How cool is storage?

By | November 16, 2006

I was asked recently if Ive always been a Mac person (my laptop is an Apple Macbook Pro – and yes it probably generates more BTU’s of heat than a fully loaded DMX-3 with broken fans).  To be honest Im not a Mac person and if I had to say I was an “anything person” it would have to be storage and Linux.  So after saying that I wasn’t really a Mac person, the next obvious question was why do I have one.  And the only real answer is that I think they are cool  (I hope my wife isn’t reading this as I had to give her a long list of advantages before she allowed me to buy it). 

So my Mac is cool because it looks cool, has a lot of eye candy and is comparatively good when it comes to viruses etc.  Linux is cool because you can do lots with it, I like how it came about and am interested to see it mature into an Enterprise OS.  But the question remains what is cool about storage and who has the coolest storage? 

Ive only really worked in any detail with the major vendors and they tend not to be the people doing the cool stuff, so my view may be limited.  Ive not got much time to write at the moment but here is my take on some of the things that make storage cool and some of the cool things done in storage (Im very interested to hear what other people find cool about storage) –  

I remember working with Compaq/HP EVA storage and thinking that it was the absolute business.  Really easy to use and you could stripe a 100GB LUN over 100 disks (1GB stripe) and get great performance on the backend as a result.  I also liked their approach to RAID, or VRAID as they call it, where you don’t have dedicated spares but instead have spare space on each disk in  disk group that allows potentially faster rebuilds – all disks in a disk group are active in a rebuild (not always true).  We always liked telling the array to identify all disks in all disk groups and then take the new ops guys into the computer room and show them the EVA lit up like a Christmas tree – sad I know but to the yong and eager ops guys it was impressive. 

Then of course there is always going to be an element of coolness to the top end Hitachi and EMC arrays – after all, big is always cool in storage.  “My array is bigger than yours.”  “What, you want us to order space in gigabytes, well there’s a term I haven’t heard for a while, we normally only count in terabytes in our boxes.” 

I also thought that the old NetApp filers looked cool with their shiney silver grill fronts.  After seeing them I remember always wanting one in my data centre.  Im pretty sure they ran on top of Windows NT 4 and probably weren’t that good but I wanted one. 

Then there is virtualisation.  Im speaking in particular about the Hitachi variety – suddenly you could hang other vendors storage off the back of a Tagmastore.  HDS liked to slip in to conversations and materials that you could hang an EMC DMX off the back of a Tagmastor and treat the DMX storage as second tier storage (I think the EMC guys refer to this as lobotomization).  Good for making jibes at EMC but I cant really see too many reasons for doing this – in fact has anyone ever hung a DMX3 off the back of a Tagmastore other than in a HDS lab?  I have see a Tagmastore USP 600 with SATA disks hung off the back of an XP12000 (that was a weird mix).  I personally think that virtualisation is a cool thing – and not just the Hitachi way. 

Then there is Pillar with its bricks and slammers – cool names and an interesting rehash of some old performance tuning techniques like short stroking of disks. 

I can also remember the time when I thought that all things Brocade were cool.  I can remember talking with a network guy about SAN switches compared to LAN switches and how the cut-through speed of the my Brocades wiped the floor with his Cisco LAN switches. 

I can see this post quickly drifting to a trip down memory lane for me rather than the cool things of storage….but one last one…. I remember the picker, lets call it the robot in the interest of coolness, on an IBM 3584 tape library and how quick it was up and down the connected frames and how lightning fast it was when grabbing tapes from the I/O slots.  That’s another thing we showed off to the IT guys after it had been installed – "lads come and watch the robot grabbing tapes that we insert" – let me tell you, you wouldn’t want your hand in there when it grabbed the tapes, that would have been carnage! 

Finally, I keep hearing about lots of cool things happening with iSCSI but haven’t had enough time to look into many of them.  Zetera are a company in particular that I hear a lot about – but they didn’t have a stand at the last storage event I was at and that’s really my best chance to spend time talking to these smaller companies. 

Well I must go, but like I say – Im interested in other peoples views. 

Nigel (mackem)

6 thoughts on “How cool is storage?

  1. SanGod

    I’ve been an EMC guy since the mid 90’s. What got me was there I was, working the graveyard shift on a weekend night and our EMC Customer Engineer showed up with a box under his arm. He told me we had a bad drive and proceeded to replace it. When I asked if I had to do anything to the hosts, he told me that they wouldn’t even notice.

