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Panzura Global File System -- Disrupting the Storage Industry

August 12, 2015
by Janakiram MSV

Hybrid cloud storage is fast becoming the preferred storage architecture of enterprises. It combines the speed of local storage with the durability and availability of cloud storage. I recently encountered Panzura when I was helping an enterprise customer evaluate hybrid cloud storage offerings. Though storage gateways and appliances have been around for a while, Panzura’s unique approach caught my attention.

As the trust in cloud storage increases, enterprises will store more data in the cloud. This trend is visible in the massive growth of Amazon S3. Two years ago, AWS reported that S3 stores more than two trillion objects. Since then, Amazon’s storage service has been steadily growing.

Panzura’s core offering is built on the premise of increased adoption of public cloud storage. Unlike other vendors who mix and match local storage and cloud storage, Panzura’s Global File System (GFS) turns cloud storage into a local file system. From customer’s viewpoint, GFS is one massive file share that spans multiple branch offices and locations even if they are spread across different continents.

Randy Chou, Co-founder and CEO of Panzura believes that all data will be eventually moved to the cloud. He said, “This will not only dramatically reduce the capital and operating costs associated with storage, it will also make possible an entirely new style of enterprise collaboration and efficiency, especially for businesses that operate in multiple locations or across the globe. One direct consequence: companies in the business of providing high-margin on-premises storage will be facing a dramatic decline in demand.”

The disruption in storage industry is occurring because of the convergence of two already converging trends:

  • Increased availability and declining prices of cloud storage
  • Unceasing transformation of the solid state disk drive industry by Moore’s Law

Earlier this year, all three of the major companies in the market made a dramatic but under-appreciated announcement. In the future, cloud storage prices will follow a Moore’s Law decline, dropping roughly in half every year. The companies not only promised a “road to zero” cost curve but delivered on it by slashing prices by 65 percent. This announcement may not have gotten the attention from IT managers that it deserved as most people think of cloud storage only as a “ cheap digital attic” only suitable for storing old data – not the data they are actively using. Amazon Glacier, Google Cloud Nearline Storage, and Azure Vault are examples of “cold storage” services in the cloud.

While these two trends are converging independently, they are not disruptive or game-changing by themselves. The cloud is ever-expansive, economical, and simple to manage but lacks the performance and productivity benefits of fast local storage boxes.  Fast local storage boxes provide great local performance but productivity gains are limited to users connected directly to that box and the economics don’t make sense to the 70 percent of data that is always “ inactive” data at a company.

Randy compares the combination of local SSD-based storage and cloud storage with the old Reese’s Peanut Butter commercial – where two people, one eating peanut butter and one eating chocolate, collided and blamed each other for “getting your peanut butter on my chocolate” and “getting your chocolate in my peanut butter.” The combination made a better, more tasteful solution. Cloud storage is the chocolate, and on-site flash is the peanut butter, but having flash and cloud work together as one is the chocolate peanut butter cup.

Flash and cloud are not just being slapped together.  We are seeing customers deploying a thin layer of software that enables flash and cloud to work together as one.  It is this thin software layer that allows all applications to work as advertised, and the user experience can be equal and even better despite the fact that all the files are stored in the cloud.

Right now, effective collaboration, especially with applications used to design and build movies, video games, structures or airplanes, can happen only with the confines of a single storage box.  This is because applications have been built to work over the fast speed of an office network, but not across offices that are in different parts of the country, or worse, various parts of the world.  But now, the thin layer of software that binds flash and cloud together enables these applications and large files to work across sites just they way the applications work in a single site.

Panzura’s architecture is precisely based on this concept. The controller that’s deployed at each location coordinates and manages the distributed locks avoiding conflicts and complex versioning issues. So, an engineer in Shanghai can work collaboratively on the same file with an engineer in Chicago on anything from a multi-user spreadsheet to a multi-gigabyte video file to complicated CAD model for a new petroleum refinery – just like they are in the same office.

Since cloud storage vendors store six copies of files in multiple locations and have 99.999999999% of durability, there is no longer the need for tape backup, disaster recovery, and archiving systems. Simply stopping the game of “who has the tape” and adding in a “Time Machine”-like way for users to recover their files has a dramatic impact on IT efficiency and user productivity in addition to the obvious cost reductions of eliminating systems.

Moving storage into the cloud has another advantage. It dramatically reduces the total amount of data that enterprises need to store. Current enterprise storage architectures result in files being stored multiple times at each enterprise location. Using the cloud eliminates that redundancy. It also allows for the use of algorithms that remove duplicate data; information or code that is contained in many different files need be stored only once. That allows some companies to enjoy up to a 90 percent reduction in their total storage footprint. Panzura’s de-duplication at the metadata level avoids expensive uploading redundant data to the cloud. This saves the enormous cost of bandwidth involved in ingesting large amounts of data.

GFS has become the foundation for Panzura to build innovative solutions. One of the recent offerings from the company, Skybridge, is designed to deliver Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) on the cloud. It solves the challenges and complexity of running VDI and application virtualization completely in the cloud. Skybridge creates a complete virtual site in the cloud that connects securely to customer’s existing corporate infrastructure. It takes advantage of the public cloud to set up “virtual sites” and run VDI in any region, but it looks and acts as part of customers existing infrastructure.

The future of storage is hybrid offering the best of both worlds – the speed of flash with the reliability and durability of cloud storage.

Panzura Global File System -- Disrupting the Storage Industry

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