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Do-it-yourself storage not for wimps

Jo Maitland

Most people at the recent Storage Networking World event in Orlando, Fla., had good things to say about the vendors exhibiting at the show. Hard to believe, I know. Perhaps the prepaid plane ticket, golf outing and dinner in a fancy restaurant had something to do with that -- who knows?

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Pushing back on the mighty muscle of your storage vendor or vendors takes some doing, but what a sense of empowerment.
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There were one or two stragglers, however, who made it there off their own backs, without a vendor handout. One such storage administrator I talked with, who shall remain anonymous, thought most of the products on display were "garbage". I almost choked on my own tongue. Really, I said, trying not to sound so interested. His biggest beef was with the disk-to-disk backup vendors and the hype around this relatively new technology.

It's a total con, he indicated. No one needs this stuff. "We use commodity SATA RAID storage attached via Fibre Channel to x86-based FreeBSD servers, creating cheap NAS filers over Gigabit Ethernet. All of our backup clients simply NFS mount the storage, dump their file systems to it, and disconnect."

The same administrator was telling me that he has a tape library at home (yes, at home). And to satisfy his own curiosity around the robustness of tape versus disk, he threw the tape cartridges across the room. "Uh-huh, that would do it," I said, jaw agog. He repeated the experiment with some disk drives, and guess what? The tape cartridge fell apart, while the disk drives were undamaged -- the reverse of what you hear from the vendor community.

He's also building a storage network (in the office!) that follows the same rules traditionally found in Ethernet networks as they relate to reliability, high availability, fault tolerance and independence from specific vendor offerings. The more you allow your storage vendor to "muscle in", the less control you will have over quality of service, policy enforcement and application priority, he said. "If you bought most of the junk in this room, you would have spent a lot of money and given yourself a lot more work, and who needs that?"

Of course, pushing back on the mighty muscle of your storage vendor or vendors takes some doing, but what a sense of empowerment. This guy was cautiously eyeing all the marketing and hype at the show with a wry smile on his face, knowing that next year, there will be another new widget and another set of buzzwords, and he won't be buying into any of it.


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