Cray Introduces All Flash Lustre Storage Solution Targeting HPC

By John Russell

June 19, 2018

Citing the rise of IOPS-intensive workflows and more affordable flash technology, Cray today introduced the L300F, a scalable all-flash storage solution whose primary use case is to support high IOPS rates to/from a scratch storage pool in the Lustre file system. Cray also announced that sometime in August, it would be supporting Lustre 2.11 just released in April. This rapid productizing of Lustre’s latest release is likely to be appreciated by the user community which sometimes criticizes vendors for being slow to commercialize the latest features of the open source parallel file system.

“Lustre 2.11 has been one of the drivers for us because it has unique performance enhancements, usability enhancements, and we think some of those features will pair nicely with a flash-based solution that’s sitting underneath the file system,” said Mark Wiertalla, product marketing director.

The broader driver is the rise in use cases with demanding IOPS characteristics often including files of small size. Hard disk drives, by their nature, handle these workloads poorly. Cray cites AI, for example, as a good use case with high IOPS requirements.

Here’s a brief description from Cray of how L300F fits into the Cray ClusterStor systems:

  • Unlike the existing building blocks in the ClusterStor family which use a 5U84 form factor (5 rack units high/84 drives slots) mainly for Hard Disk Drives (HDD) the L300F is a 2U24 form factorfilled exclusively with Solid State Drives (SDD).
  • Like the existing building blocks (L300 and L300N) the L300F features two embedded server modules in a high availability configuration for the Object Storage Server (OSS) functionality of the open source, parallel file system Lustre.
  • Like the existing building blocks, the L300 converges the Lustre Object Storage Servers (OSS) and the Object Storage Targets (OST) in the same building block for linear scalability.
  • Like all ClusterStor building blocks the L300F is purpose-engineered to deliver the most effective parallel file system storage infrastructure for the leadership class of supercomputing environments.

The existing L300 model is an all-HDD Lustre solution, well suited for environments using applications with large, sequential I/O workloads. The L300N model, by contrast, is a hybrid SSD/HDD solution with flash-accelerated NXD software that redirects I/O to the appropriate storage medium, delivering cost-effective, consistent performance on mixed I/O workloads while shielding the application, file system and users from complexity through transparent flash acceleration.

In positioning L300F, Cray said, “L300F enables users such as engineers, researchers and scientists to dramatically reduce the runtime of their applications allowing jobs to reliably complete within their required schedule, supporting more iterations and faster time to insight. Supplementing Cray’s ClusterStor portfolio with an all-flash storage option, the ClusterStor L300F integrates with and complements the existing L300/L300N models to provide a comprehensive storage architecture. It allows customers to address performance bottlenecks without needlessly overprovisioning HDD storage capacity, creating a cost-competitive solution for improved application run time.”

Analysts are likewise bullish on flash. “Flash is poised to become an essential technology in every HPC storage solution,” said Jeff Janukowicz, IDC’s Research vice president, Solid State Drives and Enabling Technologies. “It has the unique role of satisfying the high-performance appetite of artificial intelligence applications even while helping customers optimize their storage budget for big data. With the ClusterStor L300F, Cray has positioned itself to be at the leading edge of next generation of HPC storage solutions.”

According to Cray L300F simplifies storage management for storage administrators, allowing them to stand up a high-performance flash pool within their existing Lustre file system using existing tools and skills. “This eliminates the need for product-unique training or to administer a separate file system. Using ClusterStor Manager, administrators can reduce the learning curve and accelerate time-to-proficiency, thereby improving ROI. When coupled with Cray’s exclusive monitoring application Cray View for ClusterStor, administrators get an end-to-end view of Lustre jobs, network status and storage system performance. Cray View forClusterStor provides visibility into job runtime variability, event correlation, trend analysis and offers custom alerts based on any selected metric,” according to the announcement.

Price remains an issue for flash. It’s currently about 13X more expensive on per terabyte basis. “But when flash is viewed on a dollar per IOPS basis, it is small fraction of the cost compared to hard disk drives. What our customers are telling us is they have unlocked that secret. Now they can think about uses cases and say here’s three of them that make sense immediately. That’s how they will deploy it. They’ll use it as a tactical tool,” said Wiertalla.

“We see the L300F allowing many customers to start testing the waters with flash storage. We are seeing RFPs [and] we think we are going to see, as the delta in prices between flash and disk narrows over the next 3-5 years, that customers will find incrementally new use cases where flash become cost competitive and they will adopt it gradually. Maybe in the 2020s we’ll start to see customers think about putting file systems exclusively on flash.”

Given Cray is approaching the first anniversary of its acquisition of the ClusterStor portfolio it is likely to showcase the line at ISC2018 (booth #E-921) next week (see HPCwire article, Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line) and perhaps issue other news in its storage line. Th L300F will be available in August.

Link to release: http://investors.cray.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=98390&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=2355137

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