The conversation often starts with a challenge. “What’s so great about open source storage technology?”
For the casual end users of storage systems, regardless of SAN (definitely not Fibre Channel) or NAS on-premises, or getting “files” from the personal cloud storage like Dropbox, OneDrive et al., there is a strong presumption that open source storage technology is cheap and flaky. This is not helped with the diet of consumer brands of NAS in the market, where the price is cheap, but the storage offering with capabilities, reliability and performance are found to be wanting. Thus this notion floats its way to the business and enterprise users, and often ended up with a negative perception of open source storage technology.
Anybody can “build” a storage system with open source storage software. Put the software together with any commodity x86 server, and it can function with the basic storage services. Most open source storage software can do the job pretty well. However, once the completed storage technology is put together, can it do the job well enough to serve a business critical end user? I have plenty of sob stories from end users I have spoken to in these many years in the industry related to so-called “enterprise” storage vendors. I wrote a few blogs in the past that related to these sad situations:
We have such storage offerings rigged with cybersecurity risks and holes too. In a recent Unit 42 report, 250,000 NAS devices are vulnerable and exposed to the public Internet. The brands in question are mentioned in the report.
I would categorize these as storage assemblers.
Storage Artisans and Crafters
There is another category of open source storage vendors which I would consider as artisans of their expertise. The hardware of these storage solutions is selected with care with enterprise-grade components, ECC memory, Xeon CPUs, hard disk drives with low AFR rate, and SSDs with high DPWD. The open source storage software is cherished by the developers and constantly pushing the envelope to innovate for the enterprise. I am a big proponent of OpenZFS, and written once in a while of the annual OpenZFS summit of recent years. Such open source communities that bring together the nerds and the geeks, and fanatics who care, not those vendors who borrow from the open source software development and assemble them as their own storage tech. We hardly see the give back from these leechers, where their contributions feel like a misgiving to them.
I want to pay tribute to the these vendors who made open source software possible, and continue to serve a community that enhances the development of the open source storage technology. RedHat® (for Ceph and Gluster), MinIO, iXsystems™ (FreeNAS™ & TrueNAS® CORE), Sun Microsystems® (before Oracle®, for OpenSolaris which made OpenZFS possible), Lustre® (a convolute history that included Sun, Oracle, Xyratex, Whamcloud, Intel, DDN et al), Cloudera® (for Apache Hadoop) and many, many more open source projects. Some of these projects became successful, and continued to be fueled by enterprise vendors who are really enterprise in their approach, whilst graciously serving with gratis to ensure a bright future with continuing development and innovate of the open source storage technology.
I would categorize these as storage crafters, skilled and masters of their craft like Swiss watchmakers. True artisans.
How to spot a storage crafter (vs a storage assembler)
What is the archetype of an open source storage crafter vendor, as opposed to a storage assembler vendor? To start, observe that a storage crafter often to do not attempt to sell you the storage technology. They listen and able to craft and design the integration of the storage technology to the end user’s network, virtualization, backup and application & workload (I like to call the A&W, the root beer ;-)).
Secondly they ask about the business of the end user. What keeps him or her up and night? What are the thoughts and concerns of investing in a less well known open source storage technology? I usually like to apply the A.P.P.A.R.M.S.C., a set of data points that will help me craft the understanding of the fitting the technology to their operational and business requirement.
Next, there are the data pipelines and workflows, and also the data lifecycle. The understanding of how the data is created or acquired, how they are ingested into the storage, how they are used, shared, delivered, protected and so on become part of the conversation to calm the end user’s nerves, and explain the assured integration between A&W (applications & workloads) to the storage infrastructure data services platform.
Also is the conversation of where the data is before, during and after. The data lifecycle in how data is archived, preserved to serve the data strategy of the business. Some of these data are for compliance reasons, but there are more and more active plans to revive archived data for data analytics. I have seen many Oil & Gas upstream end users digitizing well logs and loading up older tape technologies (from 1/2″ reels, to floppy drives, from DLT to DDS) in search of better optimization and higher yields of brown fields in the Exploration & Production (E&P) industry. The process and the impact of revive hibernating data in different settings are also part of the data lifecycle.
It is easy to talk about storage speeds and feeds. We could gloss OpenZFS as a 128-bit file system that can support a gazillion of bytes up to the Exabyte scale but to the end users, they are probably aggrieved because the talkative storage vendor parroting the mighty open storage project and is not taking the care to understand the end user’s challenges and concerns.
If I live in my customer’s shoes, the calming feeling talking to a storage crafter would alleviate the pains rather the BS often dished by a storage assembler. The difference is not in the price alone. It is like talking to a medical specialists and talking to a GP. They are world’s apart.
Open Source Storage (The Enterprise Kind) means business
Thus in the hands of storage assemblers, the outcome of the storage technology solution is often less than stellar. But in the hands of the storage crafters, an open source storage solution have the ability to scale to super computing grade. Many of the Top500 supercomputers in the world today run open source storage software, and Lustre is among a lot of them. Similarly, companies like iXsystems™ with their TrueNAS® Enterprise Storage and SoftIron® HyperDrive are top class enterprise-grade open source storage technologies that not only are purveyors of open source storage solutions, but also come with world class product engineering beam to innovate new development for the enterprise open source storage technology.
In summation, the astute end user has to ask if the open source storage technology is from a storage assembler or from a storage crafter. The answer should be obvious.
A Fizz and a shout to SODA
Lastly, I just want to give a big shoutout to SODA Foundation. The organization rose from the Linux Foundation‘s OpenSDS (Software Defined Storage) project and incepted last year in 2020, and aims to foster greater development efforts around open source data management, and of course, storage software as well. SNIA® has established an alliance agreement with SODA in 2020.