The price of quality

At HPTechDay this week we had a tour of the EVA test lab, in the south building of HP’s Colorado Springs Facility. I was pretty impressed and I have seen more than my fair share of labs in my day.

Tony Green HP's EVA Lab Manager
Tony Green HP's EVA Lab Manager
The fact that they have 1200 servers and 500 EVA arrays was pretty impressive but they also happen to have about 20PB of storage over that 500 arrays. In my day a couple of dozen arrays and a 100 or so servers seemed to be enough to test a storage subsystem.

Nowadays it seems to have increased by an order of magnitude. Of course they have sold something like 70,000 EVAs over the years and some of these 500 arrays happen to be older subsystems used to validate problems and debug issues for current field population.

Another picture of the EVA lab with older EVAs
Another picture of the EVA lab with older EVAs

They had some old Compaq equipment there but I seem to have flubbed the picture of that equipment. This one will have to suffice. It seems to have both vertically and horizontally oriented drive shelves. I couldn’t tell you which EVAs these were but as they were earlier in the tour, I figured they were older equipment. It seemed as you got farther into the tour you moved closer to the current iterations of EVA. It seemed like an archive dig in reverse instead of having the most current layers/levels first they were last.

I asked Tony how many FC ports he had and he said it was probably easiest to count the switch ports and double them but something in the thousands seemed reasonable.

FC switch rack with just a small selection of switch equipment
FC switch rack with just a small selection of switch equipment

There were parts of the lab which were both off limits to cameras and to bloggers which was deep into the bowels of the lab. But we were talking about some of the remote replication support that EVA had and how they tested this over distance. Tony said they had to ship their reel of 100 miles of FC up north (probably for some other testing) but he said they have a surragate machine which can be programmed to create the proper FC delay to meet any required distances.

FC delay generator box
FC delay generator box

The blue box in the adjacent picture seemed to be this magic FC delay inducer box. Had interesting lights on it.

Nigel Poulton of Ruptured Monkeys and Devang Panchigar of StorageNerve Blog were also on the tour taking pictures&video. You can barely make out Devang in the picture next to Nigel. Calvin Zito from HP StorageWorks Blog was also on tour but not in any of my pictures.

Nigel and Devang (not pictured) taking videos on EVA lab tour
Nigel and Devang (not pictured) taking videos on EVA lab tour

Throughout our tour of the lab I can say I only saw one logic analyzer although I am sure there were plenty more in the off limits area.

Lonely logic analyzer in EVA lab
Lonely logic analyzer in EVA lab
During HPTechDay they hit on the topic of storage-server convergence and the use of commodity, X86 hardware for future storage systems. From the lack of logic analyzers I would have to concur with this analysis.

Nonetheless, I saw some hardware workstations although this was another lonely workstation sorrounded in a sea of EVAs.

Hardware workstation in the EVA lab, covered in parts and HW stuff
Hardware workstation in the EVA lab, covered in parts and HW stuff
Believe it or not I actually saw one stereo microscope but failed to take a picture of it. Yet another indicator of hardware descent and my inadequacies as a photographer.

One picture of an EVA obviously undergoing some error injection test with drives tagged as removed and being rebuilt or reborn as part of RAID testing.

Drives tagged for removal during EVA test
Drives tagged for removal during EVA test
In my day we would save particularly “squirrelly drives” from the field and use them to verify storage subsystem error handling. I would bet anything these tagged drives had specific error injection points used to validate EVA drive error handling.

I could go on and I have a couple of more decent lab pictures but you get the jist of the tour.

For some reason I enjoy lab tours. You can tell a lot about an organization by how their labs look, how they are manned, organized and set up. What HP’s EVA lab tells me is that they spare no expense to insure their product is literally bulletproof, bug proof, and works every time for their customer base. I must say I was pretty impressed.

At the end of HPTechDay event Greg Knieriemen of Storage Monkeys and Stephen Foskett of GestaltIT hosted an InfoSmack podcast to be broadcast next Sunday 10/4/2009. There we talked a little more on commodity hardware versus purpose built storage subsystem hardware, it was a brief, but interesting counterpoint to the discussions earlier in the week and the evidence from our portion of the lab tour.

3 Replies to “The price of quality”

  1. This is a great post, Ray–it almost feels like I got the tour in person. One question, why were the newer EVAs further down the line?

    Sunshine, HPTechDay was not under NDA. HP was unwilling to show the latest EVA products unless we were under NDA. As for why the products seemed to be layered in time, it just seems that that’s how labs are organized in my view. New products come in at the top (wherever that is) and old products are removed from the bottom of the heap… Ray

  2. Ray,

    Great write up of the lab tour. Funny, I’ve been calling it a datacenter tour, but you emphasize the purpose of that facility and correct me once again – it is dedicated to the EVA testing and development. Very impressive either way.

    Great to meet you in COS!

    Rich, Good to meet you too.
    Ray

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