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HP Storage strategy – some hits, some misses

TechOps Guy: Nate

[UPDATED - Some minor updates since my original post] I was at an Executive Briefing by HP, given by HP's head of storage, and former 3PAR CEO David Scott. I suppose this is one good reason to be in the Bay Area - events like this didn't really happen in Seattle.

I really didn't know what to expect, I was looking forward to seeing David speak as I had not heard him before, his accent, oddly enough surprised me.

He covered a lot of various topics, it was clear of course he was more passionate about 3PAR than Lefthand, or Ibrix or XP or EVA, not surprising.

The meeting was not technical enough to get any of my previously mentioned questions answered, seemed very geared towards the PhB crowd.

HP Storage hits


One word: Duh. The crown jewel of the HP storage strategy.

He emphasized over and over the 3PAR architecture and how it's the platform powering 7 of the top 10 clouds out there, the design that lets them handle unpredictable workloads, you know this stuff by now, I don't need to repeat it.

David pointed out an interesting tidbit with regards to their latest SPC-1 announcement, he compared the I/O performance and cost per usable TB of the V800 to a Texas Memory Systems all-flash array that was tested earlier this year.

The V800 outperformed the TMS system by 50,000 IOPS, and came in at a cost per usable TB of only about $13,000 vs $50,000/TB for the TMS box.

Cost per I/O, which he did not mention certainly favored the TMS system($1.05), but the comparison was still a good one I thought - we can give you the performance of flash and still give you a metric ton of disk space at the same time. Well if you want to get technical I guesstimate the fully loaded V800 weighs in at 13,160 pounds or about 6 metric tons.

Of course flash certainly has it's use cases, if you don't have a lot of data it doesn't make sense to invest in 2,000 spinning rust buckets to get to 450,000 IOPS.

Peer Motion

Peer motion - both a hit and a miss, a hit because it's a really neat technology, the ability to non disruptively migrate between storage systems without 3rd party appliances, the miss, well I'll talk about that below.

He compared peer motion to the likes of Hitachi's USP/VSP, IBM's SVC, and EMC's VPLEX, which are all expensive, complicated bolt-on solutions. Seemed reasonable.

Lefthand VSA

It's a good concept, and it's nice to see it as a supported platform. David mentioned that Vmware themselves originally tried to acquire Lefthand (or wanted to acquire I don't know if anything official was made) because they saw the value in the technology - and of course recently Vmware introduced something kinda-sorta-similar to the Lefthand VSA in vSphere 5. Though it seems not quite as flexible or as scalable.

I'm not sure I see much value in the P4000 appliances by contrast, I hear that doing RAID 5 or worse yet RAID 6 on P4000 is just asking for a whole lotta pain.

StoreOnce De-duplication

It sounds like it has a lot of promise, I'll put it in the hit column for now as it's still a young technology and it'll take time to see where it goes. But the basic concept is a single de-duplication technology for all of your data. He contrasted this with EMC's strategy for example where they have client side de-dupe with their software backup products, in line de-dupe with data domain, and primary storage dedupe -- none of which are compatible with each other. Who knows, by the time HP gets it right with StoreOnce maybe EMC and others will get it right too.

I'm still not sold myself on the advantages of dedupe outside of things like backups, and things like VDI. I've sat through what seems like a dozen NetApp presentations on the topic so I have had the marketing shoved down my neck many times. I came to this realization a few years ago during an eval test of some data domain gear, I'll be honest and admit I did not fully comprehend the technicals behind de-duplication at the time and I expected pretty good results from feeding it tens of gigabytes of uncompressed text data. But turns out I was wrong and realized why I was under an incorrect assumption to begin with.

Now data compression on the other hand is another animal entirely, being able to support in line data compression without suffering much or any I/O hit really would be nice to see (I am aware there are one/more vendors out there that offer this technology now).

HP Storage Misses

Nobody is perfect, HP and 3PAR are no exception no matter how much I may sing praises for them here.

Peer Motion

When I first heard about this technology being available on both the P4000 and 3PAR platforms I assumed that it was compatible with each other, meaning you could peer motion data to/from P4000 and 3PAR. One of my friends at 3PAR clarified this was not the case with me a few weeks ago and David Scott mentioned that again today.

He tried to justify it comparing it to vSphere vMotion where you can't do a vMotion between a vSphere system and a Hyper-V system. He could of gone deeper and said you can't do vMotion even between vSphere hosts if the CPUs are not compatible, would of been a better example.

So he said that most federation technologies are usually homogeneous in nature, and you should not expect to be able to peer motion from a HP P4000 to a HP 3PAR system.

Where HP's argument kind of falls apart here is that the bolt on solutions he referred to as inferior previously do have the ability to migrate data between systems that are not the same. It may be ugly, it may be kludgey, but it can work. Hitachi even lists 3PAR F400, S400 and T800 as supported platforms behind the USP. IBM lists 3PAR and HP storage behind their SVC.

So, what I want from HP is the ability to do peer motion between at least all of their higher end storage platforms (I can understand if they never have peer motion on the P2000/MSA since it's just a low end box). I'm not willing to accept any excuses, other than "sorry, we can't do it because it's too complicated". Don't tell me I shouldn't expect to have it, I fully expect to have it.

Just another random thought but when I think of storage federation, and homogeneous I can't help but think of this scene from Star trek VI

GORKON: I offer a toast. ...The undiscovered country, ...the future.
ALL: The undiscovered country.
SPOCK: Hamlet, act three, scene one.
GORKON: You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.
CHANG: (in Klingonese) 'To be or not to be.'
KERLA: Captain Kirk, I thought Romulan ale was illegal.
KIRK: One of the advantages of being a thousand light years from Federation headquarters.
McCOY: To you, Chancellor Gorkon, one of the architects of our future.
ALL: Chancellor!
SCOTT: Perhaps we are looking at something of that future here.
CHANG: Tell me, Captain Kirk, would you be willing to give up Starfleet?
SPOCK: I believe the Captain feels that Starfleet's mission has always been one of peace.
KIRK: Far be it for me to dispute my first officer. Starfleet has always been...
CHANG: Come now, Captain, there's no need to mince words. In space, all warriors are cold warriors.
UHURA: Er. General, are you fond of ...Shakes ....peare?
CHEKOV: We do believe all planets have a sovereign claim to inalienable human rights.
AZETBUR: Inalien... If only you could hear yourselves? 'Human rights.' Why the very name is racist. The Federation is no more than a 'homo sapiens' only club.
CHANG: Present company excepted, of course.
KERLA: In any case, we know where this is leading. The annihilation of our culture.
McCOY: That's not true!
McCOY: No!
CHANG: 'To be, or not to be!', that is the question which preoccupies our people, Captain Kirk. ...We need breathing room.
KIRK: Earth, Hitler, nineteen thirty-eight.
CHANG: I beg your pardon?
GORKON: Well, ...I see we have a long way to go.

For the most basic workloads it's not such a big deal if you have vSphere and storage vMotion (or some other similar technology). You cannot fully compare storage vMotion with peer motion but for offering the basic ability to move data live between different storage platforms it does (mostly) work.

HP Scale-out NAS (X9000)

I want this to be successful, I really do. Because I like to use 3PAR disks and well there just aren't many NAS options out there these days that are compatible. I'm not a big fan of NetApp, I very reluctantly bought a V3160 cluster to try to replace an Exanet cluster on my last 3PAR box because well Exanet kicked the bucket(not the product we had installed but the company itself). I left the company not long after that, and barely a year later the company is already going to abandon NetApp and go with the X9000 (of all things!).  Meanwhile their unsupported Exanet cluster keeps chugging along.

