DataDirect Networks Gets Into NAS Business

By Michael Feldman

April 11, 2011

DataDirect Networks, king of petascale HPC storage, has decided to expand into the realm of NAS appliances. On Monday, the company launched NAS Scaler, its first network-attached storage solution. The new offering is intended to fill a gap in a product lineup that, until now, consisted almost exclusively of ultra-scale, ultra-performance block-level storage.

“NAS Scaler is a complementary solution to our existing portfolio,” explains Anand Bisen, principal solutions engineer at DataDirect. “We believe that now we can target the entire spectrum in the verticals where we are focused.”

The industry segments DDN plays in today include high performance computing, government/security, cloud storage/rich media, and corporate IT. The common thread between segments is the need to manage large files and unstructured datasets as well as, in many cases, the demand for very high I/O performance. DataDirect has a substantial footprint in each of these markets (although less so in the corporate arena), but with NAS Scaler they believe they can tap into a much broader customer base.

According to Bisen, with NAS Scaler in the lineup, they believe they can engage the total addressable market of those segments, which they estimate will represent at least $8.6 billion by 2014. Gartner thinks the market for NAS storage alone will reach $4.9 billion that year.

Potentially, DDN’s entrance into this space could shake up the NAS business. Thanks to industry consolidation, DataDirect is now the largest private storage company in the world. The company has been consistently profitable since 2005 and has enjoyed annual revenue growth of 40 percent over each of the last two years. Sales in 2010 topped $180 million and are projected to hit $240 million this year.

Up until now, DDN has attacked these verticals from the top, using their block storage arrays, the S2A9900 and SFA10000 platforms, and the mid-range S2A6620. These platforms are the foundation for turnkey storage systems that employ DDN’s own file management software: EXAScaler (Lustre-based for traditional supercomputing), GRIDScaler (a parallel file system/SAN hybrid) and xSTREAMScaler (a SAN environment for rich media and Web content). The company recently launched its Web Object Scaler (WOS) for “big data” cloud storage.

With the new offering, DDN sees its largest growth opportunity in the enterprise IT segment (eDiscovery, virtualization, DR & continuity, and healthcare), where NAS represents more than three quarters of the total revenue. In HPC proper (genomics, EDA, financial, energy), the opportunity is smaller though substantial. HPC-like applications, such as animation and visual effects in the rich media sub-market, and remote sensing and surveillance in the government sector, are also targeted for expansion. For example, most large supercomputer sites using DDN’s EXAScaler for big science workloads also have user home directories that work better in NAS environments. If the company can close the NAS loop with their current customer base, they could realize growth across the board.

Hardware-wise, NAS Scaler will employ the S2A6620 and SFA10000 platforms, but not the extreme bandwidth S2A9900. The idea is to leverage the company’s highly dense tiered storage designs, but only those that match up with the less streaming-intensive I/O associated with networked storage. (Note that there is no InfiniBand support in NAS Scaler — just GigE and 10GigE.) In general, NAS file data, like a home directory, won’t demand tens of gigabytes per second of streaming performance or multiple petabytes of capacity. More likely, it will require hundreds of terabytes of storage and maybe 2 GB/second.

As would be expected, the new offering supports the typical network-attached storage protocols — NFS and CIFS in particular — as well as FTP and HTTP. Because it’s true-blue NAS, no specialized clients need to be installed as you would with EXAScaler and GRIDScaler. The system also comes with traditional enterprise capabilities for data management, including snapshots/cloning, integrated backup, mirroring, a multi-tiered file system, and a GUI for ease of management.

According to Bisen, the major differentiator for this offering is the ability to scale capacity and performance independently, thereby avoiding the need to over-provision hardware. So if you need deep capacities without additional performance, or more performance without additional storage, you can configure the NAS appliances accordingly. Up to 2 PB of storage can be provisioned using as little as two nodes (for capacity optimized configurations) or as many as 16 nodes (to maximize performance). The maximum file system size is 256 TB. Bisen says the 2 PB figure represents a soft limit, based on the characteristics and use profiles of traditional NAS environments.

Another ingredient to DDN’s secret sauce is its dynamic storage tiering, in which the system transparently migrates files between the more expensive performance media and lower-cost capacity media within the storage appliance. The system software maintains a “heat map” of the file system and automatically moves the most accessed files to the higher performance tier and the least accessed files to the capacity drives. “We are providing a capability for high performance archives, which was a paradox for the longest time,” says Bisen.

As a result, Bisen says NAS Scaler will be 25 to 30 percent more cost effective than competing solutions from NetApp or Isilon, taking TCO into account. DDN is also using an inclusive pricing model, where licensing is independent of protocol support or per terabyte capacity. “We’ve insured that the pricing is very deterministic,” he says.

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