Report: Sun Open Storage

Onno Benschop onno at
Tue Nov 18 08:18:48 UTC 2008

Today I attended a Sun presentation called "Open Storage Systems". I
attended both for my "day-job", that is, an IT consultant, as well as
wearing my "Ubuntu Server hat". I'm not able to provide you with a
word-for-word, blow-by-blow account of my morning, nor am I wanting to
either promote or bag the presentation. The intent of my email to the
group is to report on a development that I thought might
interact/intersect or be of interest to the team.

Some disclaimers up front. I am an IT consultant, that is, I solve weird
and wonderful problems for weird and wonderful clients all around the
world, but mostly rural and remote Australia. I've been in this industry
for over 26 years, so I'm probably a lot cynical about "revolutionary"
things. I've never bought any Sun hardware, though a Sparc station did
land on my desk some years ago where I coerced it into running Debian at
the time. I've never deployed a storage system, never bought one and
until recently never needed one. If anything in what I write here is
contradicted by what Sun says, perhaps you should ask Sun before relying
on what I said.

The presentation attracted me because it was touted as an Open Source
solution and I was interested to know how Sun was dealing with this and
how this might relate to anything I was doing either as a consultant or
as a member of the server team.

The opening remarks were along the lines of "each CPU in a data centre
achieves about 15% utilisation, and each storage solution is closed,
proprietary, firmware driven hardware that requires additional licenses
and subscriptions to activate new features. Sun has a solution that is
open and will save you up to 90% in your storage deployments".

At this point I thought, cool, let's see what you got.

The release discussed the Sun Storage 7000 series which is basically a
Sun box that runs Open Solaris that offers a web-based GUI that allows
you to manage this. The drives are spread among SATA/SAS/SSD (and if I
recall correctly, SCSI as well). A big deal was made of the time that it
takes to get data off a drive and how SSD storage in between the CPU and
the drive would handle this by caching the data in smart ways. (This is
being handled by ZFS.)

The box is built using Intel and/or AMD processors - the talk was
sponsored by AMD, but I was unclear if the Intel reference was
compatibility, as in an AMD processor that is compatible, or if it was
because Intel also contributes hardware - in any case, I don't think it
matters that much - but I'm sure that there are some reading this who
are cringing at that thoughtless remark - I'm sorry, educate me please :)

Much was made of services that can be activated, NFS, CIFS, HTTP, FTP,
WebDAV, DNS, NTP, AntiVirus and many others.

The box is "certified" for MySQL, Oracle, Microsoft, VMware, blah, blah.
(More on that later.) It does iSCSI, block-level stuff, fibre-channel,
and other (mumble) protocols. So it's able to do the same as all the
other storage systems in the world. There are web pages that describe
this and a quick google found this one:

The web GUI is cute. It shows hardware level information, showing which
DIMM is faulty, allowing you to put a blinking light on a drive to get
the engineer on-site to swap out a drive, serial numbers, etc. Logging
is continuous and data is stored on a system partition. Analysis can be
done over this data and information can be exported via CSV. There is
cool stuff, you can repartition a system from mirrored to raid 6 in
seconds, build a new system in less than 5 minutes from new, comes with
lots of expansion options and appears to be well placed when compared to
other "Enterprise" stuff. Much of this functionality appears to me be
related to ZFS and not the web GUI as such - but I might be wrong.

The pitch for this seemed to be that this device can replace a whole lot
of infrastructure and because it's open it grows with the developer
community - (that's "us Open Source folks").

At this point we got a demo and some point-and-click action.

Then the presentation was over and we got to ask questions.

My questions related to some of what was said and I opened up with "How
do I interface this with other stuff? As in, how do I use my software to
talk to your hardware?" The response was not good. Basically, you need
to use their web-interface.

I asked about web services. Most web-sites these days are not static
files, with a web-server on board, how would I deploy a PHP or a PYTHON
based web application and how does this relate to the HTTP server on
board? The response was that I should run my own web-server hardware and
mount the "appliance" across the network using NFS or CIFS. I began to
wonder what the purpose of the web-server compatibility and service was.

If I used Active Directory or LDAP to authenticate user share access,
could I use the same infrastructure to manage the actual shares, that
is, could I define and manage my shares in LDAP and have the appliance
use that information. "Sure, you'll need to write the software to do
that, but sure - actually, the answer wasn't that at all, it was 'uhm,
dunno, uhm not in this release.'"

If I want to manage the thing using HP OpenView, or anything not Sun,
could I do that? "Sure, but you'd need to write your own software to
manage that - actually the answer was, no, but I suppose you could write
software to do that, it's using Open Solaris and the APIs are published."

If I wanted to have a fail over system, could I do that at a block
level? "No, not in this release."

How is the Oracle and MySQL certification? "Well, you mount the drive
and it's certified."

So, if I log-in and add a service, what does that do to my service
agreement? "It voids your agreement."

So, if I cannot talk to anything not Sun and I cannot install anything
on the device, how is this Open Source? "Well, you need to know that
it's running Open Solaris, so you can build your own system like this
and run with that, but you won't get the web GUI and none of the

So, coming in the door thinking, wow, Sun has an Open Storage system
that might be able to be managed and deployed in a Ubuntu Server
environment, I went out the door thinking, Sun has built a system that
could be really nice, but instead they've built another proprietary
solution that doesn't really talk to anything else and cannot really be
managed in anything but a single deployment.

So, the 15% CPU utilisation is still the same, you cannot use the Sun
based server to run anything because it voids your support contract and
it doesn't talk to anything without voiding your contract.

Afterwards I had lunch with a guy from LSI where we discussed iSCSI
block level devices also made by Sun. I need to deploy a Windows machine
to manage it and I need to deploy a front end to talk to users.

So, I suppose you could format the hard-drive(s) on this 7000 series
hardware and install Ubuntu Server, but that seems to miss the point.
(One answer involved installing Windows on the machine :)

I'm left with a feeling that I'm unsure how and if we could (or should)
evolve Ubuntu Server to integrate with systems like this to make Ubuntu
more enterprise ready.

It's entirely possible that I've got a distorted picture of I.T. in my
head, one where you can manage your storage in a central location,
regardless of where the actual drive is, that you can refer to it almost
as a cloud and manage the various aspects in an almost transparent
fashion, but thus far this does not appear to be the case.

I don't know if I did the Sun presentation justice, I'm not a journalist
and I have a bias, but I hope that this gives more people information
about something I attended. If others have seen presentations that they
feel relate to the Ubuntu-Server community, I'd personally love to read
other reports which would allow me to "virtually" attend more
presentations across more areas.

Onno Benschop

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