Back to X9000. It sounds like a halfway decent product they say the main thing they lacked was snapshot support and that is there now(or will be soon), kind of strange Ibrix has been around for how long and they did not have file system snapshots till now? I really have not heard much about Ibrix from anyone other than HP whom obviously sings the praises for the product.

I am still somewhat bitter for 3PAR not buying Exanet when they had the chance, Exanet is a far better technology than Ibrix. Exanet was sold for, if I remember right $12 million, a drop in the bucket. Exanet had deals on the table(at the time) that would of brought in more than $12 million in revenue (in each deal) alone. Multi petabyte deals. Here is the Exanet Architecture (and file system), as it stood in 2005, in my opinion, very similar to the 3PAR approach(completely distributed, clustered design - Exanet treats files like 3PAR treats chunklets), except Exanet did not have any special ASICs, everything was done in software. Exanet had more work to do on their product it was far from perfect but it had a pretty solid base to build upon.

So, given that I do hope X9000 does well, I mean my needs are not that great,. what I'd really like to see is a low end VSA for the X9000 along the lines of their P4000 iSCSI VSA. Just for simple file storage in an HA fashion. I don't need to push 30 gigabits/second, just want something that is HA, has decent performance and is easy to manage.

Legacy storage systems (EVA especially)

Let it die already, HP has been adamant they will continue to support and develop the EVA platform for their legacy customers. That sort of boggles my mind. Why waste money on that dead end platform. Use the money to give discounted incentives to upgrade to 3PAR when the time comes. I can understand supporting existing installs, bug fix upgrades, but don't waste money on bringing out whole new revisions of hardware and software to this dead end product. David said so himself - supporting the install base of EVA and XP is supporting their 11% market share, the other 89% of the market that they don't have they are going to push 3PAR/Lefthand/Ibrix.

I would find a way to craft a message to that 11% install base, subliminal messaging (ala Max Headroom, not sure why that came to my head) make them want to upgrade to a 3PAR box, not the next EVA system.

XP/P9500 I can kinda sorta see keeping around, I mean there are some things it is good at that even 3PAR can't do today. But the market for such things is really tiny, and shrinking all the time. Maybe HP doesn't put much effort into this platform because it is OEM'd from Hitachi, in which case it doesn't cost a lot to re-sell, in which case it doesn't make a big difference if they keep selling it or stopped selling it.  I don't know.

I can just see what goes through a typical 3PAR SE's mind (at least those that were present before HP acquired 3PAR) when they are faced with selling an EVA. If the deal closes perhaps they scream NOooooooooooooooooooo like Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. Sure they'd rather have the customer buy HP then go buy a Clariion or something. But throw these guys a bone. Kill EVA and use the money to discount 3PAR more in the marketplace.

P2000/MSA - gotta keep that stuff, there will probably always be some market for DAS


I had the opportunity to ask some high level questions of David and got some interesting responses, he seems like a cool guy

3PAR Competition

David harped a lot on how other storage architectures from the big manufacturers were designed 15-20 years ago. I asked him - why does he think - given 3PAR technology is 10+ years old at this point that these other manufacturers haven't copied it to some degree? It has obvious technological advantages it just baffles me why others haven't copied it.

His answer came down to a couple of things. The main point was 3PAR was basically just lucky. They were in the right place, at the right time, with the right product. They successfully navigated the tech recession when at least two other utility storage startups could not and folded (I forgot their names, I'm terrible with names). He said the big companies pulled back on R&D spending as a result of the recession and as such didn't innovate as much in this area, which left a window of opportunity for 3PAR.

He also mentioned two other companies that were founded at about the same time to address the same market - utility computing. He mentioned Vmware as one of them, the other was the inventor of the first blade system, forgot the name. Vmware I think I have to dispute though. I seem to recall Vmware "stumbling" into the server market on accident rather than targeting it directly. I mean I remember using Vmware before it was even Vmware workstation or GSX. It was just a program used to run another OS on top of Linux (that was the only OS Vmware ran on at the time). I recall reading that the whole server virtualization movement came way later and caught Vmware off guard. as much as it caught everyone else off guard.

He also gave an example in EMC and their VMAX product line. He said that EMC mis understood what the 3PAR architecture was about - in that they thought it was just a basic cluster design, so EMC re-worked their system to be a cluster - the result is VMAX. But it still falls short in several design aspects, EMC wasn't paying attention.

I was kind of underwhelmed when the VMAX was announced, I mean sure it is big, and bad, and expensive, but they didn't seem to do anything really revolutionary in it. Same goes for the Hitachi VSP. I fully expected both to do at least some sort of sub disk distributed RAID. But they didn't.

Utilizing flash as a real time cache

David harped a lot on 3PAR's ability to be able to respond to unpredictable workloads. This is true, I've seen it time and time again, it's one reason why I really don't want to use any other storage platform at this point in time given the opportunity.

Something I thought really was innovative that came out of EMC in the past year or two is their Flash Cache product (I think that's the right name), the ability to use high speed flash as both a read and a write cache. The ability to bulk the cache levels up into the multiples of terabytes for big cloud operations.

His response was - we already do that - with RAM cache. I clarified a bit more in saying scaling out the cache even more with flash well beyond what you can do with RAM. He kind of ducked the question saying it was a bit too technical/architectural for the crowd in the room. 3PAR needs to have this technology. My key point to him is the 3PAR tools like Adaptive Optimization and Dynamic Optimization are great tools - but they are not real time. I want something that is real time. It seemed he acknowledged that point - the lack of the real time nature of the existing technologies as a weak point - hopefully HP/3PAR addresses it soon in some form.

In my previous post, Gabriel commented on how the new next gen IBM XIV will be able to have up to 7.5TB of read cache via SSD. I know NetApp can have a couple TB worth of read cache in their higher end boxes. As far as I know only EMC has the technology to do both read and write. I can't say how well it works, since I've never used it and know nobody that has this EMC gear, but it is a good technology to have, especially as flash matures more.

I just think how neat it would be to have, say a 1.5-2PB system running SATA disks with an extra 100TB(2.5-5% of total storage) of flash cache on top of it.

Bringing storage intelligence to the application layer

Another question I asked him was his thoughts around a broader industry trend which seems to be trying to bring the intelligence of storage out of the storage system and put it higher up in the stack - given the advanced functionality of a 3PAR system are they threatened at all by this? The examples I gave were Exchange and Oracle ASM.

He focused on Oracle, mentioning that Oracle was one of the original investors in 3PAR and as a result there was a lot of close collaboration between the two companies, including the development of the ASM technology itself.

He mentioned one of the VPs of Oracle, I forget if he was a key ASM architect or developer or something, but someone high up in the storage strategy involving ASM -- in the early days this guy was very gung ho, absolutely convinced that running the world on DAS with ASM was the way to go. Don't waste your money on enterprise storage, we can do it higher in the stack and you can use the cheap storage, save yourself a lot of money.

David said once this Oracle guy saw 3PAR storage powering an Oracle system he changed his mind, he no longer believed that DAS was the future.

The key point David was trying to make was - bringing storage intelligence higher up in the stack is OK if  your underlying storage sucks. But if you have a good storage system, you can't really match that functionality/performance/etc that high up in the stack and it's not worth considering.

Whether he is right or not is another question, for me I think it depends on the situation, but any chance I get I will of course lean towards 3PAR for my back end disk needs rather than use DAS.

In short - he does not feel threatened at all by this "trend". Though if HP is unwilling or unable to get peer motion working between their products when things like Storage vMotion and Oracle ASM can do this higher up in the stack, there certainly is a case for storage intelligence at the application layer.

Best of Breed

David also seemed to harp a lot about best of breed. He knocked his competitors for having a mis mash of technologies, specifically he mentioned market leading technologies instead of best of breed. Early in his presentation he touted HP's market leading position in servers, and their #2 position in networking (you could say that is market leading).

