Optical discs for Facebook cold storage

I heard last week that Facebook is implementing Blu Ray libraries for cold storage. Each BluRay disk holds ~100GB and they figure they can store 10,000 discs or ~1PB in a rack.

They bundle 12 discs in a cartridge and 36 cartridges in a magazine, placing 24 magazines in a cabinet, with BluRay drives and a robotic arm. The robot arm sits in the middle of the cabinet with the magazines/cartridges located on each side.

It’s unclear what Amazon Glacier uses for its storage but a retrieval time of 3-5 hours indicates removable media of some type.  I haven’t seen anything on Windows Azure offering a similar service but Google has released Durable Reduced Availability (DRA) storage which could potentially be hosted on removable media as well.  I was unable to find any access times specifications for Google DRA.

Why the interest in cold storage?

The article mentioned that Facebook is testing the new technology first on its compliance data. After that Facebook will start using it for cold photo storage. Facebook also said that it will be using different storage technologies for it’s cold storage repository mentioning “bad flash” as another alternative.

BluRay supports both a re-writeable as well as WORM (write once, read many times) technology. As such, WORM discs cannot be modified, only destroyed.  WORM technology would be very useful for anyone’s compliance data. The rewritable Blu Ray discs might be more effective for cold photo storage, however the fact that people on Facebook rarely delete photos, says WORM would work well here too.

100GB is a pretty small storage bucket these days but for compliance documents, such as email, invoices, contracts, etc. it’s plenty large.

Can Blu Ray optical provide data center cold storage?

Facebook didn’t discuss the specs on the robot arm that they were planning to use but with 10K cartridges it has a lot of work to do. Tape library robots move a single cartridge in about 11 seconds or so. If the optical robot could do as well (no information to the contrary) one robot arm could support ~4K disc moves per day. But that would be enterprise class robotics and 100% duty cycle, more likely 1/2 to 1/4 of this would be considered good for an off the shelf system like this. So maybe a 1000 to 2000 disc picks per day.

If we use 22 seconds per disc swap (two disc moves), a single robot/rack could support a maximum of 100 to 200TB of data writes per day (assuming robot speed was the only bottleneck).  In the video (see about 30 minutes in) the robot didn’t look all that fast as compared to a tape library robot, but maybe I am biased.

Near as I can tell a 12x BluRay drive can write at ~35MB/sec (SATA drive, writing single layer, 25GB disc, we assume this can be sustained for a 4-layer or dual-sided 2-layer 100GB disc). So to be able to write a full 100GB disk would take ~48 minutes and if you add to that the 22 seconds of disc swap time, one SATA drive running 100% flat out could maybe write 30 discs per day or ~3TB/day.

In the video, the BluRay drives appear to be located in an area above the disc magazines along each side. There appears to be two drives per column with 6 columns per side, so a maximum of 24 drives. With 24 drives, one rack could write about 72TB/day or 720 discs per day which would fit into our 22 seconds per swap.  At 72TB/day it’s going to take ~14 days to fill up a cabinet. I could be off on the drive count, they didn’t show the whole cabinet in the video, so it’s possible they have 12 columns per side, 48 drives per cabinet and 144TB/day.

All this assumes 100% duty cycle on the drives which is unreasonable for an enterprise class tape drive let alone a consumer class BluRay drive. This is also write speed, I assume that read speed is the same or better. Also, I didn’t see any servers in the cabinet and I assume that something has to be reading, writing and controlling the optical library. So these other servers need to be somewhere close by, but they could easily be located in a separate rack somewhere near to the library.

So it all makes some amount of sense from a system throughput perspective. Given what we know about the drive speed, cartridge capacity and robot capabilities, it’s certainly possible that the system could sustain the disc swaps and data transfer necessary to provide data center cold storage archive.

And the software

But there’s plenty of software that has to surround an optical library to make it useful. Somehow we would want to be able to identify a file as a candidate for cold storage then have it moved to some cold storage disc(s), cataloged, and then deleted from the non-cold storage repository.  Of course, we probably want 2 or more copies to be written, maybe these redundant copies should be written to different facilities or at least different cabinets.  The catalog to the cold storage repository is all important and needs to be available 24X7 so this needs to be redundant/protected, updated with extreme care, and from my perspective on some sort of high-speed storage to handle archives of 3EB.

What about OpenStack? Although there have been some rumblings by Oracle and others to provide tape support in OpenStack, nothing seems to be out yet. However, it’s not much of a stretch to see removable media support in OpenStack, if some large company were to put some effort into it.

Other cold storage alternatives

In the video, Facebook says they currently have 30PB of cold storage at one facility and are already in the process of building another. They said that they should have 150PB of cold storage online shortly and that each cold storage facility is capable of holding 3EB or 3,000PB of cold storage.

A couple of years back at Hitachi in Japan, we were shown a Blu Ray optical disc library using 50GB discs. This was just a prototype but they were getting pretty serious about it then. We also saw an update of this at an analyst meeting at HDS, a year or so later. So there’s at least one storage company working on this technology.

Facebook, seems to have decided they were better off developing their own approach. It’s probably more dense/space efficient and maybe even more power efficient but to tell that would take some spec comparisons which aren’t available from Facebook or HDS just yet.

Why not magnetic tape?

I see these large storage repository sizes and wonder if Facebook might not be better off using magnetic tape. It has a much larger capacity and I believe magnetic tape (LTO or enterprise) would supply better volumetric (bytes/in**3) density than the Blu Ray cabinet they showed in the video.

Facebook said that BluRay discs had a 50 year lifetime.  I believe enterprise and LTO tape vendors say their cartridges have a 30 year lifetime. And that might be one consideration driving them to optical.

The reality is that new LTO technology is coming out every 2-3 years or so, and new drives read only 2 generations back and write only the current technology. With that quick a turnover, a data center would probably have to migrate data from old to new tape technology every decade or so before old tape drives go out of warranty.

I have not seen any Blu Ray technology roadmaps so it’s hard to make a comparison, but to date, PC based Blu Ray drives typically can read and write CDs, DVDs, and current Blu Ray disks (which is probably 4 to 5 generations back). So they have a better reputation for backward compatibility over time.

Tape technology roadmaps are so quick because tape competes with disk, which doubles capacity every 18 months or so. I am sure tape drive and media vendors would be happy not to upgrade their technology so fast but then disk storage would take over more and more tape storage applications.

If Blu Ray were to become a data center storage standard, as Facebook seems to want, I believe that Blu Ray technology would fall under similar competitive pressures from both disk and tape to upgrade optical technology at a faster rate. When that happens, it would be interesting to see how quickly optical drives stop supporting the backward compatibility that they currently support.

Comments?

Photo Credit: [73/366] Grooves by Dwayne Bent [Ed. note, picture of DVD, not Blu Ray disc]

 

 

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