StorageTek BladeStore failures causing end-user headaches

A major StorageTek customer said that serious problems with its BladeStorage storage system have caused spontaneous disconnects and data loss.

The cornerstone hardware system of Storage Technology Corp.'s (StorageTek's) Information Lifecycle Management strategy may be experiencing some severe growing pains.

A major StorageTek user told SearchStorage.com that disk blade failures and dual-pathing firmware problems in the BladeStore storage system are causing spontaneous disconnects and data loss.

The user said that Louisville, Colo.-based StorageTek now wants to replace all of the user's BladeStore storage in the backup environment with its D178 Fibre Channel array. StorageTek is willing to eat the substantial price differential between the two, but the user said he just wants his money back.

The user is now in the process of testing StorageTek's proposed solution.

StorageTek admits that more than one user is experiencing similar problems with the BladeStore, but the problems aren't necessarily related to a bad product so much as bad fits. A StorageTek spokesman said that a "handful" of the approximately 200 systems that have been sold to date were not "applied to the correct environment."

"Where we have experienced success is where [BladeStore] is applied correctly," said Dan Albright, StorageTek's marketing manager for the BladeStore product line. "Have there been failures on the storage blade? Absolutely. It's just like any other device from any other vendor."

He said the issues result from not knowing where BladeStore fits. "There are different industries that need to be looked at when it's being sold. It's not traditional disk, therefore certain questions are not asked. The newness of the product means there's going to be some discovery, and some of that discovery actually showed up on the customer floor."

Albright said BladeStore performs well when backing up data between two storage devices and storing data for rich media and streaming content applications, but BladeStore is not meant for environments with "random data behavior."

In the case of the major user who complained, the array is being used as a backup target. The company is backing up from it to a remote site, which would seem to be well within BladeStore's target function.

StorageTek said it is taking steps to rectify customer problems. "In the cases of misapplications, we've turned around and shipped them another product that's a better fit," Albright said.

StorageTek announced its entry into the fixed-content data market late last year with the BladeStore disk subsystem. Fixed-content data includes information from financial records, photographs, medical x-rays and MRIs, video, seismic data and books. Additionally, the subsystem can be used as secondary storage before data is archived to tape or as near-line storage providing faster access to online data.

The BladeStore B150 subsystem is an integration of low-cost ATA disk drives and LSI Logic's 4884 Fibre Channel controller and SANtricity management software. StorageTek developed logic chips to handle the translation from ATA to Fibre Channel. The BladeStore disk subsystem can scale from 4 TB to 160 TB. A single BladeStore disk array contains up to 10 storage blades based on ATA disk drives, associated control electronics and an array controller with a 2 Gbps Fibre Channel interface.

StorageTek said the pricing of BladeStore will vary depending on configuration, but a 4 TB BladeStore solution costs approximately $85,000.

According to the Evaluator Group Inc., the fixed-content storage market is seen as a growth opportunity by several vendors. The market is estimated to be very large and, according to a study by the University of California at Berkeley, represents about 75% of all new digital data. EMC Corp. introduced its Centera fixed-content product in April and, more recently, startup Avamar Technologies launched an ATA-based disk array intended for fixed-content data.

The common element in these fixed-content arrays is the use of lower-cost ATA disk drives. By using ATA drives, the costs can be reduced significantly, but the reliability and performance are also reduced. The logic is that the characteristics and performance of ATA disk drives are acceptable in the secondary storage market.

Storage expert Randy Kerns, a partner with the Evaluator Group, said that new storage technologies frequently require some time to settle out. He said he has not heard of similar problems with BladeStore or other parallel ATA-based arrays.

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