He also tried to justify that the HP integrated cloud stack is comprised of best of breed technologies, it just happens to be two out of the three are considered market leading, no coincidence there.

Best of breed is really a perception issue when you get down to it. Where do you assign value in the technology. Do you just want the cheapest you can get? Do you want the most advanced software? Do you want the fastest system? Do you want the most reliable? Ease of use? interoperable ? flexibility? buzz word compliant? Big name brand?

Because of that, many believe these vertically integrated stacks won't go very far. There will be some customer wins of course, but those will more often then not be wins based on technology but based on other factors, political (most likely), financial (buy from us and we'll finance it all no questions asked), or maybe just the warm and fuzzy feeling incompetent CIOs get when they buy from a big name that says they will stand behind the products.

I did ask David what is HP's stance on a more open design for this "cloud" thing. Not building a cloud based on a vertically integrated stack. His response was sort of what I expected - none of the other stack vendors are open, we aren't either so we don't view it as an important point.

I was kind of sad that he never used the 3cV term, really, I think was likely the first stack that was out there, and it wasn't even official, there was no big marketing or sales push behind it.

For me, my best of breed storage is 3PAR, it may have 1 or 2% market share (more now), so it surely is not market leading(might make it there with HP behind it), but for my needs it's best of breed.

Switching, likewise, Extreme - maybe 1 - 1.5% market share, not market leading either, but for me, best of breed.

Fibre Channel - I like Qlogic. Probably not best of breed, certainly not market leading at least for switches, but damn easy to use and it gets the job done for me. Ironically enough while digging up links for this post I came across this, which is an article suggesting Qlogic should buy Extreme, back in 2009. I somewhat fear, the most likely company to buy Extreme at this point is Oracle. I hope Oracle does not buy them, but Oracle is trying to play the whole stack game too and they don't really have any in house networking, unlike the other players. Maybe Oracle will jump on someone like Arista instead, be a cheaper price, ala Pillar.

Servers - I do like HP best of course for the enterprise space - they don't compete as well in scale out though.

Vmware on the other hand happens to be in a somewhat unique position being both the market leader and for the most part best of breed, though others are rapidly closing the gap in the breed area, Vmware had many years with no competition.


All in all it was pretty good, a lot more formal than I was expecting, I saw 3 people I knew from 3PAR, I sort of expected to see more (I fully was expecting to see Marc Farley there! where were you Marc!).

David did harp on quite a bit using Intel processors, something that Chuck from EMC likes to harp on too. I did not ask this question of David, because I think I know the answer. The question would be does he think HP will migrate to Intel CPUs, and away from their purpose built ASIC? I think the answer to that question is no, at least not in the next few years(barring some revolution in general purpose processors). With 3PAR's distributed design I'm just not sure how a general purpose CPU could handle calculating the parity for what could be as many as say half a million RAID arrays on a storage system like the V800 without the assistance of an ASIC or FPGA. I really do not like HP's pushing of the Intel brand so much being a partner of HP and all, at least with regards to 3PAR. Because really - the Intel CPU does not do much at all in the 3PAR boxes, it never has.

Just look at IBM XIV - they do distributed RAID, though they do mirroring only, and they top out at 180 disks, even with 60 2.4Ghz Intel CPU cores (120 threads), with a combined 180MB of CPU cache. Mirroring is a fairly simple task vs doing parity calculations.

Frankly, I'd rather see an AMD processor in there, especially one with 12-16 cores. The chipsets that power the higher end Intel processors are fairly costly, vs AMD's chipset scales down to 1 CPU socket without an issue. I look at a storage system that has dual or quad core CPUs in it and I think what a waste. Things may be different if the storage manufacturers included the latest & greatest Intel 8 and 10 core processors but thus-far I have not seen anything close to that.

David also mentioned a road VMware is traveling, moving away from file systems to support VMs to a 1:1 relationship between LUNs and VMs, making life a lot more granular. He postulated (there's a word I've never used before) that this technology(forgot the name) will make protocols like NFS obsolete(at least when it comes to hosting VMs), which was a really interesting concept to me.

At the end of the day, for the types of storage systems I have managed myself, for the types of companies I have worked for I don't get enough bang for the buck out of many of the more advanced software technologies on these storage systems. Whether it is simple replication stuff, or space reclamation, I'm still not sold on Adaptive optimization or other automatic storage tiering techniques, even application aware snapshots. Sure these are all nice features to have, but they are low on my priority list, I have other things I want to buy first before I invest in these things, myself at least. If money is no object - sure, load up on everything you got! I feel the same way about VMware and their software value add strategy. Give me the basics and let me go from there.  Basics being a solid underlying system that is high performance, predictable and easy to manage.

There was a lot of talk about cloud and their integrated stacks and stuff like that but that was about as interesting to me as sitting through a NetApp presentation. At least with most of the NetApp presentations I sat through I got some fancy steak to go with it, just some snacks at this HP event.

One more question I have for 3PAR - what the hell is your service processor running that requires 317W of power! Is it using Intel technology circa 2004 ?

This actually ended up being a lot longer than I had originally anticipated, nearly 4200 words!

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Linear scalability

TechOps Guy: Nate

So 3PAR released their SPC-1 results for their Mac daddy P10000, and the results aren't as high as I originally guessed they might be.

HP claims it is a world record result for a single system. I haven't had the time yet to try to verify but they are probably right.

I'm going to a big HP/3PAR event later today and will ask my main question - was the performance constrained by the controllers or by the disks? I'm thinking disks, given the IOPS/disk numbers below.

Here's some of the results

SPC-1 Cost
per IOP
SPC-1 Cost
per usable
3PAR V80010/17/2011450,212234$6.59$12,900
3PAR F4004/27/200993,050242$5.89$20,308
3PAR T8009/2/2008224,989175$9.30$26,885

The cost per TB number was slashed because they are using disks that are much larger (300GB vs 147GB on earlier tests).

The cost was pretty reasonable as well coming in at under $7/IOP which is actually less than their previous results on their T800 from 2008 which was already cheap at $9.30/IOP.

It is interesting that they used Windows to run the test, which is a first for them I believe, having used real Unix in the past (AIX and Solaris for T800 and F400 respectively).

The one kind of strange thing, which is typical in 3PAR SPC-1 numbers is the sheer number of volumes they used (almost 700). I'm not sure what the advantage would be to doing that, another question I will try to seek the answer to.

The system was, as expected, remarkably easy to configure, the entire storage configuration process consisted of this

for n in {0..7}
	for s in 1 4 7
	for p in 4
	controlport offline -f $n:$s:$p
	controlport config host -ct point -f $n:$s:$p
	controlport rst -f $n:$s:$p

for p in 2
	controlport offline -f $n:$s:$p
	controlport config host -ct point -f $n:$s:$p
	controlport rst -f $n:$s:$p


for nd in {0..7}
 createcpg -t r1 -rs 120 -sdgs 120g -p -nd $nd cpgfc$nd

for hba in {0..3}
 for i in {0..14} ; do
 createvv -i $id cpgfc${nd} asu1.${id} 240g;
 createvlun -f asu1.${id} $((15*nd+i+1)) ${nd}${PORTS[$hba]}
for i in {0..1} ; do
 createvv -i $id cpgfc${nd} asu3.${j} 360g;
 createvlun -f asu3.${j} $((2*nd+i+181)) ${nd}${PORTS[$hba]}
for i in {0..3} ; do
 createvv -i $id cpgfc${nd} asu2.${j} 840g;
 createvlun -f asu2.${j} $((4*nd+i+121)) ${nd}${PORTS[$hba]}

Think about that, a $3 million storage system(after discount) configured in less than 50 lines of script?

