“I want to put in my own hard disk”

I want to put in my own hard disk“.

If a customer ever utter that sentence, it will trigger a storage vendor meltdown. Panic buttons, alarm bells, and everything else that will lead a salesman to go berserk. That’s a big NO, NO!

For decades, storage vendors have relied on proprietary hardware to keep customers in line, and have customers continue to sign hefty maintenance contracts until the next tech refresh. The maintenance contract, with support, software upgrades and hardware spares replacement, defines the storage networking industry that we are in. Even as some vendors have commoditized their hardware on the x86 platforms, and on standard enterprise hard disk drives (HDDs), NICs and HBAs, that openness and convenience of commodity hardware savings are usually not passed on the customers.

It is easy to explain to customers that keeping their enterprise data in reliable and high performance storage hardware with performance optimization and special firmware is paramount, and any unwarranted and unvalidated hardware would put the customer’s data at high risk.

There is a choice now. The ripple of enterprise-grade, open storage kernel and file system has just started its first ring, and we hope that this small ripple will reverberate across the storage industry in the next few years.

I attended the Fedora Users and Developers Conference 2012 this morning. I went there specifically for the Fedora and SSD session because I wanted to find out the progress of open source software and its support for Solid State Devices. I wanted to know how mature SSD technology is with the present version of Fedora 16, and since btrfs is just around the corner with Fedora 17, how well does btrfs play with SSDs. But I learned was that the garbage block collection for Linux, TRIM, does not play well with RAID (yet).

I was a tad bit disappointed but I didn’t dwell on going deep with what was happening with Fedora because I know there is already an open OS out there that supports SSDs beautifully. In fact, this is an enterprise-grade storage operating environment with a mature (10 year old to be exact), 128-bit file system. And I was in Singapore last Friday attending its inaugural product training in South East Asia. This is Nexenta and they were here in this region to sign up resellers. I was there as an enthusiast.

Nexenta probably started in 2005 with the Nexenta OS (a.k.a Nexenta Core Platform and renamed as Illumian in 2011 for certain release reasons), an open development project based on the OpenSolaris kernel and some GNU userland tools and utilities, especially of the GNU Debian flavour. This development was contributing to Nexenta’s own commercial release known as NexentaStor (now version 3.1.2 and version 4.0 soon). Nexenta also added its own proprietary “plug-ins” to enhance the enterprise appeal of NexentaStor. Some of these “plug-ins” include HA Cluster, Auto-Sync, Auto-Tier, Target FC, VMDC (a really cool plug-in for NexentaStor storage management for VMware, Citrix Xen and Hyper-V) and many others.

Nexenta has been going great guns, and just a few days ago, passed their 4,000 customers mark. And they have been getting rave publicity as well, when Nexenta announced the certification of NexentaVSA for VMware View 5.1 a couple of weeks back. More information about the NexentaVSA and VMware View integration here.

The Nexenta open storage kernel and ZFS file system runs on standard x86 hardware and other commodity network interface cards, hard disk drives, Fibre Channel and iSCSI HBAs, and SSDs. The drivers for standard models of these hardware components in the Open Solaris kernel are mature and proven in the enterprise. So, why can’t a customer say they want to put in their own hard disk drives? Within certain support and indemnity terms and conditions, YES, they can!

But the beauty of this type of more open approach to storage hardware creates CHOICES and opens up the competition to better storage solutions for a GOOD PRICE. In an environment like Cloud Computing, where storage branding is agnostic, this type of open storage model makes perfect sense because it drives the cost down and subsequently the service fees to the customers as well.

Nexenta is leading the way, but there are many other companies that have taken the Open Solaris kernel and ZFS file system and build enterprise solutions with it. Companies such as Joyent, Delphix, Greenbytes and Iceweb have taken a somewhat similar approach to build storage and other solutions for their customers. I didn’t check what sort of contributions these companies made to the Illumos project, the new community for the continuation of the development of new, open codes (free from Oracle) to this ecosystem. More importantly, Illumos is new guardian of the Open Solaris spirit. I blogged about Illumos some months ago.

The generosity of the many leaders, contributors, developers and enthusiasts of the Illumos project is pushing the envelope for an open storage platform, giving the customers the choice to choose their own hardware. The movement has started, and we hope this will end the shackles of proprietary storage hardware.

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About cfheoh

I am a technology blogger with 30 years of IT experience. I write heavily on technologies related to storage networking and data management because those are my areas of interest and expertise. I introduce technologies with the objectives to get readers to know the facts and use that knowledge to cut through the marketing hypes, FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and other fancy stuff. Only then, there will be progress. I am involved in SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) and between 2013-2015, I was SNIA South Asia & SNIA Malaysia non-voting representation to SNIA Technical Council. I currently employed at iXsystems as their General Manager for Asia Pacific Japan.

3 Responses to “I want to put in my own hard disk”

  1. Pingback: I want to put in my own hard disk « Storage Gaga

  2. some other open source storage says:

    Do you have any opinion on other open source alternatives like Lustre/ZFSonLinux, GlusterFS and Ceph. There are probably more but these I have started to play with.

    Also of interest was Sequoia’s 55PB Lustre+ZFS Filesystem.

    • cfheoh says:

      Hello storagegaga

      Thanks for sharing these wonderful open source solutions. Unfortunately, in this part of the world in South East Asia, our exposure in these technology & innovation are behind. Many also prefer a “safer”, more established solutions. But I love to get my hands-on these if I had the means.

      Open source is disruptive, and combinations such as ZFS with Lustre, GlusterFS, HekaFS, Beowulf (in the past) etc, changes the dynamics. It empowers many smaller IT shops to do the heavy stuff without the heavy investments. And Cloud is changing that game again. There are so many innovative open source solutions out there but the challenge for open source is the lack of marketing and a group of icons to lead the change. Apple had a huge marketing budget and they had Steve Jobs. Open Source needs someone like Jobs to sing, dance, and be willing to work with the suits of the IBMs, EMCs, Ciscos and push open source solutions like these to the fore.

      Many IT shops over here still fear open source, still think of it like a black box, unwilling to try it out. The fear is not confidence, but Asians being Asians, they rarely take the *lead* to champion open source. The operative word here is “LEAD”. That is why we need one (or a few) leader(s) who will do what Jobs did for Apple.

      This is probably said many times over, but just my 2cents worth of opinion.

      All the best!


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