    He was right. Since then, and learning about TimeFinder and SRDF, and more importantly some of the cool ways you can manipulate data with them, it’s all been one big voyage of discovery.

    To put it mildly, I’m hooked.

  2. Nigel (mackem)

    Hi Jesse, I know exactly where you’re coming form. I cant put my finger on exactly what got me hooked but Im sure that every time my wife opens the garage door she half expects to see a mini “SAN” in there with me sat in a trance in front of it.

  3. snig

    When I got started down the storage path I had just started at my current company and the SAN was being managed by the Unix and Windows teams. The Unix team had two Brocade 2800s attached to a 7700E and the Windows guys had the same. We were implementing the new Brocade 12000 and an ADIC Scalar 10K library for all our open systems stuff. They asked if anyone wanted to take over the management of all that stuff and I volunteered. The rest has stemmed from that.

    What do I think is cool about storage? I think it’s all still one big puzzle that everyone is still trying to figure out. No one has all the answers and it’s super fun figuring out how to push an array to it’s boundaries and showing the vendors how you’ve done it. The look on their faces makes me smile every time I do it. “You can do that with this?” “Wow! We’ve never thought of that before.”

    Another cool thing is talking to the smaller vendors about their wares and giving my opinion on where I think they should take their product. The storage industry, although old, is still very young in the sense that people are still trying to figure out the best way to do things. The bigger players would be better off if they listened to their users more often, but they don’t. I’ll save that rant for another post though. 😉

    The coolest thing that I have seen recently though is the way that the storage users are beginning to come out of their shells and sharing information with each other. Once that takes hold, then I think the users as a group can then dictate to the vendors what we want and how much we’re going to pay for it.

  4. Nigel (mackem)


    I hear what your saying about storage still being a bit of a puzzle etc. I can remember a while ago, before I decided to specialise in storage, I was talking to an engineer who told me that storage was a real dark art and his company couldnt find people who could do it. At the time I remember thinking “hello that sounds like an opportunity”. From then on I decided to read everything I could find on storage (not much) and looked for opportunitites to get into it. Ever since then Ive loved it and am still working on the puzzle along with the rest of us.

  5. c2olen

    Ok, since you all are spilling your storage years, i guess i want to be a part of this too. Although i get the impression that most of you got a couple of years headstart on me 😉

    My first encouter with storage started in 1998, when i was hired for doing some periferal stuff, like refilling bulk-printers and doing the daily tape handling to our off-site recovery provider. Man i was impressed. We even had a floppy-disk copier, to make backups of the floppy’s that were provided for updates on the varies public client information systems. We managed to copy a stagering 30 floppies an hour.

    On april 1st 2000, i was promoted to the storage team. I was immediately held responsible for the Windows NT server and Banyan Vines server backups using ABARS (Commvault) and ADSM 3.1. I guess this is were my Windows nightmare began.

    After a year or so, we needed to move our ADSM diskpools from SSA to a more sophisticated storage device. Wow, an IBM Shark (F20). And it was supposed to be attached using fibre. Now it became really interesting and i managed to design, implement, and manage our Brocade Silkworm 2800 dual redundant switched fabric.
    As with all other IT stuff, this SAN quickly grow, untill we decided to exchange the switches with directors.

    Currently, we are in the process of selecting new disk subsytems to replace our Sharks (model 800) and DS4300 devices. As you will probably understand i can’t elaborate on this right now.

    I think, the storage landscape is indeed the coolest environment to be working in. And i do have to say it is also one of the hardest places to be. The entire company’s information is dependent on your skills. Most of the non-storage IT colleagues over here are just figuring this out, and are now more willing to work with the storage people, instead of desperately trying to manage their “own” local storage cabinets.

    I also consider myself lucky in the fact that my current employer (for over 8 years now) has enough IT for me to “play” around with. New stuff keeps coming on my plate on a monthly basis. I have the necessary hands-on equipement to keep myself busy.

    Only a very tempting offer would make me consider a change of employment in the storage arena. No 10 horses would get me off my storage-chair for a couple of years.

  6. Chris M Evans

    For HDS virtualisation – I’ve installed one USP with one internal RAID group and 200TB of external AMS storage. Works fine, but took me an age to lay out to get best performance.

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