Not a typical way to configure a system, I had to look at it a couple of times but it seems they are still pinning volumes to particular controller pairs, and LUNs to particular FC ports. This is what they have done in the past so it's nothing new but I would like to see how the system runs without such pinning of resources and let the inter-node routing do it's magic, since that is how the customers would run the system.

But that's what full disclosure is all about right! Another reason I like the SPC-1, is the in depth configuration information that you don't need an NDA to see(and in 3PAR's case you probably don't need to attend a 3-week training course to understand!)

I'm trying to think of one but I can't think of another storage architecture out there that scales as well as the 3PAR Inspire architecture from the low end(F200) to the high end(V800).

The cost of the V800 was a lot more reasonable than I was fearing it might be, it's only roughly 45% more expensive than the T800 tested in September 2008, for that extra 45% you get 50% more disks, double the I/O capacity, almost three times the usable capacity. Oh, and five times more data cache, and 8 times more control cache to boot!

I'm suspecting the ASICs are not being pushed to their limits here in the V800, and that the system can go quite a bit faster provided there is not a I/O bottleneck on the disks behind the controllers.

On the backs of these numbers The Register is reporting HP is beefing up the 3PAR sales team after having experienced massive growth over the past year, seems to be at least roughly 300% increase in sales over the past year, so much that they are having a hard time keeping up with demand.

I haven't been happy with the hefty price increases HP has put into the 3PAR product line though in a lot of cases those come back out in the form of discounts. I guess it's what the market will bear right - as long as things are selling as fast as they can make them HP doesn't have any need to reduce the price.

I saw an interview with the chairman of HP a few weeks ago, when they announced their new CEO. He mentioned how 3PAR had exceeded their sales expectations significantly for justification for paying that lofty price to acquire them about a year ago.

So congrats to 3PAR, I knew you could do it!

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HDS aborbs Bluearc

TechOps Guy: Nate

It seems HDS has finally decided to buy out BlueArc after what was either two or three failed attempts at an IPO.

BlueArc, along with my buddies over at 3PAR is among the few storage companies that puts real silicon to work in their system for the best possible performance. Their architecture is quite impressive and the performance (that is for their mid range system) shows.

I have only been exposed to their older stuff (5-6 year old technology) directly, not their newer technology. But even their older stuff was very fast and efficient, very reliable and had quite a few nifty features as well. I think they were among the first to do storage tiering (for them at the file level).

[ warning - a wild tangent gets thrown in here somewhere ]

While their NAS technology was solid(IMO), their disk technology was not. They relied on LSI storage, and the quality of the storage was very poor over all. First off whoever setup the system we had set it up with everything running RAID 5 12+1, then there was the long RAID rebuild times, the constant moving hot spots because of the number of different tiers of storage we had, the fact that the 3 Titan head units were not clustered so we had to take hard downtime for software upgrades(not BlueArc's fault other than perhaps making it too expensive to be able to do clustered heads when the company bought the stuff - long before I was there). Every time we engaged with BlueArc 95% of our complaints were about the disk. For the longest time they tried to insist that "disk doesn't matter". That you could put any storage system behind the BlueArc and it would be the same.

After the 3rd or 4th engagement BlueArc significantly changed their tune (not sure what prompted it), but now acknowledged the weakness of the low tier storage and was promoting the use of HDS AMS storage (USP was well, waaaaaaaay out of our price range) since they were a partner of HDS back then as well. The HDS proposal fell far short of the design I had with 3PAR and at the time Exanet was their partner of choice.

If I could of chosen I would of used BlueArc for NAS and 3PAR for disk. 3PAR was open to the prospect of course, BlueArc claimed they had contacted 3PAR to start working with them but 3PAR said that never happened. Later BlueArc acknowledged they were not going to try to work with 3PAR (or any other storage company other than LSI or HDS - I think 3PAR was one digit too long for them to handle).

Given the BlueArc system lacked the ability to provide us with any truly useful disk performance statistics, it was tough coming up with a configuration that I thought would work as a replacement. There was a large number of factors involved, and any one of them had a fairly wide margin of error. You could say I pulled a number out of my ass, but I did do more calculations than that I have about a dozen pages of documentation I wrote at the time on the project, but really at the end of the day it was a stab in the dark as far as initial configuration.

BlueArc as a company, at the time didn't really have their support stuff all figured out yet. The first sign was when we had scheduled downtime for a software upgrade that was intended to take 2-3 hours ended up taking 10-11 hours because there was a problem and BlueArc lacked the proper escalation procedures to resolve it quick enough. Their CEO sent us a letter later saying that they fixed that process in the company. The second sign was when I went to them and asked them to confirm the drive type/size of all of our disks so I could do some math for the replacement system. They did a new audit(had to be on site to do it for some reason), and turns out we had about 80 more spindles than they thought we had(we bought everything through them). I don't know how you lose track of that amount of disks for support but somehow it fell through the cracks. Another issue we had was we paid BlueArc to relocate the system to another facility(again before I was at the company), and whomever moved it didn't do a good job, they accidentally plugged both power supplies of a single shelf into the same PDU. Fortunately it was a non production system. A PSU blew at one point that took out the PDU, which then took out that shelf which then took out the file system the shelf was on.

Even after all of that my main problem with their solution was the disks. LSI was not up to snuff and the proposal from HDS wasn't going to cut it. I told my management that there is no doubt that HDS could come up with a solution that would work -- it's just what they have proposed will not(they didn't even have thin provisioning at the time. 3PAR was telling me HDS was pairing USP-Vs along with AMSs in order to try to compete in the meantime. They did not propose that to us). A combination of poor performing SATA on RAID-6 no less for bulk storage and higher performing 15k RPM disks for higher tier/less storage. HDS/BlueArc felt it was equivalent to what I had specified through 3PAR and Exanet, not understanding the architectural advantages the 3PAR system had over the proposed HDS design(going into specifics will take too long you probably know them by now anyways if your here). Not to mention what seemed like sheer incompetence among the HDS team that was supporting us, it seemed nothing I asked them they could answer without engaging someone from Japan and even then I rarely got a comprehensible answer.

So in the end we ended up replacing a 4-rack BlueArc system with what could of been a single rack 3PAR + a few rack units for the Exanet but we had to put the 3PAR in two racks due to weight constraints in the data center. We went from 500+ disks (mix of SATA-I and 10k RPM FC) to 200 disks of SATA-II (RAID 5 5+1). With the change we got the advantage of being able to run fibre channel (which we ran to all of our VM boxes as well as primary databases), iSCSI (which we used here and there 3PAR's iSCSI support has never been as good as I would of liked to have seen it though for anything serious I'd rather use FC anyways and that's what 3PAR's customers did which led to some neglect on the iSCSI front).

Half the floor space, half the power usage, roughly the same amount of usable storage, about the same amount of raw storage. We put the 3PAR/Exanet system through it's paces with our most I/O intensive workload at the time and it absolutely screamed. I mean it exceeded everyone's expectations(mine included). But that was only the begining.

This is a story I like to tell on 3PAR reference calls when I do them which is becoming more and more rare these days. In the early days of our 3PAR/Exanet deployment the Exanet engineer tried to assure me that they were thin provisioning friendly, he had personally used 3PAR+Exanet in the past and it worked fine. So with time constraints and stuff I provisioned a file system on the Exanet box not thinking too much about the 3PAR end of things. It's thin provisioning friendly right? RIGHT?

