The Move is On to Site-Wide File Systems

By Nicole Hemsoth

September 16, 2013

For the past few decades, the norm among the large government labs, academic research facilities and top commercial sites has been to deploy one large system per site at a time.  However, more recently growing diversity of applications and end user community requirements, combined with non-overlapping budget and expanding technology lifecycles, has been driving a multi-cluster environment approach.  Today it is typical to find two, three or even more, large systems at the same facility.DDN Image 1

While people and organizations are accepting the need for and the benefits of multi-cluster environments, the storage side of the equation has some catching up to do.

10 to 15 years ago and we had simple DAS.  Over the following decade the paradigm changed – the industry moved from simple DAS to a parallel file system, still typically serving just one clustered supercomputer.

After servers, storage is the second highest budget item for HPC sites’ hardware spend. So, if you take the traditional storage approach of one storage system for each cluster in a multi-cluster environment, this is a non-trivial expense.  Not only do you wind up with inefficient utilization as well as slow, complex data sharing, backup and provisioning, but you’re also overbuying performance. And that is the biggest issue – performance is a more direct and measurable cost driver than complexity, inefficiencies and the other factors mentioned above.

So, what’s the answer?  Well, if you examine the more pioneering HPC sites you will see a definite trend towards site-wide file systems.  Even the sites with the most demanding workloads are finding they can meet their diverse application, end user, availability and performance goals more cost effectively with a single site-wide file system that requires them to only buy, grow, network, protect and maintain one central storage repository.

Examples are better than long explanations so let’s look at a site that has three clusters.

DDN Image 2

Assuming a law of averages, it’s expected that the majority of the peak I/O happens at separate times (randomly), since applications are bursting or doing heavy I/O only a fraction of any application runtime.  Considering this fact, as well as other aspects of the HPC workflow, the facility has introduced a number of architectural and workflow inefficiencies into the cluster environment.


  • The facility has purchased 100GB/s of combined throughput, where the peak requirement of any one cluster is half the total performance sold
  • Performance utilization is low, as the resources are not shared across clusters, and single storage system performance is built for sporadic burst I/O from its dedicated cluster
  • Data sharing across HPC clusters requires data copies and wall-clock wait times as applications move data between islands of storage
  • The care and feeding of three separate storage resources is more complex and expensive than provisioning and maintaining just one

Leading computing organizations in the US such as TACC, NERSC and ORNL are promoting a new site-wide storage architecture strategy that enables cost savings, faster application burst performance, workflow efficiencies and a much simpler approach to deploying HPC resources.

DDN Image 3


By deploying a single site-wide file system:

  • The customer saves on total storage purchase by sharing resources – you only build for the performance of your one fastest cluster!
  • The total bandwidth of any one storage system is now the aggregate performance of all of the storage deployed in the site-wide file system. All of the clusters benefit from the storage cluster to potentially realize massive I/O performance gains (e.g. the smaller clusters above now perform I/O at 2x the prior rate, while also reducing storage cost);
  • Applications get instant data access, eliminating needless data copies.
  • Simplicity is the fourth dimension of value that comes from a site wide cluster strategy, but this predominantly applies to power users.  For organizations that add to their computing environment periodically, it’s a massive benefit for them to not have to validate and test new storage architectures while they are shaking out new clusters –  the storage is already online and ubiquitous.

Of course, moving to one site-wide file system means going all-in on one architecture. Organizations undergoing this transition need to take a serious look at the infrastructure before moving forward.  They have to ensure that they are selecting storage and file systems that can handle current and projected capacities and throughputs across their application and user requirements, and do so reliably and cost-effectively.  Open solutions that support multiple file systems so sites can change as requirements change and work with different types of collaboration, tiering and protection options offer the flexibility to avoid lock-in and dead ends.  

The pioneering sites mentioned above, and in many more, have selected DataDirect Networks (DDN) as their storage of choice.  Among the reasons:

  • Wide and Deep Scaling – Customers can scale out to TB/s of performance, or scale deep capacity behind a small number of SFA storage appliances to always build to the precise levels of performance and capacity required while optimizing the cost of configuration at every step.
  • Best-In-Class Performance – DDN supports leadership levels of both throughput and IOPS via its real-time, parallel storage processing architecture.  So, whether you’re running DDN’s EXAScaler or GRIDScaler, or building Lustre or GPFS environments, DDN systems accelerate mixed workloads with a cache centric architecture designed for unpredictable I/O.
  • Quality of Service – DDN systems mask the impact of drive failures from applicationsDr. Boisseau, TACC - quote while also performing very fast drive rebuilds. As parallel file systems stripe data across 1000s of hard drives, DDN technology ensures the best production performance utilization and performance levels to deliver the highest levels of sustained application performance, thereby circumventing Amdahl’s law.
  • DirectMon™ and SFA APIs – One to 100s of file storage appliances can be managed simply from a single pane of glass. DDN built its platform from the ground up to truly scale in clustered storage environments.

