Making Web 2.0 File Storage Cheap and Easy

By By Derrick Harris, Editor

May 12, 2008

We have seen a proliferation of cloud computing services over the past year, but only very recently have we seen a major effort from blue-chip vendors to supply the hardware that serves as the foundations for these sites and services. The same holds true for storage in the cloud: Services have been popping up with increasing frequency, but who is looking out for the companies trying to provide these services? With its newly announced StorageWorks 9100 Extreme Data Storage System (ExDS9100), one answer to this question is HP.

According to Patrick Eitenbichler, director of marketing for HP StorageWorks, ExDS9100 targets anyone offering Web 2.0-style services and needing petabyte-scale file storage. Photo sharing, social networking, streaming video and IPTV are just a few ideal use cases. In addition, says Eitenbichler, ExDS9100 is well-suited for the security and surveillance, energy exploration, genome research, and medical imaging markets. Some police departments, he noted, are looking into installing cameras on various parts of officers’ uniforms to verify situational accounts and to improve efficiency by reducing the need for report writing, and this type of storage solution would allow for easy storage of all those files.

Regardless the use, Eitenbichler says the ExDS9100 system is a stepping stone into the future of file storage, especially for the Web, and differentiates itself on three fronts: scalability, manageability and affordability. Nobody, he claims, can touch HP when it comes to offering all of these characteristics in one integrated solution.

Scalability

Starting at 250TB and scaling to 820TB in a single chassis, the ExDS9100 is no slouch when it comes to sheer storage capacity. “It’s big,” summed up Mark Peters, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group.

This is a big deal to businesses that are seeing the amounts of file-based storage increasing by leaps and bounds, says Eitenbichler. He cites as an example the HP-owned photo site Snapfish, which currently is managing 6PB (petabytes) of storage and will be at 15PB by the end of next year.

HP has spoken with roughly 50 other customers expressing similar needs, said Eitenbichler, including a financial firm looking to increase its competitive advantage by offering Web users seven years worth of investment history versus its current one-year history. This process, he says, will require petabytes of additional storage.

Peters also has seen this type of demand across the board, and cites Google and Facebook as examples of Web companies that actually had to build their own infrastructures because they couldn’t buy the necessary components anywhere. Now, he said, it’s not just the Googles of the world trying to take advantage of Web 2.0 applications, but pretty much anyone trying to have a modern, fully functional site — Web companies and regular businesses alike.

“I’ve been in the storage business now for over 20 years, and no one’s ever come out with something that was too big for someone to use,” he said. “Assuming the price is right.”

This kind of exponential growth is mirrored in overall storages statistics, which Eitenbichler says show storage rates doubling every 18 months. File storage rates, he says, are doubling at least once a year, and file storage will account for three times as much total capacity as block storage by 2011. “There’s no end in sight, at least as far as we can see,” says Eitenbichler.

For some businesses, however, scalable performance is just as important, if not more important, than storage capacity, and the ExDS9100 handles both. Customers will be able to increase application performance simply by adding additional blades to the BladeSystem chassis. The base version starts with four blades (200MB per second apiece), and can scale to 16 blades (for a total of 3.2GB per second) within a single rack. A prime example of someone needing high performance more than massive storage, says Eitenbichler, would be a news Web site that has one particular video driving lots of traffic.

In the Web 2.0 market, Peters says, if sites catch a wave, “they grow so big so quickly that you’ve got to have this level of growth.”

Manageability

Coupling storage capacity and performance into an integrated system is all fine and dandy, but such a solution won’t be worth much if managing it is a Herculean chore. That is why, Eitenbichler says, the ExDS9100 leverages HP’s PolyServe clustered file system management software, which runs on the same blade as the business logic. PolyServe automatically recognizes and configures new blades and storage blocks, and provides failover and high availability should one node go down. Like a traditional storage system, Eitenbichler added, ExDS9100 will integrate with anything else in the infrastructure, like workstations, other applications (outside or inside the firewall), etc.

Adding capacity also becomes more difficult with the skyrocketing growth rates, which makes easy management even more important. “It used to be that you stick a few more disks in and life if good,” says Eitenbichler. “Once you talk about petabytes — a thousand terabytes, a million gigabytes — you actually have to put another rack next to it, or two racks, completely filled with disks.”

The bottom line, he explains, is that — especially today — all the capacity in the world doesn’t amount to much if users can’t manage it, or can’t find and deliver files in a snap. “Competition in the Web 2.0 space is very, very strong, obviously,” he said. “One click and you’re at the next service provider, so if you mess up, your business sees a tremendous impact.”

Peters actually sees the manageability of the ExDS9100 as a bigger differentiator than its scalability. “Today’s big will be tomorrow’s medium,” he said, but HP has made the system usable, as well as big and inexpensive. All products can scale, added, but HP claims to have exerted much effort to make the ExDS9100 simples, which should result in a solution you don’t have to be a “storage academic” to use.

Affordability

What really ties the whole solution together are the relatively low entry and management costs. Current petabyte-scale storage deployments range from $10-$15 per gigabyte, says Eitenbichler, whereas the ExDS9100 will cost users approximately $2 per gigabyte. And while anyone can cobble together white boxes to achieve scale for about the same cost, the number of people necessary to make it run and the challenges of achieving high availability would make such a system almost unmanageable, he added.

What this low per-gigabyte price and easy management do, he explains, is allow for new business opportunities that “just aren’t possible when you have to pay 10 bucks per gigabyte” or have to employ an army of experts to manage the system. For example, Eitenbichler says, if Snapfish had to offset CAPEX and OPEX costs by charging an exorbitant fee to print photos, users simply would not do it. Cloud storage providers also can offer cheap storage to end-users in a far more viable business model than previous Web-based file storage attempts. Peters added that technologies like storage virtualization and de-deduplication also have made viable cost-precluded applications by improving usage of storage and thus reducing the effective price of storage.

Peters notes that while storage has become a commodity on the disk drive level, it still takes many resources and a lot of skill to implement it into the datacenter — but ExDS9100 could help catalyze an evolution. “Storage has to get easier and easier, and bigger and bigger, and cheaper and cheaper, and that’s what it’s done all along,” he said. “But what this does portend is the fact that we’ll gradually get to a world where storage is more and more of a commodity.”

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