What makes a tier-1 enterprise flash array a superior beast?

Storage monoliths enter the fray

Enterprise tier-1 storage arrays are a breed apart, focusing on providing fast access to vast amounts of data without either losing data or limiting access to it.

This is in contrast to the broad mass of storage arrays, which have dual controllers and thus limit the amount of data they can store and the number of concurrent accesses they allow.

There are four main tier-1 arrays on the market:

  • EMC's VMAX
  • IBM's DS8000
  • Hitachi Data Systems'(HDS) VSP
  • HP’s XP, an OEM version of the Hitachi VSP

Typically such arrays have more than two controllers and an internal backplane or fabric to link the controllers with the storage shelves and ensure there is enough internal bandwidth to service the high number of I/O requests coming in.

The VMAX 40K, for example, had a 4PB capacity with 2,000 2TB disk drives. There is a Virtual Matrix interconnecting the controllers, aka storage engines, and there can be up to eight of them.

These have high availability, with data access continuing if a controller fails and no loss of data if a disk drive fails. Updates to the systems software and firmware should be accomplished without hindering access to data.

This class of array also has a rich set of data-management features, such as replication to another array, either local or remote, and snapshots.

Suppliers assert that the array operating system needs two or more years of development and real-world testing to be truly reliable. Overall these arrays are highly available and highly reliable.

The key components are:

  • More than two controllers
  • Internal interconnect fabric
  • Scale-up rather than scale-out design
  • High performance for large number of concurrent accesses

The scale-up nature of their design, adding controllers and disk shelves as a customer's needs grow, is why some call these arrays monolithic. They are very large single systems, in contrast to dual-controller arrays which can scale out to add capacity and performance by linking separate boxes, using clustering for example.

The internal fabric is vital to support performance, although other things being equal if that is missing but the other tier-1 enterprise array features are present then the array’s status is not compromised.

Fine performance

On that basis the main features of a tier-1 enterprise class array are performance, scaling up past two controllers and reliability.

It is generally agreed that scale-out arrays do not have the claimed bullet-proof reliability of tier-1 enterprise-class arrays.

Suppose an all-flash array from a startup can equal a tier-1 array’s performance – does that make it a tier-1 enterprise class array?

We have to understand how performance is measured. It is not enough simply to say the system can run a certain number of random read or write IOPS, or that its bandwidth when writing or reading is a certain number of GBps.

We need to understand the mix of IOs in the real world, the percentage of reads and writes, the size of the data blocks and their distribution.

Unless a benchmark is run on your own workloads, any performance rating is going to be artificial, but you can at least get an industry-standard rating by looking at the Storage Performance Council (SPC) benchmarks.

The SPC-1 benchmark provides a rating of how well a storage array does at random IO, with SPC-2 doing the same for sequential IO. A check of results for various arrays is quite informative:

Hitachi VSP All-flash array SPC-1 ranking

SPC-1 rankings (click chart to enlarge)

This chart shows SPC-1 rankings for the Hitachi VSP array in disk (269,506.69) and all-flash (602,019.47) versions and IBM’s DS8870 (451,082.27 IOPS)

The top-scoring system is a Kaminario K2 all-flash array with 1,239,898 IOPS. Does that make this a tier-1 enterprise-class array?

Test of endurance

We would say not because despite out-performing mainstream vendors’ tier-1 arrays it lacks the enterprise-class array features mentioned above.

There are no other all-flash array or hybrid array startup systems in the SPC-1 rankings. That means we cannot compare Pure Storage or Nimble Storage, for example, with other systems in the SPC-1 rankings.

Also there is no independent and objective measure of their performance based on an industry-standard workload. Customers have to run their own internal tests if they wish to evaluate such an array.

How about the SPC-2 benchmark, the sequential IO one? Here is a chart of some SPC-2 results:


SPC-2 rankings (click chart to enlarge)

This chart is a combination of Mbps throughput and price/performance. That is based on list price, so it is less relevant in the real world where discounts may apply, but we still get a worthwhile comparison.

The chart shows IBM's DS8870, HDS’s VSP and HP’s XP systems, which are soundly beaten in sequential throughput terms by the Kaminario array again. But the same reasoning applies: the K2 is not a tier-1 enterprise class array because it lacks the features we have already mentioned.

In general then, it seems there is no startup offering a scale-up all-flash array that scales past two controllers and has the reliability features needed.

The logic of this pretty much dictates that the only straightforward way to build a tier-1 all-flash enterprise array is to put the flash inside an existing one, like the HDS VSP.

You can also buy all-flash versions of IBM's DS8000 and EMC's VMAX, and we would assume that they are better performers than their disk-based versions, although we have no SPC lens, as it were, through which to verify this.

However, suppliers such as HP with its all-flash 3PAR system and NetApp with its all-flash FAS series, particularly the top-end 8080 EX, would say that not only do they have the performance of a VMAX, VSP or DS8000 monolithic array, they also have scale-up attributes as they can use more than two controllers through, for example, clustering of nodes.