The site-wide file system move is on.   For both today’s petascale systems and tomorrow’s exascale machines, site-wide file systems address many of the IO bottleneck and scaling problems of more traditional approaches. DDN, as the storage selected for over 2/3 of the Top100, has the experience and the product portfolio to support site-wide file system projects at any scale.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Geospatial Data Research Leverages GPUs

August 17, 2017

MapD Technologies, the GPU-accelerated database specialist, said it is working with university researchers on leveraging graphics processors to advance geospatial analytics. The San Francisco-based company is collabor Read more…

By George Leopold

Intel, NERSC and University Partners Launch New Big Data Center

August 17, 2017

A collaboration between the Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), Intel and five Intel Parallel Computing Centers (IPCCs) has resulted in a new Big Data Center (BDC) that Read more…

By Linda Barney

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last week the cloud giant released deeplearn.js as part of that in Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Leveraging Deep Learning for Fraud Detection

Advancements in computing technologies and the expanding use of e-commerce platforms have dramatically increased the risk of fraud for financial services companies and their customers. Read more…

Spoiler Alert: Glimpse Next Week’s Solar Eclipse Via Simulation from TACC, SDSC, and NASA

August 17, 2017

Can’t wait to see next week’s solar eclipse? You can at least catch glimpses of what scientists expect it will look like. A team from Predictive Science Inc. (PSI), based in San Diego, working with Stampede2 at the Read more…

By John Russell

Microsoft Bolsters Azure With Cloud HPC Deal

August 15, 2017

Microsoft has acquired cloud computing software vendor Cycle Computing in a move designed to bring orchestration tools along with high-end computing access capabilities to the cloud. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Read more…

By George Leopold

HPE Ships Supercomputer to Space Station, Final Destination Mars

August 14, 2017

With a manned mission to Mars on the horizon, the demand for space-based supercomputing is at hand. Today HPE and NASA sent the first off-the-shelf HPC system i Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD EPYC Video Takes Aim at Intel’s Broadwell

August 14, 2017

Let the benchmarking begin. Last week, AMD posted a YouTube video in which one of its EPYC-based systems outperformed a ‘comparable’ Intel Broadwell-based s Read more…

By John Russell

Deep Learning Thrives in Cancer Moonshot

August 8, 2017

The U.S. War on Cancer, certainly a worthy cause, is a collection of programs stretching back more than 40 years and abiding under many banners. The latest is t Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Raises the Bar for Distributed Deep Learning

August 8, 2017

IBM is announcing today an enhancement to its PowerAI software platform aimed at facilitating the practical scaling of AI models on today’s fastest GPUs. Scal Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Storage Breakthrough Paves Way for 330TB Tape Cartridges

August 3, 2017

IBM announced yesterday a new record for magnetic tape storage that it says will keep tape storage density on a Moore's law-like path far into the next decade. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Stuffs a Petaflops of Machine Intelligence into 20-Node Rack

August 1, 2017

With its Radeon “Vega” Instinct datacenter GPUs and EPYC “Naples” server chips entering the market this summer, AMD has positioned itself for a two-head Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia’s Mammoth Volta GPU Aims High for AI, HPC

May 10, 2017

At Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference (GTC17) in San Jose, Calif., this morning, CEO Jensen Huang announced the company's much-anticipated Volta architecture a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Just how close real-wo Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the cam Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

Groq This: New AI Chips to Give GPUs a Run for Deep Learning Money

April 24, 2017

CPUs and GPUs, move over. Thanks to recent revelations surrounding Google’s new Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), the computing world appears to be on the cusp of Read more…

By Alex Woodie

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

MIT Mathematician Spins Up 220,000-Core Google Compute Cluster

April 21, 2017

On Thursday, Google announced that MIT math professor and computational number theorist Andrew V. Sutherland had set a record for the largest Google Compute Engine (GCE) job. Sutherland ran the massive mathematics workload on 220,000 GCE cores using preemptible virtual machine instances. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Clears Path to 5nm with Silicon Nanosheets

June 5, 2017

Two years since announcing the industry’s first 7nm node test chip, IBM and its research alliance partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have developed a proces Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Messina Update: The US Path to Exascale in 16 Slides

April 26, 2017

Paul Messina, director of the U.S. Exascale Computing Project, provided a wide-ranging review of ECP’s evolving plans last week at the HPC User Forum. Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This