The advantages and risks of open storage, especially from the CIO's perspective, is the subject of Sun CIO Bob Worrall's discussion with Distinguished Engineer Art Licht of Sun Global Sales and Services. The talk begins with a definition of open storage, which is, "... a new way to build a storage product by using open, industry-standard components ... that offers a simpler, less-expensive way to manage data," in Licht's words.
The chief virtue of open storage, Licht asserts, is implementations using proprietary components will typically spend four times the outlay that a user of a general purpose server will incur. Furthermore, cost is not the only consideration, Licht continues, given that open storage simplifies the management of data by designing hybrid, three-tiered storage that shifts aging data onto less costly storage.
The browser-based enterprise-class management interface, which needs no installed software, can simply be pointed to it to enjoy an enterprise-class, simple way to manage your storage assets. "So yes, there's more to it than price, and going forward, it's going to get more interesting," Licht contends.
Contrasted with a commitment to proprietary solutions, opting for the open platform allows innovation to happen more quickly, according to Licht, largely because of the speed with which new processors come and can quickly be incorporated into open storage implementations.
The open storage business model, with its largely up-front costs, frees users to adjust to business requirements without having to negotiate new and additional licensing agreements with proprietary vendors.
As far as reliability goes -- the familiar red herring tossed about by proprietary vendors -- Sun's product architecture with dual-redundant controllers and its Flash SSDs used for cache ensure against both data loss and access to data.
"This is the most efficient, risk-free way to introduce these new technologies into the storage architecture. Since we are not using them as a disk, when they fail, the data is safe. It's nothing more than a cache miss. We are merely using the SSDs or the Flash to accelerate the access to data — yet another feature of HSPs," Licht said.
Sun's email alerts and performance threshold alerts give users a comfortable measure of monitoring capability, Licht continued. "The systems can be remotely monitored by Sun, so if there is a disk failure, we know about it, the customers know about it, and the process of repairing it starts before anyone picks up the phone. Also unique are the built-in performance threshold alerts. You'll know if you're running out of CPU, or if your disks are getting busy. Once alerted, you'll have complete visibility into what's going on inside the storage," according to Licht. Beyond these capabilities, Sun's analytics give users insight into workloads and the ability to trace problems back graphically to a client, enabling users to "...understand what the load is by application, by client, by server. This level of visibility can reduce the development time it takes to bring an application to market," Licht indicated.
With respect to the risks of open storage, Licht recommended users acquire their technology and become completely familiar with its operation, using it first with non-mission-critical applications. With time-tested Solaris code underlying open storage technology, Licht said, it's the packaging, not the technology that's new. "Once you're comfortable with the technology, you can put more and more applications on it," he said.
Licht also recommended that CIOs become familiar with their data, determining what needs to reside on which tier. It is expensive and pointless to treat non-mission-critical data as if it were mission critical.
Finally, Licht noted, "Because [Sun is] using a general-purpose operating system, we've made the code completely available. Anyone can go to sun.com to download the software and run it in VMware or Sun VirtualBox. What you'll have is the full-featured, fully functional emulation of what the product would look like. You can evaluate the snapshot, compression, thin provisioning replication, RAID, and mirroring in your own shop without the need for having any physical hardware on site. This is just one more unique thing you get with open components."
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