Thoughts on “Open Storage”

Posted on July 11, 2008

Some marketing terms come along that make you stop and think. Sun is pushing Open Storage, pairing up terms like “revolution”, and you have to ask: Whats really new here? I suppose you have to step back and consider that all industries are not the same and what one customer considers “catching up with reality”, another customer considers “a fresh new approach”.

When I think about what Sun concept of Open Storage really boils down to it is this: servers aren’t just storage clients. If you think about the direction Fibre Channel and even iSCSI solutions were going, the drive was to push more and more of the storage management and access into array controllers such that servers are clients only. I think I told the story in this blog some time ago when I stormed out of HDS’s data center when I realized you required a Windows server to manage the array. Storage should be autonomous!

But things have changed. When I stormed out of HDS I was managing an environment of large SPARC systems that had 1 or 2 internal disks just for the OS, or small 1U X86 servers with just enough local disk for the OS and apps. With the increasing availability of high performance multi-core CPU’s 2U’s are more attractive and local disk storage is commonly managed by a dedicated RAID card with onboard cache of up to 512MB. When you have racks full of 2U systems that each have more than 2.5TB of RAID6 and a write-back cache to boot in each machine… its time to think differently. Filesystems like Lustre or even pNFS (parallel NFS) look very attractive to the enterprise…. yet again, HPC technology trickles down to the enterprise market.

While the push from Sun has just started publicly this year, there has been signs of this for a long time, especially when Jonathan declared many moons ago that all proprietary OS’s would have to go, which at the time was shocking given that all the storage arrays ran various embedded or specialized OS’s. So, it should be noted that this would seem to be the fulfillment of something Sun has been working toward for quite some time, unified under a single banner of “Open Storage”.

The implications could really change the landscape though. Traditionally in large enterprise storage you spend a lot of time working with vendors, testing configurations, listening to presos, etc. It was a very hands-off world. This new push would mean that Storage Administrators are going to spend less time making purchasing decisions and more time learning how to install, manage, and optimize their deployments. When “secure storage” goes from checking a box to configuring IPsec things get sticky. But that also provides new opportunities for administrators and vendors alike. In fact, that reminds me of something…. 🙂

So the real question is, how will “traditional” storage vendors like HDS and EMC respond? If you don’t have a server business getting behind the idea of buying servers and JBOD’s isn’t terribly attractive. That suggests that in 3 years companies like Dell, Sun, IBM, and HP will rule the storage world leaving EMC to supply a dying market while it continues to cash in on its acquisitions like VMware and RSA.

So, like I said in the beginning…. “Open Storage” is either something mind-numbingly obvious or something radically new, depending on where you sit.