Ibrix Touts Monster System

Startup rolls out file system to improve performance in clustered servers and arrays

February 8, 2005

4 Min Read
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In a move that highlights an increasingly competitive niche, Ibrix Inc., a four-year-old Massachusetts startup, has officially announced a file system it claims has more capacity and compatibility than competing wares.

Ibrix, whose 50-odd employees are based in Billerica, says its Fusion file system supports up to 16 petabytes of storage across a range of I/O servers with SAN, NAS, or DAS storage attachments. Designed specifically for high-performance clusters, such as those in science labs, Fusion applies a single file system and a global namespace to applications across a range of systems.

It's not a new concept. A growing roster of software and hardware players are tackling the issue of application performance in storage networks and computing clusters. On the software side, players include IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), PolyServe Inc., Red Hat Inc. (Nasdaq: RHAT), and Veritas Software Corp. (Nasdaq: VRTS). Hardware vendors include Isilon Systems and Panasas Inc., to name just two.

These and other vendors say a key issue facing storage networkers is how to avoid bottlenecks that result when multiple systems are used as a single block of computing power. Old-fashioned methods, such as the Unix-based Network File System (NFS) approach, are falling down on the job.

"We were doing standard NFS mounting to all of our nodes. The problem was that we took a huge performance hit as multiple nodes were accessing and writing to the same nodes at the same time," says Tom Minyard, manager and research associate for High Performance Computing at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at the University of Texas at Austin.The TACC group has been using Ibrix software since December, and Minyard claims a big performance boost. Formerly, NFS was mounted on 64 Unix server nodes from Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL), and throughput was less than 10 Mbyte/s. Now, Minyard says the cluster has expanded to 512 nodes and is achieving up to 250-Mbyte/s throughput.

Claims like this make Ibrix a good fit with the rest of the cluster file system pack noted above, who routinely compare their products against one another's in claims of faster benchmarks, broader compatibility, and so forth.

In reality, there are many considerations in getting one of these products to work, despite big claims for performance. Though Ibrix says it can support file sizes up to a whopping 16 Pbytes, operating systems like Linux have built-in limitations on the size of a single file image. So it doesn't really matter whether a company has a large single-file capacity.

Veritas, for example, claims to support a total file size of 8 exabytes (1,024 Pbytes)! But the various flavors of Unix it supports can only handle a fraction of that -- 9.5 Tbytes for Solaris, for example. PolyServe depends on Linux, which supports up to 2 Tbytes per single file, according to the vendor. Interestingtly, Ibrix says it's got a technique that enables it to span Linux files and support larger file sizes. TACC is reportedly using the approach to maintain Linux files of up to 6.4 Tbytes.

Further, file systems must demonstrate interoperability with specific hardware, despite claims of being "agnostic." So far, Ibrix has only one hardware OEM, Dell. Though it claims to work with a range of storage systems, the proof of this must be borne out in the real world.Still, Ibrix, which claims a dozen paying customers, seems ready to demonstrate its stuff. The startup announced the TACC implementation with today's rollout, along with news of another customer, Spinnaker Exploration Company, which engages in locating and developing natural oil and gas resources (see Ibrix Intros File System).

CEO Shaji John, a former VC who is also the company's primary investor (Ibrix has a total of about $19 million in funding so far), says more customers are in the works. With Dell on board to sell his product, he isn't rushing to embrace any other OEMs right now. But he indicates Dell's alliance with EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) and its ability to support a range of processor speeds give Ibrix a range of options.

Considering the competition and complexity of this niche, it will be interesting to see how Ibrix demonstrates those options in the real world.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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