Well not so much, before you knew it the system was in production and we started dumping large amounts of data on it, and deleting large amounts of data on it, I found out in a few weeks the Exanet box was preferring to allocate new space rather than reclaim deleted space. I did some calculations and the result was not good. If we let the system continue at this rate we were going to exceed the amount of capacity on the 3PAR box if the Exanet file system was allowed to grow to it's full potential. Not good.. Compound that with the fact that we were at the maximum addressable capacity of a 2-node 3PAR box, if I had to add even 1 more disk to the system(not that adding 1 disk is possible in that system due to the way disks are added, minimum is 4), I would of had to put in 2 more controllers. Which as you might expect is not exactly cheap. So I was looking at what could of been either a very costly downtime to do data migration or a very costly upgrade to correct my mistake.

Dynamic optimization to the rescue. This really saved my ass. I mean really, it did. When I built the system I used RAID 5 3+1 for performance (for 3PAR that is roughly ~8% slower than RAID 10, and 3PAR fast RAID 5 is probably on par with many other vendors RAID 10 due to the architecture).

So I ran some more calculations and determined if I could get to RAID 5 5+1 I would have enough space to survive. So I began the process, converting roughly a half dozen LUNs at a time. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It took longer than I expected, the 3PAR was routinely getting hammered from daily activities from all sides. It took about 5 months in the end to convert all of the volumes. Throughout the process nobody noticed a thing. The array was converting volumes for 24 hours a day for 5 months straight and nobody noticed (except me who was baby sitting it hoping I could beat the window). If I recall right I probably had 3-4 weeks of buffer space, if my conversions was going to take an extra month I would of exceeded the capacity of the system. So, I got lucky I suppose, but also bought the system knowing I could make such course corrections online without impacting applications for just that kind of event -- I just didn't expect the event to be so soon and on such a large scale.

One of the questions I had for HDS at the time we were looking at them was could they do the same online RAID conversions. The answer? Absolutely they can. But the fine print was (assuming it still is) you needed blank disks to do the migration to. Since 3PAR's RAID is performed at the sub disk level no blank disks are required, only blank "chunklets" as they call them. Basically you just need enough empty space on the array to mirror the LUN/Volume to the new RAID level and then you break the mirror and eliminate the source (this is all handled transparently with a single command and some patience depending on system load and volume of data in flight).

As time went on we loaded the system with ever more processes and connected ever more systems to it as we got off the old BlueArc(s). I kept seeing the IOPS (and disk response times) on the 3PAR going up..and up.. I really thought it was going to choke, I mean we were pushing the disks hard, with sustained disk response times in the 40-50ms range at times(with rare spikes to well over 100ms). I just kept hoping for the day when we would be done and the increase would level off, and it did for the most part eventually. I built my own custom monitoring system for the array for performance trending, since I didn't like the query based tool they provided as much as what I could generate myself(despite the massive amount of time it took to configure my tool).

I did not know a 7200RPM SATA disk could do 127 IOPS of random I/O.

We had this one process that would dump up to say 50GB of data from upwards of 40-50 systems simultaneously as fast as they could go. Needless to say when this happened it blew out all of the caches across the board and brought things to a grinding halt for some time(typically 30-60 seconds). I would see the behavior on the NAS system and login to my monitoring tool and just see it hang while it tried to query the database(which was on the storage). I would cringe, and wait for the system to catch up. We tried to get them to re-design the application so it was more thoughtful of the storage but they weren't able to. Well they did re-design it one time (for the worse). I tried to convince them to put it on fusion IO on local storage in the servers but they would have no part of it. Ironically not long after I left the company they went out and bought some Fusion IO for another project. I guess as long as the idea was not mine it was a good one.. The storage system was entirely a back office thing, no real time end user transactions ever touched it, which meant we could live with the higher latency by pushing the SATA drives 30-50% beyond engineering specifications.

At the end of the first full year of operation we finally got budget to add capacity to the system, we had shrunk the overall theoretical I/O capacity by probably 2/3rds vs the previous array, and had absorbed almost what seemed like a 200% growth on top of that during the first year and the system held up. I probably wouldn't of believed it if I didn't see it(and live it) personally. I hammered 3PAR as often as I could to increase the addressable capacity of their systems which was limited by the operating system architecture. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that their systems had 4GB of control cache(per controller) which is a common limit to 32-bit software. But the software enhancement never came while I was there at least, it is there in some respect in the new V-class, though as mentioned the V-class seems to have had an arbitrary raw capacity limit placed on it that does not align with the amount of control cache it can have (up to 32GB per controller). With 64-bit software and more control cache I could of doubled or tripled the capacity of the system without adding controllers.

Adding the two extra controllers did give us one thing I wanted - Persistent cache, that's just an awesome technology to have and you simply can't do that kind of thing on a 2-controller system. Also gave us more ports than I knew what to do with.

What happened to the BlueArc? Well after about 10 months of trying to find someone to sell it to - or give it to -- we ended up paying someone to haul it away. When HDS/BlueArc was negotiating with us on their solution they tried to harp on how we could leverage our existing disk from BlueArc in the new solution as another tier. I didn't have to say it my boss did which made me sort of giggle - he said the operational costs of running the old BlueArc disk (support was really high, + power and co-lo space) was more than the disks were worth, BlueArc/HDS didn't have any real response to that. Other than perhaps to nod their heads acknowledging that we're smart enough to realize that fact.

I still would like to use BlueArc again, I think it's a fine platform, I just want to use my own storage on it 🙂

This ended up being a lot longer than I expected! Hope you didn't fall asleep. Just got right to 2600 words.. there.


Mac Daddy P10000

TechOps Guy: Nate

It's finally here, the HP P10000 - aka 3PAR V Class. 3PAR first revealed this to their customers more than a year ago, but the eagle has landed now.

When it comes to the hardware - bigger is better (usually means faster too)

Comparisons of recent 3PAR arrays

8-node P10000
(aka V800)
1,600 TB288 ports
(192 host)
512 GB256 GB1,920112 GB/sec96 GB/sec600,000
8-node T800800 TB192 ports
(128 host)
96 GB32 GB1,28045 GB/sec19.2 GB/sec225,000
4-node T800
(or 4-node
400 TB96
(64 host)
48 GB 16 GB6409.6 GB/sec?~112,000
4-node F400384 TB32
(24 host)
24 GB16 GB3849.6 GB/sec ??93,000
Comparison between the F400, T400, T800 and the new V800. In all cases the numbers reflected are in a maximum configuration.

3PAR V800 ready to fight

The new system is based on their latest Generation 4 ASIC, and for the first time they are putting two ASICs in each controller. This is also the first system that supports PCI Express, with if my memory serves 9 PCI Express buses per controller. Front end throughput is expected to be up in the 15 Gigabytes/second range (up from ~6GB on the T800).  Just think they have nearly eight times the interconnect bandwidth than the controllers have capacity to push data to hosts, that's just insane.

IOPS - HP apparently is not in a big rush to post SPC-1 numbers, but given the increased spindle count, cache, doubling up on ASICs, and the new ASIC design itself I would be surprised if the system would get less than say half a million IOPS on SPC-1 (by no means a perfect benchmark but at least it's a level playing field).

It's nice to see 3PAR finally bulk up on data cache (beefcake!!) - I mean traditionally they don't need it all that much because their architecture blows the competition out of the water without breaking a sweat - but still - ram is cheap - it's not as if they're using the same type of memory you find in CPU cache - it's industry standard ECC DIMMs. RAM may be cheap, but I'm sure HP won't charge you industry standard DIMM pricing when you go to put 512GB in your system!

Now that they have PCI Express 3PAR can natively support 8Gbps fibre channel as well as 10Gbit iSCSI and FCoE which are coming soon.

The drive cages and magazines are more or less unchanged (physically) from the previous generation but apparently new stuff is still coming down the pike there.  The controller's physical design (how it fits in the cabinet) seems radically different than their previous S or T series.

