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April 29, 2008


Robert Milkowski

I think you are missing the point. I did actually a price comparison. Building your storage solution (in my case several hundred TBs) from cheap disks using x86 servers + ZFS + Open Solaris + Solaris Cluster + ZFS, where all software is not only open sourced it is also for free, *does* make a huge difference. We actually started building our solution on EMC Symmetrix (great box) and EMC Celerra years ago and endup on really cheap storage + ZFS as a replacement and a way to move forward. Additionally all features like snapshots, cloning, end-to-end checksuming, remote replication, built-in compression, built-in cryptography, NFS, CIFS, iSCSI, ... are also for free. Better - they work exactly the same regardles what cheap storage or server we put underneath.

What ZFS brings to the market is the open sourced and free Google like approach to storage - how to cheaply build reliable storage from small to large scale installations.

Sure, especially for SMB market, what is needed is an easy GUI interface built on-top of Solaris + ZFS. I'm sury you will see one sooner or later.

Chuck Hollis

Thanks for the perspective?


are you configured for HA (e.g. redundant paths to data, RAID, multiple controllers), or are you just looking for capacity?

What do you do for support? Do you call your vendor when you've got an issue, or do you do most of the support and problem resolution yourself?

Finally -- and most important -- what are you using the storage for? Are we talking file sharing, or supporting an OLTP environment?

Any additional insights would be appreciated -- thanks!


Good past Chuck, as usual you put a lot out there to discuss.

To me, the fact that this is Sun and not HP, IBM, Microsoft or anybody else makes this interesting. I sort of doubt they know where this is going, but they seem determined to let it play out. This seems to fit their culture and skills - although the business is questionable.

My hunch is that the support end of this will choke Sun's zeal as implementations increase. Support could come from other vendors who implement the technology in their products, but only if the licensing can work.

Taylor Allis

Chuck - Here's the simple point to Open Storage that Robert is making above: Free software + Market priced disk = Huge savings

Then add Sun Service (which services the same types of customers as EMC) PLUS 3,000 storage community members for support.

Even more, developers and Web 2.0 companies now have an entire storage software stack to use - they don't have to build their own. They can focus on developing their own software on top of a solid platform.

Chuck Hollis

Wow! Your exuberance is almost contagious ...

Look, I'm not arguing that a do-it-yourself strategy can save money.

It's true for many things: selling your house, getting legal work done, perhaps a bit of minor surgery.

Especially if you're not too concerned about the outcome, or happen to have some unique expertise in what you're considering.

My argument is that I don't see too many sane people actually doing it. And, yes, there will be certain use cases where people will look at this and say "makes sense for me".

I wish them the very best!

One minor note: you're claiming that Sun will offer the same level of mission critical support for consumers of this open source stack as those who purchase, say, your HDS-rebadged array?

I find that very, very hard to believe.


Serious support skills cost real money. The idea that Sun would generate sufficient income from for open source software is an economic virtual motion machine. But that won't keep Sun and others from trying.

Taylor Allis

Amazon and Google wouldn't have a business if they didn't do storage themselves - also talk to any Web 2.0 start up trying to differentiate their business through IT...

Chuck Hollis

Well, certainly Google has a business (they sell advertising), but it's not clear if Amazon's S3 really is a business, or a charity.

As far as Web 2.0 startups -- interesting segment, to be sure -- but not exactly heavy investors in serious IT infrastructure, are they?

I think customers will decide -- one way or another -- how they're going to approach IT.

But -- please -- explain to me -- how does Sun make money by giving away software and selling commoditized servers?

Maybe they make it up on volume?

Chris Mellor

The Sun open source storage strategy is discussed here: http://www.blocksandfiles.com/article/4975

My view is that it is not a disruptive storage technologybut it might become one.


ha ha ha - make it up on volume!

Robert Milkowski

Chuck - depends on a solution I deployed. Quite often I do use multi-pathing using MPxIO which is delivered for free with Solaris (and yes, it even does work with EMC storage), sometimes we are talking about Sun's Thumpers (aka x4500).

