Scale-out Infrastructures without Scale-Shattering Costs

Enterprise IT organizations are no longer forced to choose expensive, proprietary storage solutions to run their most important applications.

by Gary Orenstein

Today’s cloud-scale applications present new challenges for enterprises trying to keep up with these unpredictable workloads. Enterprises are facing exponential data growth combined with intense pressure to drive down IT costs. The same problems that Web businesses experience in controlling cost in the midst of dramatic increase in file count and concurrent users now apply to the enterprise.

Architecting for cloud–sized applications requires thoughtful planning, operations knowledge, and a focus on scale, simplicity and cost-effectiveness to benefit enterprises. These factors are pushing enterprises to evaluate and deploy scale-out file serving and storage solutions that address today’s workloads and requirements.

Here are five specific factors driving enterprise scale-out application deployments.

#1: Scale-Out Enterprise Applications Serve Many Users

Web businesses have been on the cutting edge of scale-out application development over the past decade as millions of users have flocked to popular sites. By contrast, enterprise application users often ask why their experience is not as simple as Google.

Web applications have benefited from the ability to scale horizontally with open-source LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stacks that grow to support more users by simply adding more CPUs. This scale-out approach eliminates central bottlenecks, when paired with a distributed file system, by providing Web and application servers with direct access to file serving and storage nodes. The application stack can scale storage capacity to petabytes while handling millions of users and billions of files.

#2: Commodity Hardware Solutions Reduce Cost

IT budgets are under increasing pressure as enterprises weather uncertain economic times. An attractive opportunity to reduce cost is migrating from expensive branded hardware to low-cost commodity systems. IT departments are able to ride the x86 cost curve towards inexpensive server hardware, yet still deliver availability, reliability, and rich capabilities through smart software.

Commodity solutions offer flexibility as hardware can be deployed (and redeployed) for multiple purposes at far lower prices than branded hardware. Commodity solutions including smart software enable incremental capacity and performance expansion in contrast to traditional six- and seven-figure hardware investments.

#3: File Consolidation Boosts IT Efficiency

Enterprise application delivery teams require a simple and economical means to handle massive quantities of unstructured data. Administrators have typically been forced to deploy multiple systems to meet demand because each system was limited in scalability and capacity. Unfortunately, proliferating storage islands create management inefficiencies that are at odds with cost reduction.

Scale-out storage systems allow IT to consolidate file serving across many applications into a single system, allowing for increases in capacity and performance simply by adding nodes without downtime. Frequent candidates for consolidation include corporate file repositories and content depots for data intensive applications. These consolidation projects require a single global namespace to ensure continued non-disruptive expansion as data demands grow.

#4: Mission-Critical Applications Demand High Availability

Enterprises have traditionally been willing to spend more on IT for mission-critical applications because their revenue-earning operations and corporate reputation are often at stake. Enterprises cannot sacrifice reliability when adopting scale-out infrastructure. Application administrators look to distributed file systems that continue operating during hardware failures without single points of failure. It is critical that enterprise data is not at risk in the face of disk or storage node failures.

Scale-out file serving solutions can increase application administrators’ efficiency and flexibility by supporting non-disruptive online drive migrations as higher density disks become available. Administrators may double storage density, for example, by migrating from 1 TB to 2 TB disks while the system is running. Similarly, they should be able to perform all system maintenance functions, including upgrades and expansion while online and without application downtime.

#5: Standards-Based Approaches Ease Application Development

New scale-out file serving and storage solutions must retain application compatibility compared to their predecessors to enable enterprise adoption. Rewriting applications is not an option in most cases. IT administrators look for industry standard POSIX interfaces to ensure application interoperability.

This application-friendly approach is critical to ensure the infrastructure can be used across a variety of applications and workloads. Scale-out systems should offer the ability to use existing file names while still providing the scale and performance necessary to meet application requirements.


Enterprise IT organizations are no longer forced to choose expensive, proprietary storage solutions to run mission-critical business applications. They can leverage technology advances pioneered in the scale-out Web world that are now matured and commercially supported for the enterprise. The productivity gain obtained by using enterprise-ready Web infrastructure is reshaping how CIOs think about IT budgeting.

Gary Orenstein is vice president of technical solutions at MaxiScale. He has served in leadership marketing roles at numerous networking and storage companies. Prior to MaxiScale, he was the vice president of marketing and business development at Gear6, a caching and file acceleration pioneer. Mr. Orenstein is the author of IP Storage Networking: Straight to the Core (2003, Addison-Wesley Professional). He holds an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and a BA from Dartmouth College.