A day and a half with HP Storage

A photo of bloggers and HP personnel waiting to go on the lab tour
Bloggers and HP people waiting to tour lab

[long post 945 wds] HP held their (annual?) HP Tech Days in Fort Collins, Colorado this last week. We had presentations from a number of HP product managers and got to meet a number of new and old bloggers there.

In attendance from the blogosphere were: Alastair Cooke (@DemitasseNZ), Brian Knudtson (@bknudtson), Howard Marks (@DeepStorageNet), John Obeto (@JohnObeto), Jeff Powers (@Geekazine), Rich Schandler (@recklessop), Derek Schauland (@webjunkie), Justin Vashisht (@3cVGuy), and Matt Vogt (@MattVogt).

Craig Nunes VP of Marketing, HP Storage got up and led off the day’s discussion talking about recent results. HP disk storage is up 11% for the quarter, 3par is growing by triple digit growth (QoQ maybe YoY?) and channel sales are growing by 10%.  HP storage is gaining market share, grew 3% for the quarter.  Also, HP is #2 is shipped backup appliances (1H11).  The current focus for HP storage is in three areas:

  • Invest in established platforms, MSA and EVA (with a 100K customers)
  • Invest in converged storage aimed at new data centers, 3PAR, Lefthand, IBRIX and StoreOnce.
  • Invest in converged systems knocking down barriers between servers, storage and networking with Virtual Systems.

Craig spent most of his time talking about converged storage. HP’s converged storage includes:

  • built in autonomic storage automating operations with one pain of glass and an orchestration layer on top to oversee everything.
  • scale out storage providing simpler ways to grow storage.
  • built on standardized platforms using off the shelf server platform technology

Craig ended up discussing HP’s Virtual System, their response to VCE’s Vblock, NetApp’s FlexPod and Dell’s vStart Bundle.   HP’s Virtual System was announced earlier last year and has been doing well in the market.

Brad Katz, Product Manager got up next and talked about Lefthand storage solutions.  Lefthand’s portfolio now ranges from the Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) all the way up to a P4800 SAN storage blade with P4300 and P4500 rackmountable storage systems between those two.   Lefthand systems provide a clustered, scale-out IP/SAN and NAS storage.   Cluster data is striped across all disks in all storage nodes.

The VSA runs as a virtual machine and utilizes any ESX  (direct or SAN attached) storage.  The P4800 operates as a storage blade in an HP blade server and uses storage in the blade system.  The two rackmount systems P4300 and P4500 connect to SAS attached, external disk shelves.

HP's Steve Johnson, at the front of the room discussing slide on StoreOnce
Steve Johnson on StoreOnce

Steve Johnson and Mat Jacoby talked next about the StoreOnce deduplicating backup appliance product line.  StoreOnce is an HP R&D Labs home grown, deduplication technology which provides balanced ingest-restore rates and memory efficient deduplication.  The current product line spans D2D25xx, D2D41xx, D2D43xx and the recently announced, B6200 backup storage blade.

StoreOnce use a variable block, 4K chunksize and a sparse index which saves on server memory size which both lead to great deduplication rates.   Most deduplication functionality is memory intensive making it hard to scale without increasing memory or using different dedupe engines across a product line.  StoreOnce’s sparse indexing fixed that issue and as such, can use the same deduplication engine across their entire product line.

HP's JR (Jim Richardson) at the front of the room discussing 3PAR's advantages
JR talking about 3PAR advantages

Jim Richardson or JR, a 3PAR SE from the start, got up and discussed 3PAR.  Early on, 3PAR brought to the market three characteristics that differentiated it from other enterprise storage products:

  • Multi-tennancy – today’s cloud service providers and just about anyone running enterprise storage needs to support mixed workloads on shared storage. 3PAR’s ASIC allows data to be placed on any storage node and be serviced at direct access speeds to better support these multi-application environments. 
  • Thin provisioning – although certainly not the first to support thin provisioning (Iceberg was the first), 3PAR did much to popularize it.  Once again the ASIC provides automated support for thin provisioning.  
  • Autonomic functionality – optimization of storage performance across nodes and tiers of storage was also helped by their ASIC’s ability to transfer data without involving processor interaction.  Also 3PAR, tried to take the drudgery out of administration by automatically wide striping and making provisioning easier.

Jim Hankins and Chris Duffy came up next and talked about the X9000 IBRIX storage system.  Ibrix has intrinsic scale out NAS support and provides automatic failover across dual processing nodes called couplets. The B6200 backup system (see above) is based on Ibrix technology.  Ibrix supports a 15PB single name space that is segmented across cluster couplets.  Ibrix also comes in a gateway configuration using shared SAN storage behind it.

A picture of a X5000 without skins, and a couple of CRUs taken out
HP X5000 NAS system

Robert Thompson got up and talked about the X5000 Windows Server WSS based NAS product.  It is the industry’s first two node file system with active/active clustering in a box.  As the product runs Windows Server, one can run Anti-Virus or other server applications directly on the storage and is customer maintainable. Robert pulled out every replaceable unit in the system.  Apparently the E5000, HP Storage’s Exchange Appliance is also based on the same hardware.   The two servers in the storage system are clustered together using MSCS.

A photo of an intelligent data center floor tile with remotely controlled mechanical louvres to control air flow.
HPer showing off intelligent floor tiles

In the afternoon we went on a lab tour and got to see some of HP’s storage and data center cooling technology on display.