When it comes to support - HW suport is easy, I just buy support from the vendor. Software support - well, you buy support for from Sun for Solaris which does cover ZFS, MPxIO, etc. and is relatively cheap.
At the same time, yes you do need specific skills and be able to support it yourself to some degree, especially with biggier environments. But it is also true if you go with traditional approach (I remember how much time it took me to come up with valiable backup approach to Symmetrix + Celerra with a lot of small files - other than replicating to another pair of Symmetrix/Cellera - I ended up with in-house and unsupported by EMC approach which actually worked well).

Now you asking about OLTP - of course, I've deployed many MySQL+Solaris x86 + cheap JBODS or arrays + ZFS - except for hardware everything else is for free and works really well.

I'm not saying that aproach is the best one in all cases - of course it is not. But in many cases it is and it is a big money saver.

Taylor Allis

Well, last time I checked there was money in helping customers build better, more affordable storage systems - at least that's what Sun is betting on ;-)

And I wouldn't be so quick to discredit Web 2.0 companies. Today's upstarts can be tomorrow's key players - a recent Forrester survey also found 1/3 of traditional companies are deploying Web 2.0 applications (in fact, we're using one).

And if you think they are not heavy IT investors, well I guess that's the whole point of open storage - they can't afford to deploy traditional storage architectures, so they need to leverage better storage economics...

Come to think of it, maybe that's a good message for traditional customers as well?

Chuck Hollis

Hope springs eternal at Sun, doesn't it? I guess having an optimistic outlook really helps.

But the people I'm talking to have some serious unanswered questions around all of this, which you've declined to answer:

1 -- how is Sun's offering different than other open source storage offerings?

2 -- is there a fully delineated model regarding how support responsibilities differ in an open source approach than a traditional approach? Do I get enterprise class storage support, or I get to replace failed drives using FedEx, or do I throw myself on the mercy of the "community" when I'm up a creek without a paddle? It's not clear to anyone I talk to.

3 -- What happens when your "open source" software becomes the target of an IP suit? More specifically, where can that leave customers? And, Taylor, as you know, this isn't a hypothetical situation these days.

Best of luck -- and all credit -- for trying something new over at Sun. If nothing else, you guys are very creative.

Now you just have to be successful!


Hi Chuck,
Very Well Explained. Creativity Vs Successful.
EMC, NetApp, IBM systems with support issues, they got guys to fix it onsite.

How will the Sun support engineer troubleshoot open storages?
Sorry Mr.Customer ... DO-IT-YOURSELF

Infact Sun did not do anything new. Even DAS (Direct Attached Storages) are do-it-yourself.
Also remember SAMBA - Open NAS.

Sorry Sun. Innovate something spectacular!

Taylor Allis

Chuck - great questions.

Our open source offerings are different in a couple ways:

1. Our scope - we have opened the entire stack, from drivers to higher-level apps like snapshots and mirroring. We offer high level apps like SAM (HSM) and honeycomb (Object archive), as well as COMSTAR unified target code which turns a server into a block storage device.

2. Our quality and functionality - read the testimonials from DigiTar and Nexenta about Solaris and ZFS as a storage platform.

3. The entire package - unique Servers, Storage, Service, Solaris, ZFS and OpenSolaris.

Open source doesn't always require new support models as well. EMC's Centera ships with open source Linux on every node - you're not leaving them up the creek without a paddle, right?

Also don't discount support from a community - here is what DigiTar (a Linux shop btw) said about Open Storage in their blog - "you’ll also find an community around OpenSolaris that is by far the friendliest and most mature open source group of folks you’ve ever dealt with."

SunSpectrum customers can find support for OpenSolaris and customers can buy RTUs of open source projects if they desire traditional support - the market has worked out service for open systems and open source. It's a long subject - I'll blog more on this later, but this is a great topic and a great place to differentiate as well.

