SwiftStack Review

Compared to other storage systems, it takes a fraction of the manpower to run this solution


What is our primary use case?

We have a number of use cases. The most important one is that we run a data-sharing service for Dutch universities and higher education and research institutes. The service is used to share research data. It's based on cloud software which uses the object store as a storage backend. That is our most important user. 

We have another user from Leiden University, which has the most data in it. They have a few very huge electron microscopes. They do research with them and distribute the data through SwiftStack to their customers.

It's all in the nonprofit sphere.

How has it helped my organization?

We do have archives, but for a lot of use cases people cannot deal with the latency that comes with such storage. What we needed, and what a number of our users needed, was some kind of storage solution based on disk, to get rid of the latency. But at the same time, it had to be a very secure storage system to store data. That gap is now filled by SwiftStack.

The solution has also enabled us to store more data with same number of staff. At the moment, we store something like 300 to 400 terabytes.

It has also decreased our cost of storing and utilizing data. It depends a bit because at Surfsara we have different storage systems with different characteristics used for different purposes. It's very hard to make a comparison. But when I look at SwiftStack versus our other storage systems and the amount of manpower they take, that is where we win. For other big storage clusters, we need something like one-and-a-half or two FTEs to maintain them. With SwiftStack, we can get by with 0.1 or 0.2 FTEs.

What is most valuable?

The most valuable feature is its versatility. We use 1space and we can use it for almost anything: for our cloud service, for backups of VMs. You can use it for almost anything. That's something we like very much.

We have a storage policy where we have three copies of the data. We migrate that data to another storage policy and we use the 1space feature for that. I very much doubt that the developers envisioned that use case when they developed it but it does work.

When working with petabytes of data, we find that data can be ingested and accessed at a fast rate.

SwiftStack is also quite flexible when it comes to hardware. It depends, of course, on the use case and the kind of hardware you want to buy. But you have quite a bit of choice in hardware. The SwiftStack software itself does not impose anything on you.

What needs improvement?

At the moment we are using Erasure coding in an 8+4 setting. What would be nice is if, for some standard configurations like 15+4 and 8+4, there were more versatility so we could, for example, select 8+6, or the like.

For how long have I used the solution?

We've been using SwiftStack for a year-and-a-half.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

It's a rock.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Up until now, we have not encountered any scalability issues.

As we go, there are more and more people interested. It's steadily growing. In the Netherlands, there is an organization called NWO which is similar to the National Science Foundation. The NWO has departments that are all about research and data management, and they have a solution for that. They are also interested in using SwiftStack as a storage backup.

We have between 50 and 60 SwiftStack users. Because we are an academic computer center providing services to universities, a lot of those people are not within our company, but are working at universities. There are researchers, professors, etc. Within our company, Surfsara itself is mainly used for backups. Those are accounts that are not really attached to people but which are attached to a service.

How are customer service and technical support?

SwiftStack's technical support gets an A+. They're really, really good. Every time we ask them a question, they are very quick in responding. They provide very valid and good responses. I don't see any room for improvement there.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We didn't have a previous solution. 

I had read about the solution and was very interested in it because, as I mentioned before, we were looking for some kind of all-around, online disk storage solution. At the same time, we saw an increasing interest in people wanting to use storage which supported the S3 protocol. That's how we ended up with SwiftStack.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup was pretty straightforward. At first, I just installed it on my laptop in the VM. I am a group leader so later on, one of my admins set it up in a small cluster. It was up and running in no time. It was not complex. I've seen a lot worse.

The deployment took about a day, and we're talking about something like a 35-node cluster. That included everything, things such as OS's and network, etc.

Installing it takes no time, but then you have to set up your whole management environment. Of course, the SwiftStack Controller itself controls the SwiftStack-related stuff. But then there are OS upgrades and the configuration of the nodes. You have to set up things like Ansible to manage your clusters. SwiftStack has its own monitoring, but apart from that, we also use Zabbix and we had to set up the monitoring. 

First, we got everything to work and then we set up the whole environment that comes along with it. We also had to set up an accounting system, so we know what user X or user Y uses in terms of the number of objects and the number of data stores. Those are all the things that come later on.

As for deployment and maintenance of SwiftStack, we require almost no staff. The deployment takes some work, to set up the monitoring, etc. We run it together with Keystone and Keystone has a database server that needs to be backed up. So the setup takes some work, but once it's actually running, it's very close to zero people for maintenance. In our budget it's about 0.1 FTE. It takes very little effort to run the system.

What about the implementation team?

We deployed it by ourselves.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

We find the pricing rather steep. Of course, you get quality for your money, that's absolutely true. But I do get questions about it from my management. When you look at the prices of the licensing and the prices of your hardware, it's quite substantial.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

At Surfsara we already had several different storage solutions. In that sense, we did do a comparison because we were already running some of the competitive solutions in-house. For one service, we run Scality for object-based storage. And our cloud has a big Ceph cluster. The supercomputer storage cluster is based on Lustre.

What other advice do I have?

I would absolutely recommend SwiftStack. The quality is really good, the stability is fantastic. It requires very little manpower.

The performance of SwiftStack is adequate. It does the job.

In terms of 1space helping move applications to the public cloud or to use resources in the public cloud for on-prem data, we have not used it at all for that. But I would not rule out our using it for that purpose at some point in the future.

Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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