The Parallel Network File System, or pNFS, is a complex Panasas-created technology engineered to solve storage I/O bottlenecks and accelerate customer deployments of parallel storage solutions, a Panasas spokesperson said. It enables direct parallel data transfer—as opposed to the standard, narrower, one-lane file system—between clients and storage devices.
pNFS is a critical component of NFS version 4.1, the first major performance upgrade to the widely deployed NFS in more than a decade.
NFS typically is used in system stacks with Linux, Apache (for Web servers) and other open-source software. pNFS support is expected to be used on Linux, Windows, and the leading UNIX versions from the major computer vendors, the spokesperson said.
Panasas, based in Fremont, Calif., will be open-sourcing code of the DirectFLOW client for Linux to the storage and developer community—specifically, the object layout driver and iSCSI drivers.
pNFS will eventually be released as part of the NFS version 4.1 standard, the spokesperson said. The open-source initiative continues the companys role in shaping the pNFS standard, which was initiated by Dr. Garth Gibson, Panasas founder and chief technology officer and one of the originators of RAID.
Precursor to the coming standard
Panasas DirectFLOW protocol is a precursor to the pNFS standard and provides all of the functionality expected to be available in the protocol when it is formally reviewed by the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) later this year.
Given the close technical collaboration with the industry-wide pNFS development team and eight years of experience in parallel file system development, Panasas intends to be first supplier to offer fully pNFS compatible parallel storage systems, the spokesperson said.
"pNFS is a very significant trend for high-performance computing," Addison Snell, an analyst with Tabor Research, told eWEEK. "It will create a standard for scalable cluster file systems. It is certainly complex, but it is being driven out of necessity."
Parallel storage based on pNFS is the next evolution beyond clustered NFS storage and the best way for the industry to solve storage and I/O performance bottlenecks, said Robin Harris, senior analyst at the Data Mobility Group.
"Panasas was the first to identify the need for a production-grade, standard parallel file system and has unprecedented experience in deploying commercial parallel storage solutions," Harris said.
"You won't see it in your dentist's office"
Harris said that the big win for pNFS is the high-performance space, where interconnect speeds have long lagged application requirements. "Geophysical modeling, computational chemistry, financial risk analysis, medical imaging and 3-D rendering are all strong candidates for pNFS," Harris told eWEEK.
"You won't see pNFS in your dentist's office. Anywhere compute clusters are now used is a potential win. I think a surprise upside market will be video editing, where NLE stations will have two or even four [Gigabit Ethernet] ports to move terabytes of uncompressed HD video," Harris said.
Later this year, the IETF NFSv4 subcommittee is expected to conclude its work on the protocol as part of the NFS version 4.1 RFC (Request For Comment). This new standard is being jointly developed by storage industry technology leaders and members of the NFSv4 working group, including Panasas, IBM, EMC, Network Appliance, Sun Microsystems, and the University of Michigan's Center for Information Technology Integration.
Is Panasas that far ahead of everyone else in this sector?
"I don't discount what IBM, EMC, NetApp and Sun, also members of the IETF NFS committee, can do if they're focused," Harris said. "Yet Panasas CTO [Gibson] ... wrote the original pNFS problem statement for the IETF. Panasas has provided parallel file serving for commercial and research HPC, using a very similar architecture for several years. Clearly they've been more focused on the pNFS opportunity than anyone else."
The complexity of the pNFS isn't likely to turn off many storage people, Harris said. "Setting up a pNFS server shouldn't be any more complex than setting up any filer head. You'll have more Ethernet cables to plug in to more boxes, but NFS v4.1 will hide the details of parallel access to data from users and applications," Harris said.