I'm glad you asked about IP suites as well. Sun indemnifies customers who use Sun open source. This is unique. IP suits hit traditional software as well keep in mind. What happens to EMC customers when EMC is the target of an IP lawsuit? Do you indemnify them?

Taylor Allis

Clarification: My apologies, Sun offers indemnification for the commercial version of our open source platform, i.e. Solaris. See Jonathan's blog mentioning it first here: http://blogs.sun.com/jonathan/entry/an_open_letter_to_sam1

"From Federal Express to Verisign, SAP and Oracle to Siebel, Veritas and BEA - from across the globe and marketplace - there is tremendous demand and support. They love that we're open sourcing Solaris, and that we'll be the first open source vendor to offer a commercial version of our product with indemnification against intellectual property lawsuits."

Chuck Hollis

Hi Taylor

There comes a point when someone goes from simply diasagreeing, to being disagreeable. I think you're crossing that line here.

Of course, EMC indemnifies customers regarding IP issues. And, of course, EMC provides 24x7 enterprise-class support, regardless of how the product is constructed.

I think Job #1 at Sun is becoming profitable again, especially with regards to storage.

Bryan Cantrill

Since the key distinction that you're drawing here is essentially an economic one (that is, you don't seem to be making a technical argument against ZFS), what makes you think that Sun can't take these components and integrate and support them? And even if you discount Sun (for lots of good reasons, I might add), what is to stop a start-up from doing it?

Gary Watson

Have to agree with Chuck here -- I can't see how you are going to achieve 5 or even 3 nines reliability unless you perform full DVT testing (and bug fixing) against a revision controlled HW/SW platform. This means locking down the HW rev of your logic board, all instances of microcode such as what runs inside the Fibre HBA chips as well as BIOS, every device driver, and even revisions of disk drives and their firmware. You are part of the way there if you select an off-the-shelf server from a tier-1 player, but even they are pretty lax when it comes to testing hard-core Fibre Channel applications. My company operates in both worlds -- we make RAID hardware but we also have products based on commodity servers. From my experience, it's very challenging from an operational standpoint to acquire suitable commodity servers and keep the vendors from changing anything, but luckily we have enough experience to know the right questions to ask and have the right tools to perform enough testing. To give a sense of scale to this issue, more than half the commodity components we test fail to achieve our standards of reliability, and we only test stuff from Tier-1 suppliers.

Chuck Hollis

Excellent point, Bryan -- there is absolutely nothing preventing anyone (including Sun) from assembling the components, testing and delivering them in a highly supported configuration for customers who might want a more traditional approach to how they consume storage.

Ditto for someone doing the same with Windows, or Linux, or any other commodity-software-stack-meets-commodity-server-hardware combination.

I do happen to think ZFS is cool. And I do think there's a potential of a business model to sell it and deliver it in a more traditional way, e.g. as a platform product rather than a set of do-it-yourself components.

I don't know if Sun's up for that, though ...

Thanks for writing!

Chuck Hollis

Hi Gary -- philosphically, I agree with you.

In general though, the constraints you mention are somewhat less demanding for NAS environments (TCP/IP can be a very patient protocol, unlike FC), but the point is still valid.

In my mind, the only potential market is people who (a) are looking for 1 or 2 "nines", and can't justify higher availability, and (b) are willing to do a bit of roll-your-own before, during and after the deployment.

I haven't met a lot of people like that -- have you?

Joerg Hallbauer


This is the same 'ol argument that we have over open source time and again now extended to storage. It boils down to risk. How many people are willing to risk running their mission critical ERP software on Linux, for example? Some, yes, but not many. What most folks do is run their mission critical apps on AIX, HPUX, Windows, etc. where they can get support. Where Linux is making inroads is on other applications that people are willing to take a small risk on in order to save money.

What I question in nearly every case is what are the real savings with open source? Sure, you don't have to pay any license fees for your software, but are you ending up spending more on internal support costs? I've done the math on a couple of occasions, and when you consider the 3 year TCO of open source, you rarely end up coming out ahead.

