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The eBay effect on storage

Have you ever heard of the “butterfly effect“? In essence, it is a way to conceptualize the possibility that the flapping of butterfly wings in the Amazon Jungle can be the catalyst for a hurricane in Texas.

I think–now, mind you, this is just a thought–the same is going to occur on eBay with storage.

All the innovation currently going on in the enterprise storage arena–10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) and iSCSI come to mind — is going to be a catalyst that makes businesses retire storage technology faster than usual, filling the secondary market with great usable stuff.

So if you’re a budding storage geek, or an established one looking for the next challenge, eBay is going to become the place to shop. It is not for the faint of heart–that array you spent $200,000 on? Well, $1000, “Buy It Now” and nominal shipping may be able to snag it!! (A slight exaggeration, but I DID find a StorageTek Flex D280 for sale for $2000, with disks!!)

The butterfly here is progress. There will be a tropical storm from progress flapping its wings when these folks enter the workforce, or bring ideas they’ve tried out at home, without limits on uptime or intervention from management, to work. This will cause a fresh round of grassroots innovation that will come from people who can tinker untrammeled (The English language never ceases to amaze me. Thanks for this submission!).

The Linksys WRT-54Gl is a great example of how a group of tinkerers can influence a large company. Check out DD-WRT. Ever wonder why so many wireless routers are coming with USB or e-SATA ports on them nowadays? That started with some hackers wanting to add storage.

eBay has allowed me to build what I otherwise couldn’t find a solid business justification for, or create an ROI schedule around, at work. I have the ability to test various scenarios and provide services to my toughest IT customers: my wife and 9 year old son! Not to mention I have a really geeky conversation piece.

Using myself as an example, I’ve been able to build 3 different versions of a home SAN using technology I purchased from eBay. The first was 1 Gbps FC from Compaq. I picked up a disk shelf for $29 and $40 for shipping. The disks cost a whopping $100 for 14, shipping included. The Fibre cards were $3 a pop. From that, I learned that proprietary SAN technology stinks. Open is the only way to go, so … I started the second iteration which cost a bit more to build.

The second iteration of my SAN was a bit more of an investment both time and money but a tenth the cost of new. I bought a new Areca 8 port SATA array controller with onboard RAM (the only new part in my SAN). I plugged it into a dual Opteron based motherboard with guts from eBay as well, and bought a lot of 10 (2 for spares) 250gb SATA drives. The drives were a deal of a lifetime, for just about $300 I got 2 Terabytes of storage!! Apparently they came out of a Promise array and the person upgraded to 500GB drives.

At the time, I didn’t have any Gigabit Ethernet ports so I opted to buy used 2Gbps fiber channel cards and a used fiber switch. This was a bit more costly than the first SAN so I put some of my old goodies over on eBay (!)  to foot the bill.

The third iteration is the one I’m currently constructing. The second SAN or Second of Many as I like to call it (an ode to Star Trek: Voyager) is still “in production” and servicing my Vmware and file sharing needs, but I felt the need to make it more modular. So far, I’ve gotten an unmanaged Gig-E switch, first generation TOE (TCP Offload Engine) NICs, the controller “head” and a couple SAS disks. I’m making the switch from a SATA controller to a SAS controller to allow for mix and match of speed and capacity on the same bus. I’ve sold some of my fiber and am going to try ISCSI this time.

The hurricane blows when progress has put 8 Gig fiber and 10Gig Ethernet in the datacenter en masse. This will push managed Gig-E components and 4Gbps fiber components out into the secondary market, and make folks like me and value conscious SMB buyers VERY happy!

How long this is going to take to appear I’m not so sure, but if this year is truly the year if iSCSI, I would suggest you open the Web filters to allow a little eBaying at lunch time. Type SAN into eBay see what you come up with.

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