virtually boundless capacity,” offers up to seven times the random I/O performance and 30 times the throughput performance of systems from EMC and Network Appliance. And it does so at a cost per gigabyte of only $15, compared to $25-$75 per GB for the EMC Celerra NS600 or the NetApp FAS960.

Panasas says its storage cluster sets a record random I/O performance result of 305,805 SFS operations per second, the first storage system to deliver record-breaking performance in both raw throughput and random I/O.

Panasas uses a software-based approach, commodity hardware and blades, Serial ATA (SATA) drives, and gigabit Ethernet switching to create what outgoing CEO Rod Schrock calls an “all-new storage paradigm.”

Panasas was co-founded by industry veteran Garth Gibson, who pioneered RAID storage, Transparent Informed Prefetching and Caching (TIP), and Network-Attached Storage Devices (NASD), and who serves as Panasas’ CTO.

“We continue to be impressed with just how rapidly the Linux cluster market is taking off,” says Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group. “This new compute paradigm will need a matching new storage methodology, and what we’ve seen from Panasas so far puts them in a very elite group capable of taking a leadership role. This is one of those rare inflection points in technology, and that means there will be room for new players with new ideas. So far, I like the way Panasas thinks.”

The company’s object-based approach — with normal files turned into “data objects” containing application data, metadata, and extensible attributes — utilizes multiple blades to create parallel data paths and eliminate the bottlenecks of traditional clustered storage. A single global namespace and dynamic load balancing ease the management burden. The ability to manage the cluster as a single system lowers the total cost of ownership by $70,000 per terabyte of capacity, Panasas claims. Fine-grain security and authentication protocols provide security.

Panasas’ ActiveScale File System dynamically distributes file activity across multiple StorageBlades. DirectorBlades orchestrate activity between clients and StorageBlades, and can operate out-of-band, or outside the core data path, allowing for highly parallel data flow between the StorageBlades
and the Linux cluster. The system can be accessed via UNIX NFS, Windows CIFS, and Panasas DirectFLOW file sharing protocols, all at the same time.

“What makes them different is the fact that they can serve up data through multiple protocols at a very fast rate,” says Steve Kenniston, technology analyst at Enterprise Storage Group. “They also push intelligence and processing capabilities all the way to the disk drive, allowing them to do some intelligent data protection within their system well and fast.”

“While they cater to a niche market today,” continues Kenniston, “the evolution of clustered, scalable file systems is coming, and these systems are becoming more popular to help solve some data management issues. We have become digital pack-rats and save everything. Managing this data is becoming more difficult and there needs to be ways, like what Panasas offers, to better manage this information.”

The company’s initial market focus is the Linux-based technical computing space, a $1.2 billion market, with plans to enter the commercial market later on.

LANL will use its 120 TB system for simulation and visualization, with plans to buy up to another 500 TB. Panasas won that deal over 17 other vendors.

Other current Panasas customers include GeoTrace Technologies, NuTec Energy, The Rockefeller University Laboratory for Computational Genomics, Sandia National Laboratory, the University of California at Berkeley Center for Integrative Genomics, and the University of California at San Diego Center for Marine Genomics.

The company also aims to offer first-rate customer service, including an extranet at

With $72 million in funding from the likes of Mohr, Davidow Ventures, The Carlyle Group, Centennial Ventures, Intel, and Goldman Sachs, Schrock says
Panasas is “fully funded to break-even.”

ActiveScale Storage Cluster starts at $25,000 for a 1.6 TB system.

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