The 8080 EX can scale up past 4.5PB of flash and HP's 7450 can have 460TB of raw flash and 1.3PB of effective capacity after deduplicating redundant data. The capacity scale obstacle goes away.

Risky disks

These vendors would assert that their array operating systems have many years of development behind them and are battle hardened. They also have features such as replication and snapshots to provide the same rich data-management services as VMAX and VSP-class systems.

The vendors would also say that the most unreliable element of a disk-drive array is the disk drive. When an array has a thousand or more drives then disk failure will be a regular occurrence. Using SSDs instead of disk drives removes that mechanical risk from the equation.

As flash storage responds to requests so much faster than disk you don't need so many storage controllers to handle the same number of access requests from users.

All in all, an enterprise array previously rated as a high-end mid-tier array, such as FAS and 3PAR arrays, can with flash storage inside satisfy tier-1 enterprise-class array requirements. Acquisition, power, cooling and operating costs are also lower than for a disk-drive legacy array.

Flash-based arrays take up far less data-centre space than disk-drive arrays of equivalent capacity and performance, need less power to operate and generate much less heat.

If nothing else, workloads could be selectively moved from a legacy enterprise array onto newer all-flash arrays. We might envisage workloads with low latency requirements or a high proportion of random IO requests being candidates for this.

Customers for these high-end arrays are famously conservative and require a lot of convincing that a new candidate array is as good as their existing ones.

It begins to look, though, as if high-end flash arrays from HP and NetApp can now compete at this level and provide the incumbents with a run for their money. ®

Other stories you might like

  • Monero-mining botnet targets Windows, Linux web servers
    Sysrv-K malware infects unpatched tin, Microsoft warns

    The latest variant of the Sysrv botnet malware is menacing Windows and Linux systems with an expanded list of vulnerabilities to exploit, according to Microsoft.

    The strain, which Microsoft's Security Intelligence team calls Sysrv-K, scans the internet for web servers that have security holes, such as path traversal, remote file disclosure, and arbitrary file download bugs, that can be exploited to infect the machines.

    The vulnerabilities, all of which have patches available, include flaws in WordPress plugins such as the recently uncovered remote code execution hole in the Spring Cloud Gateway software tracked as CVE-2022-22947 that Uncle Sam's CISA warned of this week.

    Continue reading
  • Red Hat Kubernetes security report finds people are the problem
    Puny human brains baffled by K8s complexity, leading to blunder fears

    Kubernetes, despite being widely regarded as an important technology by IT leaders, continues to pose problems for those deploying it. And the problem, apparently, is us.

    The open source container orchestration software, being used or evaluated by 96 per cent of organizations surveyed [PDF] last year by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, has a reputation for complexity.

    Witness the sarcasm: "Kubernetes is so easy to use that a company devoted solely to troubleshooting issues with it has raised $67 million," quipped Corey Quinn, chief cloud economist at IT consultancy The Duckbill Group, in a Twitter post on Monday referencing investment in a startup called Komodor. And the consequences of the software's complication can be seen in the difficulties reported by those using it.

    Continue reading
  • Infosys skips government meeting - and collecting government taxes
    Tax portal wobbles, again

    Services giant Infosys has had a difficult week, with one of its flagship projects wobbling and India's government continuing to pressure it over labor practices.

    The wobbly projext is India's portal for filing Goods and Services Tax returns. According to India’s Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC), the IT services giant reported a “technical glitch” that meant auto-populated forms weren't ready for taxpayers. The company was directed to fix it and CBIC was faced with extending due dates for tax payments.

    Continue reading
  • Google keeps legacy G Suite alive and free for personal use

    Google has quietly dropped its demand that users of its free G Suite legacy edition cough up to continue enjoying custom email domains and cloudy productivity tools.

    This story starts in 2006 with the launch of “Google Apps for Your Domain”, a bundle of services that included email, a calendar, Google Talk, and a website building tool. Beta users were offered the service at no cost, complete with the ability to use a custom domain if users let Google handle their MX record.

    The service evolved over the years and added more services, and in 2020 Google rebranded its online productivity offering as “Workspace”. Beta users got most of the updated offerings at no cost.

    Continue reading
  • GNU Compiler Collection adds support for China's LoongArch CPU family
    MIPS...ish is on the march in the Middle Kingdom

    Version 12.1 of the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) was released this month, and among its many changes is support for China's LoongArch processor architecture.

    The announcement of the release is here; the LoongArch port was accepted as recently as March.

    China's Academy of Sciences developed a family of MIPS-compatible microprocessors in the early 2000s. In 2010 the tech was spun out into a company callled Loongson Technology which today markets silicon under the brand "Godson". The company bills itself as working to develop technology that secures China and underpins its ability to innovate, a reflection of Beijing's believe that home-grown CPU architectures are critical to the nation's future.

