Better storage through hardware

Apple's Xserve (from
Apple's Xserve (from

Chuck Hollis from EMC wrote a post last week on Storage is software about how hardware parts are becoming commoditized and so highly functional that future storage differentiation will only come from software.  I commented that hardware differentiation is also becoming much easier with FPGAs and their ilk.  Chuck replied that yes this may be so but will anyone pay the cost for such differentiation.

My reply deserves a longer discussion.  Chuck’s mentioned Apple as one company differentiating successfully in hardware but thought that this would not apply to storage

Better storage through hardware differentiation

I am a big fan of Apple and so, it’s hard for me to see why something similar could not apply to storage.  IMHO, what Apple has done better than the rest is to reconstruct the user experience, in totality, from one of frustration to one of delight.

Can such a thing be done for storage and if so “will it sell”? I believe Yes to both questions.

Will such a new storage product necessarily require hardware/FPGA development as much as software/firmware development?  Again, yes.

Will anyone create this “better” storage? No easy answers here.

Developing better storage

Such a task involves a complete remaking, from the ground up of a new storage product from the user/admin experience perspective.  But the hard part is that the O/Ss and virtualization systems govern/control much of the storage user/admin experience, not the storage.  As such, much functionality will necessarily be done in software, not hardware.

However, that doesn’t mean that hardware differentiation can’t help. For example, consider storage interfaces.  Today, it’s not unusual to have 6 or more interfaces for a storage system.  But for me it’s hard to see how this couldn’t be better served with 2-10GbE and 2-8GFC and WiFi for an alternate admin interface.  In a similar fashion, look at internal storage interfaces.  It’s hard for me to see any absolute requirement for cabling here.  Ditto for power cabling. And all this just improves the out-of-the-box experience.

Could something similar be done for the normal storage configuration, monitoring, and protection activities? Most certainly.  Even so, much of this differentiation would be done via software/firmware and O/S APIs being used.  However, perhaps some small portion can make use of hardware/packaging differentiation.

I like to think that “I will know it when I see it”.  But, when someone can take storage out of a box, “install, use and protect it” on any O/S, virtualization environment with nothing more than a poster with 5 to 7 blocks as an guide, such “Apple-like” storage will have arrived.

Until then, storage admins will need training, a “storage admin” will be part of a job description, and storage will be something “we do” rather than something “we use”.

So my final answer to Chuck is:  will anyone do it – don’t know.

What do you think?