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Backblaze, long a champion of home-grown hardware, succumbs to the lure of commodity servers

Exabyte-tending cloud storage outfit’s new data centre was built on Dell storage servers, but its own kit will live on

Cloud storage outfit Backblaze, which for years has rolled its own hardware, has turned to Dell for its storage needs in a new Amsterdam bit barn.

As detailed in a blog post, in 2019 Backblaze started contemplating the design of a new “Storage Pod”, the homegrown storage arrays it uses to power its services. The company has designed and built its own Storage Pods for a decade, and has published its designs under an open-source licence.

Backblaze builds enough Storage Pods — about 60 a month — that outsourcing to a contract manufacturer makes sense. But as the company’s post explains, 60 units a month isn’t a very substantial gig for a contract manufacturer. Backblaze therefore found itself performing component procurement and storing unused inventory.

COVID-19’s impact on global supply chains further complicated matters by making it hard to source components.

All of which led to discussions about how to ship Storage Pods to the company's planned data centre in Amsterdam. The company decided its options were:

  • Build the 150 Storage Pods it needed and ship them to Amsterdam;
  • Ship the parts to The Netherlands and find someone there to build Storage Pods;
  • Use storage servers from a third-party vendor.

The last option won, after tests of storage servers proved certain Dell models could meet Backblaze’s goal of being at least as performant as its own Storage Pods. Critically, the servers were available — a fact Backblaze’s Principal Storage Cloud Evangelist Andy Klein’s post attributed to COVID-crushed supply chains bending the way of big buyers.

Dell also — for a fee — created custom bezels so the Amsterdam rig looks like a Storage Pod.

Klein’s post stated Backblaze has since asked itself whether it will continue making Storage Pods. Here’s his answer:

We want to say yes. We’re still control freaks at heart, meaning we’ll want to make sure we can make our own storage servers so we are not at the mercy of ‘Big Server Inc.’

“So, no, we don’t think Storage Pods are dead,” he concluded. “They’ll just have a diverse group of storage server friends to work with.” ®

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