Another enhancement for this system is they expanded the number of drive chassis to 48, or 12 per node (up from 8 per node). Though if you go back in time you'll find their earliest S800 actually supported 64 drive chassis for a time, since then they have refrained from daisy chaining drive chassis on their S/T/V class which is how they achieved the original 64 drive chassis configuration (or 2,560 disks back when disks were 9GB in size). The V class obviously has more ports so they can support more cages. I have no doubt they could go to even more cages by using ports assigned to hosts and assign them to disks, just a matter of testing. Flipping a fiber port from host to disk is pretty trivial on the system.

The raw capacity doesn't quite line up with the massive amount of control cache the system has, in theory at least if 4GB of control cache per controller is good enough for 200TB raw (per controller pair), then 32GB  per controller should be able to net you 1,600 TB raw (per controller pair or 6,400 TB for the whole system), but obviously with a limit put in of 1,600 TB for the entire system they are using a lot of control cache for something else.

As far as I know the T-class isn't going anywhere anytime soon, this V class is all about even more massive scale, at a significantly higher entry level price point than the T-class(at least $100,000 more at the baseline from what I can tell), with the beauty of running the same operating system, the same user interfaces, the same software features across the entire product line. The T-class, as-is still is mind numbingly fast and efficient, even three years after it was released.

No mainframe connectivity on this baby.

Storage Federation

The storage federation stuff is pretty cool in that it is peer based, you don't need any external appliances to move the data around, the arrays talk to each other directly to manage all of that. This is where we get the first real integration between 3PAR and HP in that the entire line of 3PAR arrays as well as the Lefthand-based P4000 iSCSI systems (including the Virtual storage appliance even!) support this new peer federation (sort of makes me wonder where EVA support is - perhaps it's coming later or maybe it's a sign HP is sort of depreciating EVA when it comes to this sort of thing - I'm sure the official party line will be EVA is still a shining star).

The main advantage I think of storage federation technology over something like storage vMotion is the array has a more holistic view of what's going on in the storage system rather than just what a particular host sees, or what a particular LUN is doing. The federation should also have more information about the location of the various arrays if they are in another data center or something and make more intelligent choices about moving stuff around. Certainly would like to see it in action myself. Even though hypervisors have had thin provisioning for a while - by no means does it reduce the need for thin provisioning at the storage level (at least for larger deployments).

I'd imagine like most things on the platform the storage federation is licensed based on the capacity of the array.

If this sort of thing interests you anywhere nearly as much as it interests me you should check out the architecture white paper from HP which has some new stuff from the V class here. You don't have to register to download it like you did back in the good 'ol days.

I'd be surprised if I ever decided to work for a company large enough to be able to leverage a V-class, but if anyone from 3PAR is out there reading this (I'm sure there's more than one) since I am in the Bay area - not far from your HQ - I wouldn't turn down an invitation to see one of these in person 🙂

Oh HP.. first you kick me in the teeth by killing WebOS devices then before I know what happened you come out with a V-class and want to make things all better, I just don't know what to feel.

The joys of working with a 3PAR array, it's been about a year since I laid my hands on one (working at a different company now), I do miss it.


Misleading 3PAR

TechOps Guy: Nate

Hello to my two readers out there!

You know I like 3PAR, have been using them for years, and know their stuff inside and out.

I was on a Computerworld article a few moments ago and saw an advertisement for 3PAR by HP and it made me cringe

While it is true that 3PAR has Intel Xeon processors, it's really the custom built ASIC that does all the heavy lifting. General purpose CPUs don't have a prayer in being able to keep up, much like general purpose CPUs don't have a prayer in keeping up with high performance network switching fabrics.

I think the advertisement is bad, and misleading (by misleading I mean removing perceived value of the 3PAR platform by implying that Intel processors are the workhorse on the system). I'm sure that 3PAR would of never had made this mistake on their own. Someone at HP needs to be educated on the platform.

So I have to knock HP on that one.

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Compellent gets Hyper efficient storage tiering

TechOps Guy: Nate

So according to this article from our friends at The Register, Compellent is considering going to absurdly efficient storage tiering taking the size of data being migrated to 32kB from their currently insanely efficient 512kB.

That's just insane!

For reference, as far as I know:

  • 3PAR moves data around in 128MB chunks
  • IBM moves data around in 1GB chunks (someone mentioned that XIV uses 1MB)
  • EMC moves data around in 1GB chunks
  • Hitachi moves data around in 42MB chunks (I believe this is the same data size they use for allocating storage to thin provisioned volumes)
  • NetApp has no automagic storage tiering functionality though they do have PAM cards which they claim is better.

I have to admit I do like Compellent's approach the best here, hopefully 3PAR can follow. I know 3PAR allocates data to think provisioned volumes in 16kB chunks, what I don't know is whether or not their system is adjustable to get down to a more granular level of storage tiering.

There's just no excuse for the inefficient IBM and EMC systems though, really, none.

Time will tell if Compellent actually follows through with going as granular as 32kB, I can't help but suspect the CPU overhead of monitoring so many things will be too much for the system to bear.

Maybe if they had purpose built ASIC...



Chicken and the egg

TechOps Guy: Nate

Random thought time! --  came across an interesting headline on Chuck's Blog - Attack of the Vblock Clones.

Now I'm the first to admit I didn't read the whole thing but the basic gist he is saying if you want a fully tested integrated stack (of course you know I don't like these stacks they restrict you too much, the point of open systems is you can connect many different types of systems together and have them work but anyways), then you should go with their VBlock because it's there now, and tested, deployed etc. Others recently announced initiatives are responses to the VBlock and VCE, Arcadia(sp?) etc.

I've brought up 3cV before, something that 3PAR coined back almost 3 years ago now. Which is, in their words "Validated Blueprint of 3PAR, HP, and VMware Products Can Halve Costs and Floor Space".

And for those that don't know what 3cV is, a brief recap -

The Elements of 3cV
3cV combines the following products from 3PAR, HP, and VMware to deliver the virtual data center:

  • 3PAR InServ Storage Server featuring Virtual Domains and thin technologies—The leading utility storage platform, the 3PAR InServ is a highly virtualized tiered-storage array built for utility computing. Organizations creating virtualized IT infrastructures for workload consolidation use the 3PAR InServ to reduce the cost of allocated storage capacity, storage administration, and the SAN infrastructure.
  • HP BladeSystem c-Class—The No. 1 blade infrastructure on the market for datacenters of all sizes, the HP BladeSystem c-Class minimizes energy and space requirements and increases administrative productivity through advantages in I/O virtualization, power and cooling, and manageability. (1)
  • VMware Infrastructure—Infrastructure virtualization suite for industry-standard servers. VMware Infrastructure delivers the production-proven efficiency, availability, and dynamic management needed to build the responsive data center.

Sounds to me that 3cV beat VBlock to the punch by quite a ways. It would have been interesting to see how Dell would of handled the 3cV solution had they managed to win the bidding war, given they don't have anything that competes effectively with c-Class. But fortunately HP won out so 3cV can be just that much more official.

It's not sold as a pre-packaged product I guess you could say, but I mean how hard is it to say I need this much CPU, this much ram, this much storage HP go get it for me. Really it's not hard. The hard part is all the testing and certification. Even if 3cV never existed you can bet your ass that it would work regardless. It's not that complicated, really. Even if Dell managed to buy 3PAR and kill off the 3cV program because they wouldn't want to directly promote HP's products, you could still buy the 3PAR from Dell and the blades from HP and have it work. But of course you know that.

The only thing missing from 3cV is I'd like a more powerful networking stack, or at least sFlow support. I'll take Flex10 (or Flexfabric) over Cisco any day of the week but I'd still like more.

