Storage built for HPC speed

DataDirect Networks and SGI accelerate storage performance with complementary HPC offerings

When it comes to talking about performance, speed turns people's heads. Bring up racing cars in a room full of folks discussing sedans and pickup trucks, and you'll see what I mean.

The same goes for computing, as most folks who run quiet business systems are fascinated by talk of HPC (high-performance computing) systems, the racing cars of IT.

But whereas finding practical use for a racing car outside of competition is difficult, without HPC systems, many companies would fall flat. And as demand for fast, responsive storage increases, HPC will likely become more than just a topic of conversation -- it will be an essential component of IT success for many more companies.

At least that is the contention of SGI and DataDirect Networks, which recently announced somewhat complementary solutions -- a database accelerator and a storage array, respectively -- that promise unrivaled results in database access and nontransactional applications performance.

In speaking with vendors, I often hear all sorts of claims of new world records, so I wasn't surprised when Ken Won, director of enterprise solutions marketing at SGI, mentioned that SGI had seen up to tenfold improvements in performance using Oracle 10g during a recent benchmark test.

Key to the benchmark success were the Oracle Times Ten In-Memory Database and the exceptional memory capacity (128GB per node) of the SGI Altix 450. Moreover, according to Won, the benchmark configuration proved to be environmentally friendly, requiring less energy for power and cooling. And it's easy to understand why: To attain higher performance, you must line up hundreds or thousands of disk drives -- a requirement that all but disappears when you can tap up to 48TB of more energy-efficient, more compact in-memory database capacity, Won explains.

"We are the only [company] that can scale up a significant amount of memory," Won says when asked what is stopping other vendors from offering a similar, memory-centric configuration on their own machines. "We are the only one that can actually deliver a database accelerator offering like this."

Meanwhile, DataDirect has announced the S2A9900 StorageScaler, a new storage solution that delivers data at a rate of 6GBps, twice as fast as previous versions and several times faster than the competition, according to the company.

"Our company has a long heritage in the HPC market," says Josh Goldstein, vice president of marketing at DataDirect. "But now we are also selling [our products] to any kind of corporation where they are doing large-scale disk-based archives or backups -- really any place where they are trying to drive a tremendous amount of throughput or need to scale capacity to hundreds of terabytes or to petabytes."

DataDirect's Silicon Storage Architecture, a.k.a. S2A, executes data-handling operations on programmable gate arrays, as opposed to general-purpose CPUs, which most competing solutions use. This technology allows DataDirect to increase performance in an extremely predictable way, Goldstein explains.

For example, DataDirect products can read and write data equally fast, whereas most arrays have slower write operations. Other stunning differences include unchanged performance during data rebuilds, even when multiple drives fail, and the ability to perform data integrity validation without occupying additional disk space.

One look at this enclosure, part of the S2A9900, and it's easy to see that DataDirect has also achieved unsurpassed density, with 60 SAS or SATA drives in 4U. The closest competitor, Xyratex, can fit only 48 drives in the same space.

The S2A also offers the ability to power down idle drives, which translates into significant energy savings. Check out these and other jaw-dropping features by perusing the S2A datasheet on DataDirect's Web site. After all, there's nothing wrong with kicking the tires, even if you don't need a racing car right now.