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Terrascale Moves Out of the Lab

Posted by iMark - 2006-02-23

Startup Terrascale Technologies today unveiled a family of prepackaged InfiniBand clusters in an attempt to ease the strain on users wrestling with different pieces of storage kit.
The new offerings include three different “storage blocks” of prepackaged server clusters. Each cluster comprises either four, six, or ten “storage bricks,” which is Terrascale-speak for the data servers running the startup’s Terragrid software.

By repackaging its existing wares, Terragrid is making a bid for business beyond the ivory-tower high-performance computing world in which it's played up to now. A pitch for the new packaging is that Terragrid's software lets users create a pool of stored applications on multiple servers without adding a separate distributed file system from a third party -- such as IBM Corp., PolyServe Inc., or Sistina Software Inc.

Terrascale also claims to have added an additional layer of security to its wares. By building a software-based data protection algorithm into its prepackaged clusters, the startup says that one of the servers can automatically rebuild data across the cluster in the event of a system crash or component failure.

At least one user sees the combination of clusters, security, and pooled applications as an advantage. “This is a good idea,” says Dr. Peter Sobe, assistant professor at the University of Luebeck in Germany, which already uses Terrascale’s software. "It will probably make programming easier, and it could also enable users to share data faster on their shared storage systems." Sobe has been a fan of the concept of prepackaged, fault-tolerant clusters.

But Steve Duplessie, senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group consultancy, warns that Terrascale will have its hands full competing with the big names such as HP, IBM, and Sun.  “The bottom line for these guys is ‘Who are they?’” he says. “They are not a household name.”

Terrascale is clearly conscious of its challenge. It's struck a blow in this regard by signing a partnership deal with HP whereby the two firms certify each others’ products.

Today's announcement is further evidence of InfiniBand’s growing momentum in the clustering arena. As a high-bandwidth, low-latency technology, InfiniBand has long been a favorite of scientific labs. “Most guys in the universities use InfiniBand -- I would say that it is growing,” Sobe explains. “For scientific applications, InfiniBand, at the moment, is one of only a few choices, because it is such a high-speed network."

The push is on to make InfiniBand a good fit for the enterprise, particularly when it comes to running certain clustered applications, such as transaction-oriented databases and distributed computing. In a recent Byte and Switch Insider, proponents also highlighted opportunities for InfiniBand in data center interconnectivity, such as blade servers.

Vendor maneuvering reflects the push toward enterprise InfiniBand. Cisco’s move to snap up Topspin for $250 million last year has been followed by a slew of deals from other vendors.

But Duplessie is skeptical about whether InfiniBand can break out of its research niche and make an impact in the enterprise. “It might be in a lot of labs, but it’s not in a lot of data centers,” he says, adding that commercial users are currently hampered by a dearth of InfiniBand management software.

Gautham Sastri, Terrascale’s CEO, contends that InfiniBand is reaching out to new areas. “We see InfiniBand gaining traction in a lot of verticals, including oil and gas, bioinformatics, and financial services,” he says. The exec adds that Terrascale is already running a large genomics database in the U.K. and is also working with one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies.

But even Sastri admits that the interconnect is still a maturing technology. “InfiniBand is a heavy, blunt instrument -- it’s not yet a polished weapon. It’s crude but it’s very fast.”

Terrascale’s prepackaged clusters are available now with prices for the entry level “storage block” starting at $30,000.

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