PolyServe Musters Reliable Clusters

Adds multipath I/O to Linux clustered file system. But who wants a bulletproofed Toyota?

June 30, 2003

3 Min Read
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Startup PolyServe Inc. has given its humble Linux clustered file system a very high-class data-center feature with the addition of multipath I/O support.

Hang on: Isn't that a bit like retrofitting a Toyota Corolla with bulletproof glass and a spare gas tank... just in case?

Not according to PolyServe, which claims the move will boost the overall reliability of its software, thereby knocking down one of the main objections prospective customers have had to deploying it. PolyServe's Matrix Server allows up to 16 servers to share a single file system image. With the multipath I/O feature, the cluster will continue to function even if a switch, storage cable, or host bus adapter (HBA) in a SAN fails (although fully taking advantage of this requires installing two HBAs in each server).

Steve Norall, general manager of Linux Solutions for PolyServe, says multipath I/O has been a key requirement ever since the company first started shipping its product a year ago (see PolyServe's Double Threat).

"It's absolutely something that, early on, customers were continually beating on us for," he says. "They said, 'To move this to a production environment, I absolutely need to have multipath I/O.' If you're going to bet your business on a cluster, they want a completely fault-tolerant SAN fabric."Not coincidentally, multipath I/O also gives PolyServe a clear differentiation from its primary competitor, Sistina Software Inc., which also sells Linux clustered file system software. Sistina last week announced a partnership with SteelEye Technology Inc. to provide high-availability features (see Sistina and SteelEye Team Up). Meanwhile, Veritas Software Corp. (Nasdaq: VRTS) sells cluster server software, but it's aimed at higher-end Unix environments than those PolyServe and Sistina are shooting for.

But back to the original point: This is a pretty high-end feature for software that's designed to harness the power of cheap Intel servers. Are customers really going to spring for the redundant Fibre Channel HBAs -- which typically cost $1,000 or more each -- necessary to implement multipath I/O with Matrix Server? Or is this merely a "nice-to-have" checklist item? It's worth noting that PolyServe's software, which runs on Red Hat Inc. (Nasdaq: RHAT), SuSE Inc., and other United Linux distributions, is priced starting at $1,500 per CPU.

Regardless of how many customers actually turn on multipath I/O, though, the company has continued to ring up marquee-name customers, with more than 300 at last count. Recent wins include Tractor Supply Co. (TSC), a 430-store farm and ranch supplies retailer; the U.S. Dept. of Defense, which is running a search categorization product on top of PolyServe's file system [ed. note: looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?]; and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

PolyServe, based in Beaverton, Ore., has also converted from having a purely direct sales model to recruiting 18 resellers in Europe, North America, and Asia -- all of which are also resellers for Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), according to Norall.

And it's also getting ready to release a Windows version of the Matrix Server clustered file system in the third quarter, which should considerably expand its addressable market. The initial version will work with Windows 2000, with one for Windows Server 2003 to ship thereafter. The strategy, explains Norall, is to run across all Intel-based operating systems."We have been working very hard and spending lots of resources on Windows," he says. "Linux's credibility is growing in the enterprise, but Windows is already there." [Ed. note: Hate to break it to ya, Steve, but not all enterprises would agree.]

The 55-employee company, founded in 1999, has received $42.5 million to date from investors that include Greylock, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), and The Roda Group (see PolyServe Pulls in $19.5M).

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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