    Continue reading
  • China’s COVID lockdowns bite e-commerce players
    CEO of e-tail market leader JD perhaps boldly points out wider economic impact of zero-virus stance

    The CEO of China’s top e-commerce company, JD, has pointed out the economic impact of China’s current COVID-19 lockdowns - and the news is not good.

    Speaking on the company’s Q1 2022 earnings call, JD Retail CEO Lei Xu said that the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic had brought positive effects for many Chinese e-tailers as buyer behaviour shifted to online purchases.

    But Lei said the current lengthy and strict lockdowns in Shanghai and Beijing, plus shorter restrictions in other large cities, have started to bite all online businesses as well as their real-world counterparts.

    Continue reading
  • Foxconn forms JV to build chip fab in Malaysia
    Can't say when, where, nor price tag. Has promised 40k wafers a month at between 28nm and 40nm

    Taiwanese contract manufacturer to the stars Foxconn is to build a chip fabrication plant in Malaysia.

    The planned factory will emit 12-inch wafers, with process nodes ranging from 28 to 40nm, and will have a capacity of 40,000 wafers a month. By way of comparison, semiconductor-centric analyst house IC Insights rates global wafer capacity at 21 million a month, and Taiwanese TSMC’s four “gigafabs” can each crank out 250,000 wafers a month.

    In terms of production volume and technology, this Malaysian facility will not therefore catapult Foxconn into the ranks of leading chipmakers.

    Continue reading
  • NASA's InSight doomed as Mars dust coats solar panels
    The little lander that couldn't (any longer)

    The Martian InSight lander will no longer be able to function within months as dust continues to pile up on its solar panels, starving it of energy, NASA reported on Tuesday.

    Launched from Earth in 2018, the six-metre-wide machine's mission was sent to study the Red Planet below its surface. InSight is armed with a range of instruments, including a robotic arm, seismometer, and a soil temperature sensor. Astronomers figured the data would help them understand how the rocky cores of planets in the Solar System formed and evolved over time.

    "InSight has transformed our understanding of the interiors of rocky planets and set the stage for future missions," Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said in a statement. "We can apply what we've learned about Mars' inner structure to Earth, the Moon, Venus, and even rocky planets in other solar systems."

    Continue reading
  • The ‘substantial contributions’ Intel has promised to boost RISC-V adoption
    With the benefit of maybe revitalizing the x86 giant’s foundry business

    Analysis Here's something that would have seemed outlandish only a few years ago: to help fuel Intel's future growth, the x86 giant has vowed to do what it can to make the open-source RISC-V ISA worthy of widespread adoption.

    In a presentation, an Intel representative shared some details of how the chipmaker plans to contribute to RISC-V as part of its bet that the instruction set architecture will fuel growth for its revitalized contract chip manufacturing business.

    While Intel invested in RISC-V chip designer SiFive in 2018, the semiconductor titan's intentions with RISC-V evolved last year when it revealed that the contract manufacturing business key to its comeback, Intel Foundry Services, would be willing to make chips compatible with x86, Arm, and RISC-V ISAs. The chipmaker then announced in February it joined RISC-V International, the ISA's governing body, and launched a $1 billion innovation fund that will support chip designers, including those making RISC-V components.

    Continue reading
  • FBI warns of North Korean cyberspies posing as foreign IT workers
    Looking for tech talent? Kim Jong-un's friendly freelancers, at your service

    Pay close attention to that resume before offering that work contract.

    The FBI, in a joint advisory with the US government Departments of State and Treasury, has warned that North Korea's cyberspies are posing as non-North-Korean IT workers to bag Western jobs to advance Kim Jong-un's nefarious pursuits.

    In guidance [PDF] issued this week, the Feds warned that these techies often use fake IDs and other documents to pose as non-North-Korean nationals to gain freelance employment in North America, Europe, and east Asia. Additionally, North Korean IT workers may accept foreign contracts and then outsource those projects to non-North-Korean folks.

    Continue reading
  • Elon Musk says Twitter buy 'cannot move forward' until spam stats spat settled
    A stunning surprise to no one in this Solar System

    Elon Musk said his bid to acquire and privatize Twitter "cannot move forward" until the social network proves its claim that fake bot accounts make up less than five per cent of all users.

    The world's richest meme lord formally launched efforts to take over Twitter last month after buying a 9.2 per cent stake in the biz. He declined an offer to join the board of directors, only to return asking if he could buy the social media platform outright at $54.20 per share. Twitter's board resisted Musk's plans at first, installing a "poison pill" to hamper a hostile takeover before accepting the deal, worth over $44 billion.

    But then it appears Musk spotted something in Twitter's latest filing to America's financial watchdog, the SEC. The paperwork asserted that "fewer than five percent" of Twitter's monetizable daily active users (mDAUs) in the first quarter of 2022 were fake or spammer accounts, which Musk objected to: he felt that figure should be a lot higher. He had earlier proclaimed that ridding Twitter of spam bots was a priority for him, post-takeover.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022