On the second day, Mike Koponen got up and discussed HP’s Virtual System (or Vblock competitor) and Aboubacar Diare gave some of his opinions on VMware VAAI & VASA integration from his testing perspective.  Finally, Calvin Zito wrapped up the two day event and everyone (except me and a few others) went on a brewery tour.


All in all, we had a good time with HP.  Too bad, I didn’t get to go on the New Belgium Brewery tour, perhaps next time.




SolidFire supplies scale-out SSD storage for cloud service providers

SolidFire SF3010 node (c) 2011 SolidFire (from their website)
SolidFire SF3010 node (c) 2011 SolidFire (from their website)

I was talking with a local start up called SolidFire the other day with an interesting twist on SSD storage.  They were targeting cloud service providers with a scale-out, cluster based SSD iSCSI storage system.  Apparently a portion of their team had come from Lefthand (now owned by HP) another local storage company and the rest came from Rackspace, a national cloud service provider.

The hardware

Their storage system is a scale-out cluster of storage nodes that can range from 3 to a theoretical maximum of 100 nodes (validated node count ?). Each node comes equipped with 2-2.4GHz, 6-core Intel processors and 10-300GB SSDs for a total of 3TB raw storage per node.  Also they have 8GB of non-volatile DRAM for write buffering and 72GB read cache resident on each node.

The system also uses 2-10GbE links for host to storage IO and inter-cluster communications and support iSCSI LUNs.  There are another 2-1GigE links used for management communications.

SolidFire states that they can sustain 50K IO/sec per node. (This looks conservative from my viewpoint but didn’t state any specific R:W ratio or block size for this performance number.)

The software

They are targeting cloud service providers and as such the management interface was designed from the start as a RESTful API but they also have a web GUI built out of their API.  Cloud service providers will automate whatever they can and having a RESTful API seems like the right choice.

QoS and data reliability

The cluster supports 100K iSCSI LUNs and each LUN can have a QoS SLA associated with it.  According to SolidFire one can specify a minimum/maximum/burst level for IOPS and a maximum or burst level for throughput at a LUN granularity.

With LUN based QoS, one can divide cluster performance into many levels of support for multiple customers of a cloud provider.  Given these unique QoS capabilities it should be relatively easy for cloud providers to support multiple customers on the same storage providing very fine grained multi-tennancy capabilities.

This could potentially lead to system over commitment, but presumably they have some way to ascertain over commitment is near and not allowing this to occur.

Data reliability is supplied through replication across nodes which they call Helix(tm) data protection.  In this way if an SSD or node fails, it’s relatively easy to reconstruct the lost data onto another node’s SSD storage.  Which is probably why the minimum number of nodes per cluster is set at 3.

Storage efficiency

Aside from the QoS capabilities, the other interesting twist from a customer perspective is that they are trying to price an all-SSD storage solution at the $/GB of normal enterprise disk storage. They believe their node with 3TB raw SSD storage supports 12TB of “effective” data storage.

They are able to do this by offering storage efficiency features of enterprise storage using an all SSD configuration. Specifically they provide,

  • Thin provisioned storage – which allows physical storage to be over subscribed and used to support multiple LUNs when space hasn’t completely been written over.
  • Data compression – which searches for underlying redundancy in a chunk of data and compresses it out of the storage.
  • Data deduplication – which searches multiple blocks and multiple LUNs to see what data is duplicated and eliminates duplicative data across blocks and LUNs.
  • Space efficient snapshot and cloning – which allows users to take point-in-time copies which consume little space useful for backups and test-dev requirements.

Tape data compression gets anywhere from 2:1 to 3:1 reduction in storage space for typical data loads. Whether SolidFire’s system can reach these numbers is another question.  However, tape uses hardware compression and the traditional problem with software data compression is that it takes lots of processing power and/or time to perform it well.  As such, SolidFire has configured their node hardware to dedicate a CPU core to each physical disk drive (2-6 core processors for 10 SSDs in a node).

Deduplication savings are somewhat trickier to predict but ultimately depends on the data being stored in a system and the algorithm used to deduplicate it.  For user home directories, typical deduplication levels of 25-40% are readily attainable.  SolidFire stated that their deduplication algorithm is their own patented design and uses a small fixed block approach.

The savings from thin provisioning ultimately depends on how much physical data is actually consumed on a storage LUN but in typical environments can save 10-30% of physical storage by pooling non-written or free storage across all the LUNs configured on a storage system.

Space savings from point-in-time copies like snapshots and clones depends on data change rates and how long it’s been since a copy was made.  But, with space efficient copies and a short period of existence, (used for backups or temporary copies in test-development environments) such copies should take little physical storage.

Whether all of this can create a 4:1 multiplier for raw to effective data storage is another question but they also have a eScanner tool which can estimate savings one can achieve in their data center. Apparently the eScanner can be used by anyone to scan real customer LUNs and it will compute how much SolidFire storage will be required to support the scanned volumes.


There are a few items left on their current road map to be delivered later, namely remote replication or mirroring. But for now this looks to be a pretty complete package of iSCSI storage functionality.

SolidFire is currently signing up customers for Early Access but plan to go GA sometime around the end of the year. No pricing was disclosed at this time.

I was at SNIA’s BoD meeting the other week and stated my belief that SSDs will ultimately lead to the commoditization of storage.  By that I meant that it would be relatively easy to configure enough SSD hardware to create a 100K IO/sec  or 1GB/sec system without having to manage 1000 disk drives.  Lo and behold, SolidFire comes out the next week.  Of course, I said this would happen over the next decade – so I am off by a 9.99 years…