I don't know why this thought didn't pop into my head until I read that headline, but it gave me something to write about.

But whatever, that's my random thought of the day/week.


Intel or ASIC

TechOps Guy: Nate

Just another one of my random thoughts I have been having recently.

Chuck wrote a blog not too long ago how he believes everyone is going to go to Intel (or x86 at least) processors in their systems and move away from ASICs.

He illustrated his point by saying some recent SPEC NFS results showed the Intel based system outperforming everything else. The results were impressive, the only flaw in them is that the costs are not disclosed for SPEC. An EMC VMAX with 96 EFDs isn't cheap. And the better your disk subsystem is the faster your front end can be.

Back when Exanet was still around they showed me some results from one of their customers testing SPEC SFS on the Exanet LSI (IBM OEM'd) back end storage vs 3PAR storage, and for the same number of disks the SPEC SFS results were twice as high on 3PAR.

But that's not my point here or question. A couple of years ago NetApp posted some pretty dismal results for the CX-3 with snapshots enabled. EMC doesn't do SPC-1 so NetApp did it for them. Interesting.

After writing up that Pillar article where I illustrated the massive efficiency gains on the 3PAR architecture(which is in part driven by their own custom ASICs), it got me thinking again, because as far as I can tell Pillar uses x86 CPUs.

Pillar offers multiple series of storage controllers to best meet the needs of your business and applications. The Axiom 600 Series 1 has dual-core processors and supports up to 24GB cache. The Axiom 600 Slammer Series 2 has quad-core processors and double the cache providing an increase in IOPS and throughput over the Slammer Series 1.

Now I can only assume they are using x86 processors, for all I know I suppose they could be using Power, or SPARC, but I doubt they are using ARM 🙂

Anyways back to the 3PAR architecture and their micro RAID design. I have written in the past about how you can have tens to hundreds of thousands of mini RAID arrays on a 3PAR system depending on the amount of space that you have. This is, of course to maximize distribution of data over all resources to maximize performance and predictability. When running RAID 5 or RAID 6, there are of course parity calculations involved. I can't help but wonder what sort of chances in hell a bunch of x86 CPU cores have in calculating RAID in real time for 100,000+ RAID arrays, with 3 and 4TB drives not too far out, you can take that 100,000+ and make it 500,000.

Taking the 3PAR F400 SPC-1 results as an example, here is my estimate on the number of RAID arrays on the system, fortunately it's mirrored so math is easier:

  • Usable capacity = 27,053 GB (27,702,272 MB)
  • Chunklet size = 256MB
  • Total Number of RAID-1 arrays = ~ 108,212
  • Total Number of data chunklets = ~216,424
  • Number of data chunklets per disk = ~563
  • Total data size per disk = ~144,128 MB (140.75 GB)

For legacy RAID designs it's probably not a big deal, but as disk drives grow ever bigger I have no doubt that everyone will have to move to a distributed RAID architecture, to reduce disk rebuild times and lower the chances of a double/triple disk failure wiping out your data. It is unfortunate (for them) that Hitachi could not pull that off in their latest system.

3PAR does use Intel CPUs in their systems as well, though they aren't used too heavily, on the systems I have had even at peak spindle load I never really saw CPU usage above 10%.

I think ASICs are here to stay for some time, on the low end you will be able to get by with generic CPU stuff, but on the higher end it will be worth the investment to do it in silicon.

Another place to look for generic CPUs vs ASICs is in the networking space. Network devices are still heavily dominated by ASICs because generic CPUs just can't keep up. Now of course generic CPUs are used for what I guess could be called "control data", but the heavy lifting is done by silicon. ASICs often draw a fraction of the power that generic CPUs do.

Yet another place to look for generic CPUs vs ASICs is in the HPC space - the rise of GPU-assisted HPC allowing them to scale to what was (to me anyways) unimaginable heights.

Generic CPUs are of course great to have and they have come a long way, but there is a lot of cruft in them, so it all depends on what your trying to accomplish.

The fastest NAS in the world is still BlueArc, which is powered by FPGAs, though their early cost structures put them out of reach for most folks, their new mid range looks nice, my only long time complaint about them has been their back end storage - either LSI or HDS, take it or leave it. So I leave it.

The only SPEC SFS results posted by BlueArc are for the mid range, nothing for their high end (which they tested on the last version of SFS, nothing yet for the current version).



Capacity Utilization: Storage

TechOps Guy: Nate

So I was browsing through that little drop down address bar in Firefox hitting the sites I usually hit, and I decided hey let's go look at what Pillar is doing. I've never used their stuff but I dig technology you know, so I like to try to keep tabs on companies and products that I haven't used, and may never consider using, good to see what the competition is up to, because you never know they may come out with something good.

Tired of the thin argument

So the CEO of Pillar has a blog, and he went on a mini rant about how 3PAR^H^H^H^HHP is going around telling people you can get 100TB of capacity in one of their 70TB arrays. I haven't read too deep into what the actual claim they are making is, but being so absolutely well versed in 3P..HP technology I can comment with confidence in what their strategy is and how they can achieve those results. Whether or not they are effective at communicating that is another story, I don't know because well I don't read everything they say.

Pillar notes that HP is saying that due to the 3PAR technologies you can get by with less and he's tired of hearing that old story over and over.

Forget about thin for the moment!

So let me spray paint another angle for everyone to see. As you know I do follow SPC-1 numbers pretty carefully. Again not that I really use them to make decisions, I just find the numbers and disclosure behind them very interesting and entertaining at times. It is "fun" to see what others can do with their stuff in a way that can be compared on a level playing field.

I wrote, what I consider a good article on SPC-1 benchmarks a while back, EMC gave me some flak because they don't believe SPC-1 is a valid test, when I believe EMC just doesn't like the disclosure requirements, but I'm sure you won't ever hear EMC say that.

SPC-1 Results

So let's take the one and only number that Pillar published, because, well that's all I have to go on, I have no personal experience with their stuff, and don't know anyone that uses it. So if this information is wrong it's wrong because the results they submitted were wrong.

So, the Pillar Axiom 600's results have not stood the test of time well at all, as you would of noticed in my original article, but to highlight:

  • System tested: January 12, 2009
  • SPC-1 IOPS performance: 64,992
  • SPC-1 Usable space: 10TB
  • Disks used: 288 x 146G 15k RAID 1
  • IOPS per disk: 226 IOPS/disk
  • Average Latency at peak load: 20.92ms
  • Capacity Utilization (my own metric I just thought of): 34.72 GB/disk
  • Cost per usable TB (my own metric extrapolated from SPC-1): $57,097 per TB
  • Cost per IOP (SPC-1 publishes this): $8.79

The 3PAR F400 by contrast was tested just 105 days later and absolutely destroyed the Pillar numbers, and unlike the Pillar numbers the F400 has held up very well against the test of time all the way to present day even:

  • System tested: April 27, 2009
  • SPC-1 IOPS performance: 93,050
  • SPC-1 Usable space: 27 TB
  • Disks used: 384 x 146G 15k RAID 1
  • IOPS per disk: 242 IOPS/disk
  • Average Latency at peak load: 8.85ms
  • Capacity Utilization: 70.432 GB/disk
  • Cost per usable TB: $20,312 per TB
  • Cost per IOP: $5.89

Controller Capacity

Now in my original post I indicated stark differences in some configurations that tested substantially less physical disks than the controllers supported, there are a couple of possibilities I can think of for this:

  • The people running the test didn't have enough disks to test (less likely)
  • The controllers on the system couldn't scale beyond the configuration tested, so to illustrate the best bang for your $ they tested with the optimal number of spindles to maximize performance (more likely)

So in Pillar's case I think the latter is the case as they tested with a pretty small fraction of what their system is advertised as being capable of supporting.


