File-oriented scale-out storage is becoming a significant option for dealing with enormous and growing new volumes of data. Quantum is a leader in high-performance scale-out storage, and with its latest version of StorNext, continues to evolve in meeting a different need than traditional storage systems.

The world of scale-out storage

Following business storage used to be fairly straight forward when enterprise-class and midrange storage systems held most of the market. Those were the days when structured data, such as the information managed in online transaction processing (OLTP) systems dominated the storage world. While structured data remains critically important, the volume of semi-structured and unstructured data — such as medical imaging, video files, the Web, the Internet of Things, and mobile computing — swamps that of structured data.

The focus of the storage systems that deal with semi-structured and unstructured data tends to be strongly file-oriented rather than block-oriented. The block focus of general purpose enterprise-class and midrange storage systems scales up in a vertical fashion, and this limits the amount of data that can be addressed without forklift upgrades. In addition, these systems are not optimized with software capable of managing files rather than blocks.

The long-time alternative to general purpose scale-up storage is scale-out storage. Those solutions enable the easy addition of storage nodes in what is called a horizontal manner where the additional capacity appears to be one unified storage space. That is thanks to a key data management function, namely, a global namespace that lets all files be accessed transparently as part of the same file system. And this global namespace now must extend beyond the traditional on premise disk-based storage environment and into places like object storage and the cloud.

Quantum’s StorNext has long been a leader in scale-out systems and competes directly with Dell EMC’s Isilon. The scale-out market features a number of other players, including from large vendor IBM with its Spectrum Scale offerings, HPC-focused vendor Data Direct Networks (DDN), and emerging vendor ClearSky, all of which have their own use case focus areas that sometimes compete with Quantum’s StorNext.

Quantum’s four targets for scale-out storage

The new world of data that is not structured involves numerous business applications and workloads, as well as numerous storage mediums, including disk, flash, object store, tape and cloud.  Quantum specifically targets four areas where scale-out storage is required for large, data-intensive workloads, making a combination of high performance and advanced data management essential.

The first area, media and entertainment, has long been a staple for StorNext, particularly in such areas as post production and animation, as well as sports and corporate video. The second area, surveillance and security, reflects the growing importance of digital video surveillance both for governmental organizations, like law enforcement agencies, and businesses, notably retail outlets. Quantum calls its third focus area “technical computing” but it is really part of high-performance computing (HPC) applications, including satellite and telescope imagery and energy research. The fourth area Quantum calls unstructured data tiering and archive which is employed by automotive and life sciences organizations.

StorNext’s world view

Now, Quantum’s StorNext itself is a combination of a parallel scale-out file system and advanced tiering and data management software. While it is possible for StorNext to work with non-Quantum storage, the company prefers to sell StorNext as part of a software-hardware bundle or storage appliances including Xcellis and Artico, which are optimized for specific needs.

  • Where high performance is critical, Quantum delivers Xcellis Workflow Storage system.
  • For archive data where access is important, but high performance is not, Quantum offers the Artico Archive Appliance.
  • Where high performance and rapid access is not required, Quantum provides two low-cost capacity solutions. One is disk-based and is called Lattus Object Storage that takes advantage of the big trend for object storage that can work in conjunction with file-managing software to provide low cost storage. The second is a tape-based system, StorNext AEL.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, the belief that tape is dead has been greatly exaggerated. Quantum continues to be a leading tape system supplier and Quantum is one of the three controlling leaders of the LTO (Linear Tape Open) Consortium.

StorNext’s capabilities revolve around a parallel file system which supports global namespace capability as well as simultaneous access to single files (i.e., no file locking). This is personally important to me as I recently had a medical test at a hospital delayed until the technician could open my health record, which happened to be open and locked by another user.

 StorNext 6 has arrived

Quantum has just announced the availability of StorNext 6. Any release of software beyond the third generation indicates a product’s maturity, stability and market acceptance (as Quantum only issues a major release of StorNext every 2 years). But at the same time, that longevity reflects the solution continues to evolve to meet emerging and unmet customer requirements. That certainly seems to be true of StorNext 6, which features a number of new capabilities..

One is FlexSync which provides high performance file replication. FlexSync delivers synchronized point-in-time file copy from file system to file system. That is, a copy of the same file may be synchronized across different locations, such as for the ability of different users to follow-the-sun in collaborating on the editing of a video file. A scheduler allows for granular automated synchronization and any changes between source and target are tracked via a metadata database. Quantum claims that this approach is much faster than most existing approaches, especially those that have to query the entire file system to determine changes, an ineffective approach in scale-out systems due to their size.

Huge benefits result from this feature. The first is supporting collaboration features, such as synchronizing copies of various datasets shared with geographically dispersed teams. Another is enhanced data protection. Although FlexSync is neither a disaster recovery alternative for business continuity nor a replacement for data backup, having synchronized point-in-time copies on remote systems serves data protection purposes. If one site goes down partially or fully and either temporarily or long term, a second site still has the data available.

In fact, this is a new way of looking at and approaching an important aspect of data protection. Traditionally, there was one working copy of the data at one site and a second replicated copy at a remote site that was considered to be a data protection copy that only became a working production copy in case of emergency. In the StorNext FlexSync case, any working copy could also be considered a data protection copy as well, which is a very good thing, but a slightly different view of the world of data protection.

A second important feature of StorNext 6 is client-based quality of service. Why so? There always seem to be bandwidth hogs in every business who consume far larger portions of network and data resources than they should. One way of stopping hogs is through bandwidth throttling functions that specify the maximum bandwidth permitted for individual clients. That is a good means for stopping notorious hogs, but does not guarantee that others will have access to the bandwidth they require. That’s especially true if they are contending with numerous other clients who are acting responsibly for limited bandwidth resources. StorNext solves this problem by initiating individual bandwidth limitations. If those resources are insufficient, then figuring out how to increase the overall bandwidth becomes the topic of discussion, as quality of service can only apply to existing bandwidth.

Mesabi musings                                

There are numerous other new features and capabilities in Quantum’s new StorNext 6, most reflect the need to effectively manage data resources in the face of the ongoing, seemingly endless exponential growth in storage demand caused by semi-structured and unstructured data. In fact, file-oriented scale-out storage systems can successfully target all data that is not structured.

Due to the steady, consistent implementation of key new features and capabilities, Quantum with its StorNext platform and numerous Quantum storage appliances has become a leader in scale-out storage. And the latest incarnation — StorNext 6 — continues that leadership with new capabilities, including FileSync file replication and bandwidth controls to meet Quantum customers’ quality of service expectations.