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To present files from multiple sources – public cloud, branch offices, numerous disparate architectures – as if they were all on a local NAS is the promise of Californian startup Hammerscale.
Its Global Data Environment (GDE) comes from the ashes of Primary Data, which tried to develop a similar concept, but without success. Hammerscale believes it can succeed where Primary Data failed because, in the meantime, hybrid cloud and remote working have gone mainstream.
“What makes things complicated for organisations today is that storage and users are scattered around numerous sites, and in numerous subsidiaries,” said Hammerspace CEO David Flynn during the recent IT Press Tour event.
“We bring global access and orchestration and unify everything in a global file system that presents an abstraction layer across all storage resources wherever they are physically located.”
Hammerspace plays in a similar area to the likes of Ctera, Panzura and Nasuni, which also provide consistent access to files across geographies, although these companies major on use of the cloud as a site for data.
DataSphere was the software that Primary Data failed to commercialise. Its aim was to break down the geographic silos that an enterprise might possess. Its descendant, GDE, builds on that initial promise by presenting file from NAS boxes, block data on production SANs and hosted object storage, all via one window.
But it isn’t only about gathering information. It acts to standardise storage administration, where usually it is a case of navigating folders and sending requests via a search function.
“Enterprises have the need for a revolutionary approach to access data,” said Flynn. “Our solution breaks the technical constraints imposed by all the possibilities that exist in storage. In doing so, we relieve IT teams of the endless work they have to do to connect storage systems.”
From the marketing point of view, DataSphere wanted to be a “data management platform”, he said. GDE is presented as virtual storage for hybrid cloud, or “software-defined hybrid cloud storage”.
From the user point of view, all that is needed is to connect to the system to access all the data. Whether hosted in on-prem storage across numerous sites, in AWS, Microsoft Azure or GCP, the data appears in folders as if it was on a local NAS. Access is via NFS or SMB for users and for applications, and through CSI drivers if data is read or written by applications run on Kubernetes. Having said that, S3 access is not possible, even when hosted by an S3-based service.
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Internally to the system, each user location, or application server, passes through a control plane, which indexes the local environment, finds all files and objects and provides storage functionality. As gatekeeper, the control plane retains the most frequently used data on its local file cache to accelerate reads.
The control plane is also responsible for compression, deduplication and encryption. It synchronises writes with the source, clones files if numerous versions are required, and produces backups and immutable archive versions in case rollback to an earlier version is required. Data also goes through an anti-virus screen and is audited.
All control plane information is held in a metadata store. All these databases are permanently synchronised between all Hammerspace control planes deployed by the customer across its sites.
At each site, the control plane runs on dual redundant servers, which can be physical or virtual. In the case of cloud applications, that data also passes through dual control planes that correspond to dual virtual machines hosted in the cloud.
Floyd Christofferson, product chief at Hammerspace, illustrates GDE functionality by referring to a use case at Canadian animation studio Global GFX.
The company has animators working around the world to enable continuous production. With GDE, animators can log in when their working day begins and, at the end of their day, allow colleagues further west to continue.
“It’s like everyone’s in the same room, even though they are separated by several time zones,” said Christofferson. “Thanks to GDE, Global GFX has gained the agility to win numerous contracts, notably on series where it has to produce episodes to very tight time constraints.
“The idea of continuous production and follow-the-sun is not new. But until now, the company had used Rsync to synchronise work between time zones and had hit a number of technical obstacles due to the number of different storage arrays at each site. And because of the admin tasks required at each site, the pattern of work was broken up. GDE eliminated that admin overhead and files passed from one time zone to another transparently.”
According to Christofferson, Hammerspace already has several clients in telecoms, media and banking. “We can respond to the needs of customers that expect the cloud to be a good medium for branch office collaboration, but who discover that this isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to documents that need to be accessible to all their branches,” he said.