How cool is storage?

I was asked recently if Ive always been a Mac person (my laptop is an Apple Macbook Pro – and yes it probably generates more BTU’s of heat than a fully loaded DMX-3 with broken fans).  To be honest Im not a Mac person and if I had to say I was an “anything person” it would have to be storage and Linux.  So after saying that I wasn’t really a Mac person, the next obvious question was why do I have one.  And the only real answer is that I think they are cool  (I hope my wife isn’t reading this as I had to give her a long list of advantages before she allowed me to buy it). 

So my Mac is cool because it looks cool, has a lot of eye candy and is comparatively good when it comes to viruses etc.  Linux is cool because you can do lots with it, I like how it came about and am interested to see it mature into an Enterprise OS.  But the question remains what is cool about storage and who has the coolest storage? 

Ive only really worked in any detail with the major vendors and they tend not to be the people doing the cool stuff, so my view may be limited.  Ive not got much time to write at the moment but here is my take on some of the things that make storage cool and some of the cool things done in storage (Im very interested to hear what other people find cool about storage) –  

I remember working with Compaq/HP EVA storage and thinking that it was the absolute business.  Really easy to use and you could stripe a 100GB LUN over 100 disks (1GB stripe) and get great performance on the backend as a result.  I also liked their approach to RAID, or VRAID as they call it, where you don’t have dedicated spares but instead have spare space on each disk in  disk group that allows potentially faster rebuilds – all disks in a disk group are active in a rebuild (not always true).  We always liked telling the array to identify all disks in all disk groups and then take the new ops guys into the computer room and show them the EVA lit up like a Christmas tree – sad I know but to the yong and eager ops guys it was impressive. 

Then of course there is always going to be an element of coolness to the top end Hitachi and EMC arrays – after all, big is always cool in storage.  “My array is bigger than yours.”  “What, you want us to order space in gigabytes, well there’s a term I haven’t heard for a while, we normally only count in terabytes in our boxes.” 

I also thought that the old NetApp filers looked cool with their shiney silver grill fronts.  After seeing them I remember always wanting one in my data centre.  Im pretty sure they ran on top of Windows NT 4 and probably weren’t that good but I wanted one. 

Then there is virtualisation.  Im speaking in particular about the Hitachi variety – suddenly you could hang other vendors storage off the back of a Tagmastore.  HDS liked to slip in to conversations and materials that you could hang an EMC DMX off the back of a Tagmastor and treat the DMX storage as second tier storage (I think the EMC guys refer to this as lobotomization).  Good for making jibes at EMC but I cant really see too many reasons for doing this – in fact has anyone ever hung a DMX3 off the back of a Tagmastore other than in a HDS lab?  I have see a Tagmastore USP 600 with SATA disks hung off the back of an XP12000 (that was a weird mix).  I personally think that virtualisation is a cool thing – and not just the Hitachi way. 

Then there is Pillar with its bricks and slammers – cool names and an interesting rehash of some old performance tuning techniques like short stroking of disks. 

I can also remember the time when I thought that all things Brocade were cool.  I can remember talking with a network guy about SAN switches compared to LAN switches and how the cut-through speed of the my Brocades wiped the floor with his Cisco LAN switches. 

I can see this post quickly drifting to a trip down memory lane for me rather than the cool things of storage….but one last one…. I remember the picker, lets call it the robot in the interest of coolness, on an IBM 3584 tape library and how quick it was up and down the connected frames and how lightning fast it was when grabbing tapes from the I/O slots.  That’s another thing we showed off to the IT guys after it had been installed – "lads come and watch the robot grabbing tapes that we insert" – let me tell you, you wouldn’t want your hand in there when it grabbed the tapes, that would have been carnage! 

Finally, I keep hearing about lots of cool things happening with iSCSI but haven’t had enough time to look into many of them.  Zetera are a company in particular that I hear a lot about – but they didn’t have a stand at the last storage event I was at and that’s really my best chance to spend time talking to these smaller companies. 

Well I must go, but like I say – Im interested in other peoples views. 

Nigel (mackem)