So taking that into account, the 3PAR gives you 27TB of usable capacity, note here we aren't even taking into account the thin technologies, just throw those out the window for a moment, let's simplify this.

The Pillar system gives you 10TB of usable capacity, the 3PAR system gives you about 270% more space and 130% more performance for less money.

What would a Pillar system look like(or Systems I guess I should say since we need more than one) that could give us 27TB usable capacity and 93,000 SPC-1 IOPS using 146G 15k RPM disks (again trying to keep level playing field here)?

Well I can only really guess, to reach the same level of performance Pillar would need an extra 124 disks, so 412 spindles. Maintaining the same level of short stroking that they are doing(34.7GB/disk), those extra 124 spindles only get you to roughly 14.3TB.

And I'm assuming here because my comments earlier about optimal number of disks to achieve performance, if you wanted to get those extra 124 spindles in you need a 2nd Axiom 600, and all the costs with the extra controllers and stuff. Controllers obviously carry a hefty premium over the disk drives. While the costs are published in Pillar's results I don't want to spend the time to try to extrapolate that angle.

And if you do in fact need more controllers, the system was tested with two controllers, if you have to go to four (tested 3PAR F400 has four), 3PAR has another advantage completely unrelated to SPC-1, the ability to maintain performance levels under degraded conditions (controller failure, software upgrade, whatever) with Persistent Cache. Run your same SPC-1 test, and yank a controller out from each system (3PAR and Pillar) and see what the results are. The numbers would be even more embarrassingly in 3PAR's favor thanks to their architecture and this key caching feature. Unlike most of 3PAR's feature add-ons, this one comes at no cost to the customer, the only requirement is you must have at least 4 controllers on the box.

So you still need to get to 27 TB of usable capacity. From here it can get really fuzzy because  you need to add enough spindles to get that high but then you need to adjust the level of short stroking your doing to use more of the space per drive, it wouldn't surprise me if this wasn't even possible on the Pillar system(not sure if any system can do it really,  but I don't know).

If Pillar can't adjust the size of the short stroking then the numbers are easy, at 34.7GB/disk they need 778 drives to get to 27TB of usable capacity, roughly double what 3PAR has.

Of course the performance of a two-system based Axiom 600 with 778 drives will likely outperform a 384-disk F400(I should hope so at least), but you see where I'm going.

I'm sure Pillar engineers could come up with a way to configure the system more optimally my 778 drive solution is crazy but from a math perspective it's the easiest and quickest thing I could come up with, with the data I have available to me.

This is also a good illustration why when I go looking at what Xiotech posts, I really can't compare them against 3PAR or anybody else, because they only submit results for ~16 drive systems. To me, it is not valid to compare a ~16 drive system to something that has hundreds of drives and try to extrapolate results. Xiotech really does give stellar results as far as capacity utilization and IOPS/disk and stuff, but they haven't yet demonstrated that those numbers are scalable beyond a single ISE enclosure - yet alone to several hundred disks.

I also believe the 3PAR T800 results could be better too, the person at 3PAR who was responsible for running the test was new to the company at the time and the way he laid out the system was, odd to say the least. The commands he used were even depreciated. But 3PAR isn't all that interested in re-testing, they're still the record holder for spinning rust in a single system(more than two years running now no doubt!).

Better response times to boot

You can see the 3PAR system performs with less than half the amount of latency that the Pillar system does despite the Pillar system short stroking their disks. Distributed RAID with full mesh architecture at work baby. I didn't even mention it but the Pillar system has double the cache than than the F400. I mean the comparison really almost isn't fair.

I'm sure Pillar has bigger and better things out now since they released the SPC-1 numbers for the Axiom, so this post has the obvious caveat that I am reporting based on what is published. They'd need to pull more than a rabbit out of a hat to make up these massive gaps though I think.

Another Angle

We could look at this another way as well, assuming for simplicity's sake for a moment that both systems scale lineally up or down, we can configure a 3PAR F400 with the same performance specs as the Pillar that was tested.

You'd need 268 disks on the 3PAR F400 to match the performance of the Pillar system. With those 268 disks you'd get 18.4 TB of usable space, same performance, fewer disks, and 184% additional usable capacity. And scaling the cost down like we scaled the performance down, the cost would drop to roughly $374,000, a full $200,000 less than Pillar for the same performance and more space.


So hopefully this answers the question with more clarity why you can get less storage from the 3PAR F400 and get the same or better performance and usable capacity than going with a Pillar Axiom 600.  At the end of the day 3PAR drives higher capacity utilization and delivers superior results for significantly less greenbacks. And I didn't even take 3PAR's thin technologies into account, the math there can become even more fuzzy depending on the customer's actual requirements and how well they can leverage thin built in.

You may be able to understand why HP was willing to go to the end of the earth to acquire 3PAR technology. And you may be able to understand why I am so drawn to that very same technology. And here I'm just talking about performance. Something that unlike other things(ease of use etc) is really easy to put hard numbers on.

The numbers are pretty simple to understand, and you can see why the big cheese at HP responsible for spear heading the 3PAR purchase said:

The thin provisioning, automatic storage tiering, multi-tenancy, shared-memory architecture, and built-in workload management and load balancing in the 3PAR arrays are years ahead of the competition, according to Donatelli, and therefore justify the $2.4bn the company paid to acquire 3PAR in a bidding war with rival Dell.

Maybe if I'm lucky I can trigger interest in The Register again by starting a blog war or something and make tech news! woohoo! that would be cool. Of course now that I said that it probably won't happen.

I'm told by people who know the Pillar CEO he is "raw", much like me. so it will be interesting to see the response. I think the best thing they can do is post new SPC-1 numbers with whatever the latest technology they have is, preferably on 146G 15k disks!

Side note

It was in fact my 3PAR rep that inspired me to write about this SPC-1 stuff, I was having a conversation with him earlier in the year where he didn't think the F400 was as competitive against the HDS AMS2500 as he felt it needed to be. I pointed out to him that despite the AMS2500 having similar SPC-1 IOPS and similar cost, the F400 offered almost twice the usable capacity. And the cost per usable TB was far higher on the 2500. He didn't realize this.  I did see this angle so felt the need to illustrate it. Hence my Cost per SPC-1 Usable TB. It's not a performance metric, but in my opinion from a cost perspective a very essential metric, at least for highly efficient systems.

(In case it wasn't obvious, I am by no means compensated by 3PAR in any way for anything I write, I have a deep passion for technology and they have some really amazing technology, and they make it easy to use and cost effective to boot)


Bye Bye 3PAR, Hello HP!

TechOps Guy: Nate

Wow that was fast! HP completed it's purchase of 3PAR this morning.

HP today announced that it has completed the acquisition of 3PAR Inc., a leading global provider of utility storage, for a price of $33 per share in cash, or an enterprise value of $2.35 billion.

3PAR technologies expand HP’s storage portfolio into enterprise-class public and private cloud computing environments, which are key growth markets for HP. Complementary with HP’s current storage portfolio, 3PAR brings market-differentiating technology to HP that will enable clients to maximize storage utilization, balance workloads and automate storage tiering. This allows clients to improve productivity and more efficiently operate their storage networks.

With a worldwide sales and channel network, coupled with extensive service operations, HP is uniquely positioned to rapidly expand 3PAR’s market opportunity. As part of the HP Converged Infrastructure portfolio, which integrates servers, storage, networking and management technologies, 3PAR solutions will further strengthen HP’s ability to simplify data center environments for clients.

Further details on product integration will be announced at a later date.

Certainly not messing around!

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