Sun Microsystems Inc. is pushing its open source focus and server-centric approach to storage with new online documentation and services meant to encourage customers to create storage devices using the Zettabyte File System, the OpenSolaris operating system and Sun's Thumper hardware.
The new how-to options that Sun will make available on its website include Build an OpenSolaris storage server in 10 minutes or less and Simple steps to building a network attached storage (NAS) appliance. Sun is also offering professional services for designing and supporting open source storage devices and plans to offer hardware upgrades over time.
Sun points to two advantages to do-it-yourself storage: cost and control. "Proprietary products usually run between $3 and $5 per gigabyte," said Graham Lovell, senior director, storage servers and IPTV for Sun. "Open source components can bring the cost down below $1 per gigabyte." And, of course, they help customers "escape proprietary lock-in" with Sun's competitors.
Of course, Sun hopes these open source customers will pick its proprietary hardware for the storage servers and NAS appliances they will build. "As we drive these communities, we're in better position to become the chosen deployment vehicles," Lovell said.
Sun wants to convince organizations they don't need a team of Linux eggheads to create a homegrown NAS/iSCSI storage device. The trick, however, will be convincing people that open source storage will offer the same features they can get with proprietary systems. In addition to lacking advanced storage features, like data deduplication, Sun's open storage is largely based on its Thumper storage server. Thumper's maximum capacity is 48 TB with 1 TB SATA disks. To expand capacity, customers can add JBODs behind each Thumper head. Thumpers can be daisy-chained together -- but that involves using more devices for the same capacity like you might find in a larger storage system from the competition.
Open storage user: Acquisition cost makes the difference
DigiTar, an email monitoring and security service provider, uses OpenSolaris to design and run its storage, but Jason Williams, DigiTar's chief technology officer, acknowledges his company isn't typical.
"We have a data center in Idaho, and power and floor space are cheap here," he said. "We're IOPS-focused, and we're not afraid to just add more disks if we need performance." The company stores a total between 10 TB and 15 TB of transactional database data.
DigiTar manages multiple instances of storage with separate Thumper clusters for each production database. Williams said separate server-based storage devices have actually been a reliability improvement over his experiences with dual-controller, monolithic disk arrays. "Redundant controllers are not a panacea," he said. "One flaky controller can send a power surge across the bus or you find them both in a strange state," he said. Even with separate server hardware clustered around shared storage, "too often one [server] node crashes and corrupts the data for both [nodes] on the way down."
His company has open source experts on staff, he said, but the steps required to make an OpenSolaris server into a storage server are minimal if a user is comfortable with a command line interface. As for all of the traditional arguments for storage area network (SAN) storage, such as sharing storage efficiently between servers and avoiding data migrations between direct-attached disks for capacity management, Williams said he prefers the cost savings open source technology brings.
"We can get about three-and-a-half Thumpers for what we were paying for the equivalent amount of StorageTek storage with the same performance," he said. "I don't care about having to move data around or what the utilization is."
He may not, but his viewpoint is far from the mainstream. "Storage is hard enough to manage," said analyst Arun Taneja, founder of the Taneja Group. "There's a class of user that's strong enough technically and has the time and inclination to do this kind of thing, but broadly speaking, that's not the norm."
Brocade getting in on the open source act?
At least one other storage vendor is looking to get in on the act -- five representatives from Brocade Communications have applied and been approved for an OpenSolaris project to deliver a target mode driver for Brocade Fibre Channel host bus adapters (HBA) designed to work with Sun's Comstar framework. This could eventually allow open source Thumper to be dropped in to Fibre Channel networks as well.