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pNFS – Are We There Yet?

Geoffrey Noer

VP of Product Management


It all started more than ten years ago when Panasas founder and CTO, Garth Gibson, realized that there was a strong emerging need for something faster than NFS to satisfy the growing I/O performance requirements of HPC Linux clusters. In 2004, Panasas started shipping its first ActiveStor® scale-out NAS solution running the PanFS® storage operating system. Key to the product’s success is the Panasas DirectFlow® protocol, the storage industry’s first implementation of parallel NFS (pNFS). Panasas then turned to the difficult task of convincing the industry of the need for an industry-standard version of DirectFlow as an extension to the existing NFS protocol.

Because industry standardization requires building consensus and detailed specifications, this sort of project always takes multiple years to bring to a successful conclusion. The first step was helping author the IETF RFCs for NFSv4.1 and the pNFS extension RFCs which constitute the specifications for the protocol. The RFCs were published in January 2010, the first concrete accomplishment in bringing pNFS to market. The next step involves the open source Linux client and server implementations. Panasas has contributed a substantial portion of the client and server code in the Linux kernel, with multiple engineers dedicated to this task for the past several years. In 2010-2011, Linux kernel support for NFSv4.1 and pNFS improved in almost every kernel release substantially reaching feature completion in the 3.0 release Linus announced in June 2011.

What remains at this point are for storage vendors to release pNFS protocol compatibility in their storage systems and for Linux distributions to adopt the latest kernel versions. And then of course, Linux pNFS code will need to stabilize as early adopters put the new protocol through its paces.

So are we there yet? The good news is that pNFS is now around the corner! You can expect to see first implementations out in 2012 although it may take another year or two before pNFS is sufficiently “commercial grade” for it to replace its proprietary Panasas DirectFlow predecessor in production environments. All of us here at Panasas are excited about what pNFS will mean for both our customers and the storage industry at large. We look forward to announcing ActiveStor support for pNFS in addition to DirectFlow as soon as the primary Linux distribution’s pNFS clients are sufficiently stable. While we don’t have a crystal ball, that could be sooner than you think!

Live pNFS Webinar
For more information on pNFS, please register for the Panasas webinar: "pNFS – Are We There Yet?" I will be hosting this live event on Wednesday, August 24 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time. We will cover:

  • What pNFS is and how it works
  • Key benefits of parallel computing and what they mean for you
  • pNFS rollout dates
  • ...and much more

I hope you can join us for what promises to be a very informative and interactive presentation.