Change management

Editorial Type: Interview Date: 07-2019 Views: 1,456 Tags: Storage, Strategy, Software, Channel, AI, Panasas, ActiveStor Director, ActiveStor Ultra, PanFS PDF Version:
Faye Pairman, CEO and President, Panasas, speaks to Storage magazine editor David Tyler about how making storage manageable is key to succeeding in the HPC market

Dave Tyler: When we spoke last year it was early days for your ActiveStor Director appliance, which you described as the first half of a broader strategic plan at the time - What has happened since then?
Faye Pairman: Right now, we're feeling pretty lucky - the timing is right, and the market is open for us to introduce a new high-performance storage product. It's a shifting landscape where we think the market is ready for not only a new file system with some real innovations, but there are also different opportunities for partnerships. As you've said, we started shipping our Director Appliance around a year ago. It was received enthusiastically, adopted immediately and has been trouble-free from the day we shipped it. It has been a great release for us. Now we've announced ActiveStor Ultra, our new storage system built on off the shelf commodity hardware which completes our appliance offering - all based on PanFS, our brand new parallel file system, built from the ground up. Of course, the file system relies on all the years of development experience we've had in parallel file systems which is critical to customer satisfaction out the gate. The innovation is twofold: firstly, the price performance profile, and the second notion is that it's portable.

There's been a lot of noise around software-defined storage, and we were very specific in our decision not to call this software-defined storage. We call it a portable file system, designed to run on commodity hardware but with specific hardware requirements that assure we meet our customers exacting requirements for performance. This allows us to take advantage of all the hardware advances that are being developed by ODMs and OEMs. They keep improving their products at a rapid pace and we can now take advantage of those product improvements. It also allows us to build unique partnerships with end customers, OEMs or VARs who have their own ideas about the price/performance trade-offs they choose to make. We can now stay on the leading edge of hardware performance and have the freedom to go to market with a broad variety of partners and platforms.

DT: Does that mean that your approach to the channel will change?
FP: I don't think our approach to supporting the channel will change. I think we will continue to participate in the sale; but we are giving the channel more ability to integrate and add value. With a portable file system, VARs can resell a fully integrated appliance from Panasas or they can port our software to other hardware platforms. We will also be better able to service the integrator channel now - organisations that develop specific HPC solutions for the marketplace, so it actually broadens our go-to market opportunity.

DT: Where are you in terms of users for the new file system - will it allow you to target new markets, for example, once it rolls out to production users?
FP: Right now, ActiveStor Ultra with the new PanFS file system is in beta. We are fortunate to have customers who help us test our products with production use cases - testing beyond what we can do in our own labs. We are testing with a large energy company, a major aerospace manufacturer and with a well-known university which uses the product primarily for genomics, as well as other science applications. We will test a variety of use cases to assure quality and usability prior to release.

Marketwise, with commercial HPC growing at 8 percent, there are always new customers entering the market and existing customers expanding their deployments, all of whom are looking for the kind of performance and value we provide. Market growth is driven by new use cases such as Artificial intelligence (AI), precision medicine and other scientific applications, but adoption is accelerated by vendors like Panasas who can make complex deployments fast, simple and affordable.

Our commitment to supporting the commercial HPC market has meant we've invested heavily in usability, reliability and customer support in addition to product performance - our approach has never been performance at the lowest possible cost. Our commitment to our customers' success is deeply woven into our company culture and goes beyond the way we build our products but extends to everything we do. I believe it is why we have stood the test of time. Now, with ActiveStor Ultra and the new PanFS file system, we can deliver on our promise of leading-edge performance, along with a great customer experience, all at a price point that is extremely compelling. This should open the entire HPC market to us. That's our bet.

DT: You've spent the last couple of years very focused on the manageability aspect of storage - is that approach now paying dividends for Panasas?
FP: What we've learned is that there's a lot of frustration among storage buyers today, because of the complexity of products. They would love to get the ease of use, ease of management, the serviceability and support that you would expect from an enterprise-class product, but they need a high level of performance at a price they can afford.

With ActiveStor Ultra and the portable PanFS file system, we're able to achieve that. Not just the serviceability, ease of management and ease of use, but now we're at the highest levels of performance and offer a price performance profile that dramatically shifts with the portability of this product to commodity hardware. There's a lot of frustration with the manageability side of the other file systems that are out there, and I think that is what's attracting people to come and hear what we have to say.

Our competitors have been talking for years about how the commercial market is the big market opportunity, the big growth opportunity. They may say that they're making their products more reliable, more manageable and with higher levels of data protection, but it's a big challenge - and if you look at what they say they want to do, Panasas is already doing it.
More info: www.panasas.com

"There's a lot of frustration among storage buyers today, because of the complexity of products. They would love to get the ease of use, ease of management, the serviceability and support that you would expect from an enterprise-class product, but they need a high level of performance at a price they can afford. With ActiveStor Ultra and the portable PanFS file system, we're able to achieve that."