Companies who offer software-defined products, by definition, rely on hardware providers in order to offer something useful to customers. Depending upon the nature of the software and the culture of the companies involved, these relationships can be anything from opportunistic engagements to full-up product integrations. With Qumulo, the partnerships lean toward the latter.
Which makes sense. Qumulo is offering its own file system – a complex beast whose performance and feature set are heavily dependent on the capabilities of the underlying storage and computational hardware. As we have reported previously, Qumulo’s claim to fame is that offers a high performance, scale-out file system that is geared for the enterprise set.
Even though the company was founded at a time seven years ago when it looked like object storage might take over the world, Qumulo wagered that traditional file system would still have a big future ahead of it. That turned out to be a good bet. In a recent IDC forecast, the analyst firm revised its market projection for scale-out file spending upwards by 60 percent compared to their previous forecast.
With the benefit of hindsight, that newer forecast makes sense, inasmuch as cloud-based object storage didn’t make the smooth transition to on-premise setups that some analysts were expecting. And since parallel file systems like Lustre and GPFS remained too complex for most enterprise situations, an opportunity for a new type of file system opened up in the market – one that could serve large-scale on-premise storage, but also expand into the cloud as needed. The bottom line, though, was that files were here to stay and they would largely rely on standard protocols like Server Message Block (SMB) and Network File System (NFS).
“Customers would really like to leave their data in file storage if they can,” says Molly Presley, global product marketing manager at Qumulo. “Their legacy applications work with it and it’s better for transactional use.”
That didn’t mean enterprises had avoided the problem with what to do with their increasing volumes of unstructured data. Those users who stuck with in-house storage, but whose file sets were bumping up against the limits of their legacy systems, had run out of good options. And that’s the nail that the Qumulo hammer is built for.
Which brings us to the challenge for a company selling a file system that doesn’t make its own hardware. One of those challenges is that the software has to be flexible enough to work on a variety of platforms without sacrificing performance or features. Qumulo has apparently managed to do that well enough, developing a single code base that targets generic X86 hardware.
The business model is to sell the selected hardware at cost with no additional mark-up, with the Qumulo license pricing remaining constant across different platforms. The idea is to offer a vendor-neutral model, at least from a cost-perspective.
That doesn’t mean customers can pick any old X86 server as a Qumulo host. As of now, the file system is only certified to run on Dell EMC PowerEdge servers and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Apollo gear, as well as in the AWS cloud. As it stands today, the key hardware partnership is with HPE, a relationship that was cemented two years ago when the companies married the Qumulo file system with HPE’s Apollo Gen9 servers and started selling them as a shrink-wrapped package.
Presley tells us during that period, HPE-Qumulo customers have, on average, expanded their storage capacity on these systems by a factor of 2.7X. That steep rate of expansion is primarily due to customers moving additional workloads onto the storage platform after the initial deployment, she says.
The largest HPE-Qumulo cluster to date is being used to develop Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicles for a German manufacturer using machine learning. According to Presley, HPE-Qumulo replaced Dell EMC Isilon as the platform after the manufacturer encountered production delays and quality issues. Also contributing to the vendor switch was the availability of built-in real-time storage analytics in the Qumulo software.
Another use case where Dell EMC was replaced with an HPE-Qumulo system was for an online mortgage supplier. This particular customer stores 30 billion files in a single cluster. In this case, Presley says the Qumulo software provided greater scalability as well as made better use of the storage space for the small files involved.
This week, Qumulo and HPE re-upped their commitment to one another, bringing the file system software to the Apollo Gen10 servers. Three different configurations are being offered: one for performance workloads with a lot of active reads and writes, one for “balanced” performance that mixes I/O intensive workloads with longer retention times, and the active archive configuration that is optimized for longer-term storage and price-per-capacity. Cache, RAM, network capacity, and raw capacity are configured appropriately to serve these three scenarios.
The new HPE-Qumulo integration also provide additional security, with encryption that includes everything from the silicon up through the network storage interfaces. Similarly, the new arrangement combines HPE’s InfoSight software that manages infrastructure performance with Qumulo’s built-in analytics, although these two pieces have yet to be fully integrated.
The storage solution is offered through HPE’s Mainline Program as well as the company’s resellers. For customers extending their on-premise work into the cloud, HPE also offers Qumulo on AWS (and soon on the Google Cloud Platform). Even though this is a software-hardware solution split across two companies, customers will be funneled into HPE Apollo support if issues arise.
The Qumulo relationship with Dell EMC is a different animal altogether. Although the Qumulo software is qualified with the company’s PowerEdge servers, the tighter feature integration, go-to-market model and system support collaboration doesn’t exist. In this scenario, a customer would buy the PowerEdge hardware from Dell or a reseller and then Qumulo would come in and layer on its own software.
For obvious reasons, Qumulo much prefers the HPE collaboration model. Presley says the plan is to add a similar partnership before the end of the year, with more likely to follow after that. Although she declined to name names, she did indicate that next set of partnerships would extend Qumulo’s global reach by filling in some geographical gaps.