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November 19, 2009

Parallel NFS Is the Future Standard to Manage Petabyte Level Growth

by Don Grabski

IT professionals are constantly being challenged to manage exponential growth that has reached petabyte levels. With more and more data taxing the system, performance sacrifices are always a consideration. And for applications that demand high performance and scale, the stakes are even higher because any I/O bottlenecks in the system can essentially bring a project to its knees.

So it’s no surprise that removing I/O bottlenecks can have a direct impact on the profitability of a business. By removing I/O bottlenecks, potential benefits include faster time to results, the deployment of more powerful analytical algorithms and filters, and the management of higher-resolution datasets. As pressures increase on IT to deliver even-higher levels of productivity and efficiency, a new generation file system standard will be required to maximize utilization of powerful server and cluster resources while minimizing management overhead.

Challenges of Networked Storage Systems

The question is, “How soon will we eliminate performance bottlenecks, non-scalable file systems, complex client management, vendor lock in and fork lift upgrades?” Most customers have independent networked storage systems that are not capable of achieving the ideal performance, capacity and client management utilization efficiencies. Storage administrators are constantly looking for ways to address these challenges by reducing management costs and increasing performance to lower total cost of ownership for networked storage purchases. Bottom line, organizations need to reduce operational costs, increase productivity or solve a unique problem for a competitive advantage.

Network File System (NFS) answers many of these challenges. NFS is a communication protocol to make data stored on file servers available to any computer on a network. NFS clients are included in all common operating systems and allow servers to communicate with the file system in the storage network. NFS also ensures interoperability between vendor solutions, allows users to have a choice of best-of-breed products in their storage networks, and eliminates risks associated with proprietary technology. NFS v4.1 protocol (approved December 2008) has resulted in many storage management enhancements. These include global name space, a feature that can help storage administrators configure different hardware components to look like a single system as well as head and storage scaling. In addition, storage administrators can now perform non-disruptive upgrades without impacting performance. Combined, these features reduce storage operating costs, improve storage network performance, and consolidate systems to reduce management hours.

Parallel NFS (pNFS) Kicks NAS Performance Up a Notch

pNFS kicks NAS performance up an order of magnitude by allowing users to access storage devices directly and in parallel by leveraging the combination of Parallel I/O and NFS. Files can be broken up and striped across NAS heads and, leveraging multiple data paths and processors, delivered in parallel to the requestor to provide a significant performance boost. pNFS also introduces the ability to bypass NAS heads for file delivery altogether. It supports block, file and object-based data files. Parallel I/O delivers higher levels of application performance and allows for massive scalability without diminished performance. Single sequential I/O patterns have many bottlenecks that adversely affect performance, including no load balancing and the inability to aggregate other devices. pNFS solves these issues by providing global name space functionality without requiring forklift upgrades while allowing storage administrators to scale performance and storage capacity without disruption. It also eliminates vendor lock-in, providing added flexibility for future upgrades. As a result, customers can further impact their bottom line by lowering their total cost of ownership and maximizing consolidation of storage.

pNFS Status

The estimated Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) ratification for pNFS completion is the end of 2009. pNFS for a standard Linux distribution is expected to be available in mid 2010. Storage customers ultimately have the power to accelerate adoption of new standards if and when they see the value. The first step is to learn more about pNFS and understand its value. Get involved — ask your application vendors and infrastructure providers what their plans are for supporting pNFS. The SNIA NFS Special Interest Group is the recommended source for community endorsed pNFS eduction content and events.

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