With HPC and Hyperscale Roots, RStor Aims to ‘Live Above the Clouds’

By Tiffany Trader

May 3, 2018

Backed by Cisco and emerging from stealth mode, startup RStor has an ambitious plan to be a true multi-cloud solution, billing its platform as the first to securely connect on-premise, cloud, and supercomputing facilities. It even provides brokering for partners or customers with excess compute capacity that they want to sell on the “grid.”

The RStor Multicloud Platform is designed for organizations deploying applications that require high-performance computing in the enterprise, what RStor has coined Enterprise Performance Computing (EPC) – which, coincidentally or not, calls to mind ECP, the U.S. DOE’s Exascale Computing Project.

RStor leadership’s curriculum vitae is steeped in HPC, hyperscale and enterprise computing. CEO and founder Giovanni Coglitore cofounded and was the original CTO of Rackable, the company that would go on to purchase and rebrand as SGI in 2009 (which was sold to Hewlett Packard Enterprise for $275 million in 2016). Coglitore also worked at Sony and most recently came out of Facebook, where he led the Open Compute Project. The rest of the RStor team includes infrastructure experts from hyperscale datacenter companies, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Dropbox and Amazon.

In an interview with HPCwire, Coglitore said that the RStor multicloud platform hinges on three pillars: “we unlock, we connect and we orchestrate.”

“We took a complete blank slate of thinking about how would we build a true multi-cloud reality,” he said. “We found that we need to be above the cloud; we need it to be agnostic. We needed to be able to interconnect all the cloud providers in a very fast, very cost-effective way. And we need to be incredibly flexible so there is not one right formula, and I think that is where mistakes have been made in the past, where the scheme is very restrictive.”

RStor’s multi-cloud platform aggregates and automates compute resources from private datacenters, public cloud providers and supercomputing centers on a next generation networking fabric, built on top of the Equinix backbone. RStor says its orchestration layer, accessible as an online platform or as dedicated on-premise software, uses machine intelligence to guide customers to the best resource to fulfill the job at hand, whether it’s on-prem, in the cloud or in a supercomputing center.

At launch last Thursday (April 26), RStor had lined up partnerships with Texas Advanced Computing Center, Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, the New Mexico Consortium and San Diego Supercomputer Center. RStor Vice President of Strategy and General Manager Tim Harder indicated the likelihood of additional partners to be announced in the coming months.

You may recall that RStor is the company that funded Sylabs, Inc. the DOE/Berkeley Lab spinoff that launched in February to bring HPC container technology Singularity into the enterprise. And, no surprise, Singularity is a key enabler of the RStor platform. “Wrapping our applications in a Singularity container allows us to create a universal environment,” said Coglitore. “You can purchase an application through the online store and now that application is highly-portable. It allows you to go in and out to any of the cloud service providers and also inject the application into any of the supercomputing centers. It’s really been a barrier up until now and Singularity allows us to unlock this potential.”

Singularity, Coglitore went on to explain, is also an unlocking tool for additional untapped computing resources around the world. The secure containers enable untrusted users to access trusted environments, paving the way for RStor to be a broker for excess capacity to market. “Gone is the era of enterprises having to make critical buy decisions and hoping that they haven’t underbought or overbought capacity,” said Coglitore. ”If they’ve underbought we’ve got the ability to bring compute augmentation to on-prem, but very excitedly we’ve also been able to create a product that allows them to offer up underutilized slices in a secured way, by being on our fabric.”

We brought up the fact that various “cycle scavenging” schemes have been tried before in the heyday of grid computing. Coglitore’s response: “One thing I can say about high-tech I’ve learned over the years is good ideas can come early, good ideas could have been tried before and failed but good ideas should never be abandoned because someone has tried them at the wrong place at the wrong time. ’The grid is the computer’ was a good thought but you needed a fabric to bring that all together. And we’ve brought that fabric to play.”

The RStor fabric, grandly dubbed Internet 3.0 by the company, is undergirded by Equinix exchange points in San Jose, Calif., Ashburn, Va., and in the United Kingdom with plans to expand to Hong Kong, Singapore and Brazil. It’s a broadband, low latency connectivity scheme that allows you to do things that before now were very hard to accomplish, said Coglitore. Reported coast-to-coast latency is just 40 milliseconds, and “80 milliseconds roundtrip allows you to do interesting things like remote mount,” he added.

The company said its network uses advanced protocols to enable data transfer speeds up to 30x faster than traditional options and that its fabric “brings computational resources to where data lives, eliminating the need for complex data replication.”

As an example of this networking trick, the CEO cited a large bio-pharma company that used RStor’s on-prem product to stitch together five remote datacenters into one virtual datacenter — logically through the orchestration layer and physically through the fabric — so that they were able to connect their data set on the East Coast to their compute capability on the West Coast, and “transact that data through the fabric.”

In addition to using their own datacenter, RStor customers have the option to use RStor’s distributed data lake, to position data where it’s most advantageous. “Using [the Equinix] IBX exchange points we’re positioned in the global exchange regions where we connect to the CSPs [cloud service providers] so we enable our customers to bring choice to entering the cloud. The data lake allows you to have multi-partner engagement so today you might find the type of job you are running makes more sense to run in-house; tomorrow it may make sense to run a different application on the same dataset in Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center or San Diego Supercomputing Center or on a Cray supercomputer within the Azure cloud.

“That agnostic positioning of data in a way so you can interact with a multitude of different providers is what’s needed in being able to make that whole claim of being a truly a multi-cloud provider. We are not a CSP ourselves but we interconnect all the CSPs out there in a way that’s new and novel.”

The CEO added: “The low latency aspect is revolutionary; it really is a game-changer in the flexibility of allowing the interaction with a wide variety of different centers to create a virtual CSP. What we’ve designed is the ability to create the right processing power for the right application.”

RStor is currently in private beta with general availability planned for later this year. Customers can engage three ways: by cross-connecting directly through supported Equinix datacenters in the US and the UK, through the public online portal, and by deploying RStor’s packaged software in their on-prem datacenters. The online self-service portal supports containerizing an application, securing that application, and connecting that application between different service provider environments.

RStor has raised $45 million in venture capital money from Cisco and has a team of more than 50 employees. It has yet to make customer disclosures, but said it’s working with major life sciences outfits, the telco/media and entertainment space and retail.

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