Cray Completes ClusterStor Deal, Sunsets Sonexion Brand

By Tiffany Trader

September 25, 2017

Having today completed the transaction and strategic partnership with Seagate announced back in July, Cray is now home to the ClusterStor line and will be sunsetting the Sonexion brand. This is not technically an acquisition; the ClusterStor assets are transferring from Seagate to Cray (minus the Seagate ClusterStor IBM Spectrum Scale product) and Cray is taking over support and maintenance for the entire ClusterStor base.

Cray is adding approximately 130 Seagate employees and all of the ClusterStor customers, said John Howarth, vice president of storage at Cray. Through its Sonexion brand that is being discontinued, the supercomputing company had roughly 50 percent of the ClusterStor install base.

Today Cray officially takes over development, support, manufacturing and sales of the all the Lustre-based ClusterStor products — ClusterStor L300, the next-generation ClusterStor L300N and the ClusterStor SL220. The G-series Spectrum Scale products will not be part of the transferred assets.

“IBM is changing their model so they declined to allow us to do that,” Howarth told HPCwire. “It’s disappointing because it’s a finished product and it’s always good to get a new finished product, but life will go on without it.” Cray will provide support for existing ClusterStor Spectrum Scale (formerly GPFS) installations.

“The nice thing is we’re getting brand new products,” said Howarth. “The Seagate L300N is just going to GA right now, so we’re getting a brand new fresh set of products. The first thing we’re going to do with the Seagate team when they all get on board on Monday [Sept. 25] is sit down and look hard at where we’re at and then we’re going to decide, do we do another turn of the crank on the current architecture or do we go and build next generation architectures and move forward that way.”

Cray has a four year supply agreement with Seagate to procure the drives, containers, controllers and other technology components that make up ClusterStor, “at good prices,” according to Howarth.

Howarth said that with some 90 engineers coming into the storage group, they have the critical mass to develop some new products, and he expects flash to factor in prominently.

“Flash has already moved in pretty heavily into the commercial world; we think it’s now time for it to start happening in HPC,” he shared.

“The ClusterStor Nytro product is really a first step at that. We’ve got DataWarp, IME from DDN, and in terms of a mainstream product, the ClusterStor 300N is probably the first pretty standard HPC product that will make heavy use of flash.

“We think over the next three to five years flash is going to be pretty mainstream. Three or four years from now, very few acquisitions will have servers talking directly to hard drives, maybe doing back store, but they’re too slow.”

Under Cray, Segate’s Nytro I/O manager will go forward as 300NXD. The software has caching and prefetch capability for Lustre to improve small file handling. “Lustre is a great file system if you’re doing a terabyte per second of very large files, but if you’re trying to write 500 million little tiny files, you can’t do it any worse than with Lustre,” Howarth said, pointing out Lustre’s well-known pain point. “It does not do small files well and its metadata operations get swamped.”

“Nytro software,” he explained, “writes the small writes to SSDs and then it bundles them in the background and writes them out as single big writes to the back-end Lustre file system so it’s a huge improvement in the application profile of the ClusterStor and Lustre and it will make it much easier for customers to manage their systems and they will spend a lot less time worrying about what kind of I/O is my system doing.”

The L300N product provides 16 GB/sec per scalable storage unit (SSU) and 112 GB/sec per rack, which Howarth deems “industry-leading in terms of performance on a consistent basis.”

Improving ClusterStor robustness will continue to be a focus at Cray. “One of the things we did in partnership with Seagate to help improve the robustness was as we ran these great big systems through our build systems,” Howarth said. “We hooked the Sonexion up to it and we drove it flat out in order to try to find the problems. Because it’s one thing trying to find issues with a small system, it’s another thing when it’s running at 99.9 percent capability and you start breaking things on it. If you talk to any customers of Cray’s and Seagate’s they will tell you that over the last couple of years they’ve seen a marked improvement in the robustness of the system and so our intention is to continue that work.

“Cray is good at building big systems that work and so we can intend to install that discipline in the Seagate employees that are coming over so that we’ll be doing more betas, we’ll be doing more testing, we want to get on regular cadence for maintenance releases and things like that. These are [best practices] Cray has built over the years that we want to impart on the ClusterStor customers to make their lives better.”

Cray also has more than 20 ClusterStor partners and resellers and that it will support with “a comprehensive service toolkit, shorter escalation path to development, and a single knowledge base.”

“We’re working hard to get the channel folks on board and make sure the people that were reselling ClusterStor feel comfortable and that we’ll be a good partner for them like Seagate was,” said Howarth.

On Cray’s most recent earnings call, CEO Peter Ungaro observed that the HPC storage market is outperforming the overall supercomputing market.

According to market analyst Hyperion Research’s latest numbers, global HPC external storage revenues will grow 7.8 percent over the 2016-2021 timeframe to $6.3 billion, while HPC server sales, by comparison, will grow 5.8 percent to $14.8 billion.

“Storage is the fastest-growing part of the expanding HPC market and [with ClusterStor] Cray is positioned to be an even more important player in the storage market,” said Steve Conway, senior vice president of research at Hyperion.

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