Posted by: Beth Pariseau
Data storage management, Strategic storage vendors
Jesse at SanGod wrote an interesting post the other day entitled “Enterprise storage vs….not.”
I have a cousin. Very well-to-do man, owns a company that does something with storing and providing stock data to other users. I don’t pretent do know the details of the business, but what I do know is that it’s storage and bandwidth intensive.
He’s building his infrastructure on a home-grown storage solution – Tyan motherboards, Areca SATA controllers, infiniband back-end, etc. Probably screaming fast but I don’t have any hard-numbers on what kind of performance he’s getting.
Now I understand people like me not wanting to invest a quarter-mil on “enterprise-class” storage, but why would someone who’se complete and total livelihood depends on their storage infrastructure rely on an open-source, unsupported architecture?
Jesse goes on to point out the resiliency and services benefits of shelling out enterprise bucks. His post sparked a conversation between me and an end user I know well whose shops (in the two jobs I’ve followed him through) are as enterprise as they come. This guy also knows his way around a Symmetrix, and Clariion, and NetApp filers, and when it comes to the secondary disk storage and media servers he’s building for his beefy Symantec NetBackup environment…he’s going with Sun’s Thumper-based open-source storage.
Obviously it’s a little different from cobbling together the raw parts, and Sun offers support on this, so it’s kind of apples and oranges compared with what Jesse’s talking about. But I’ve also heard similar withering talk about Sun’s open storage in particular, and can only imagine Sun’s open-source push is making this topic timely.
This is the second person I’ve talked to from a big, booming enterprise shop who picked Thumper to support NetBackup. The first, who had the idea more than a year ago, was a backup admin from a major telco I met at Symantec Vision.
Obviously it’s not mission-critical storage in the sense that Symmetrix or XP or USP are, but I’d venture to guess that for a backup admin, his “complete and total livelihood” does depend on this open-source storage. As for the reasons to deploy it instead of a NetApp SATA array or EMC Disk Library or Diligent VTL? Both users cited cost, and the one I talked to more recently had some pointed things to say about what enterprise-class support often really means (see also the Compellent customer I talked with last week, who found that the dollars he spent made him less appreciative of the support he got from EMC).
This ties in with a recent conversation I had with StorageMojo’s Robin Harris. He compares what’s happening in storage to the relationship between massively parallel systems and the PC in the era of the minicomputer. When the PC arrived, the workstation market was dominated by makers of minicomputers, the most famous being Digital. Minicomputers were proprietary, expensive and vertically integrated with apps by vendors, much like today’s storage subsystems. Just as the PC introduced a low-cost, industry-standard workstation and the concept of a standardized OS, Harris predicts clustered NAS products built on lower cost, industry-standard components will bring about a similar paradigm shift in enterprise storage.
While there will obviously remain use cases for all kinds of storage (after all, people still run mainframes), I suspect people are starting to think differently about what they’re willing to pay for storage subsystems in the enterprise, regardless of the support or capabilities they’d get for the extra cash. And I do think that on several fronts, whether open-source storage or clustered NAS, it is looking, as Harris put it, like the beginnings of a paradigm shift similar to those that have already happened with PCs and servers.
That’s not to say I think Sun will win out, though. For all Sun’s talk about the brave new world of open-source storage, I haven’t heard much emphasis placed on the secondary-storage use case for it. And that so far is the only type of enterprise deployment for Thumper I’ve come across in the real world.