So I suspect that open source storage will end up the same way. Those who want to save every nickle they can on the front end will go open source and pay the ongoing internal support costs, those who are risk adverse will pay for the relative "safety" of going with a major storage vendor and getting a partner who will help them through the tough times. I think that what we will see is open source storage taking the same slow path into the data center that Linux did and in the end have about the same, or maybe a little less of a share as Linux.

So here's an interesting question, if it's all about cheap storage, what about products like EMC's Hulk which I beieve is nothing more than commodity components bundled together and sold dirt cheap? Does something like that address the those among us who are more concerned with upfront costs?


Gavin McLaughlin

First of all - Hi Chuck, long time no speak.

I noticed your comment of : "I do happen to think ZFS is cool. And I do think there's a potential of a business model to sell it and deliver it in a more traditional way, e.g. as a platform product rather than a set of do-it-yourself components.I don't know if Sun's up for that, though ..."

You've bought up a key point here and it's something that's certainly been acknowledged and addressed within Sun.

Yes there's a strong belief that the Open Storage strategy can bring a great deal of benefits to developers and enterprise customers alike, however you've correctly pointed out that enterprise customers view support and risk differently to developers and that needs careful addressing and handling.

You are correct in highlighting the "DIY" model where customers can build storage solutions from open source and industry standard components, however Sun are also offering "de-risked" solutions that use these components to address more business focussed needs.

Examples of this are the Greenplum Data Warehouse solution, or the Sun Secure Data Retrieval Server (SDRS) box. The SDRS solution takes the JBOD approach (through the X4500 "Thumper" box) and uses a partially open-source software stack to provide call data records management for telecommunications customers. By utilising industry standard hardware and open source software, Sun can provide a much more cost effective solution than say Centera & Sensage but without additional risk to customers. Oh and it's a great deal more energy efficient too ;-)

I think that whilst some of your arguments are sound, and that it will take some time for the enterprise customer and open source markets to fully come together without compromise, Sun can address the best of both worlds by providing more "appliance" type approaches that use open source software as the foundation for solutions.

The move from JBOD to intelligent arrays was the right thing to do in the late 90's due to technology constraints, however are the reasons for those move still technology challenges? Don't get me wrong, I don't think people should swap their Symmetrix systems for JBOD and Open Source software today, however the market dynamics are changing and it will be interesting to see how this plays out over time.



Consider implementing Solaris as a storage stack on one of your products. You can put it on top of commodity hardware, put your value add into the mix (EMC support, EMC management apps) and then come talk to the OS folks at Sun. Heck, with COMSTAR (http://opensolaris.org/os/projects/comstar) you can download and build a multi-protocol box that will just work on an your systems. I am sure we would be happy to help you guys and you could cut costs. Give me a shout if you want to have a chat about how we can work together to enhance storage for both our customer sets.

Chuck Hollis

Interesting ideas ... let me add a few more ideas.

Has Sun ever thought of selling market-proven products that don't involve user assembly? Or offering a consistent, integrated product portfolio?

I'm sure we would be happy to help you guys and you could increase your revenues and profitability.

Give me a shout if you want to have a chat about how we can work together to enhance storage for both our customer sets.


This link:


software testing services

Thanks for sharing your perspective ! But What do you do for support? Do you call your vendor when you've got an issue, or do you do most of the support and problem resolution yourself?

The comments to this entry are closed.

Chuck Hollis

  • Chuck Hollis
    SVP, Oracle Converged Infrastructure Systems

    Chuck now works for Oracle, and is now deeply embroiled in IT infrastructure.

    Previously, he was with VMware for 2 years, and EMC for 18 years before that, most of them great.

    He enjoys speaking to customer and industry audiences about a variety of technology topics, and -- of course -- enjoys blogging.

    Chuck lives in Vero Beach, FL with his wife and four dogs when he's not traveling. In his spare time, Chuck is working on his second career as an aging rock musician.

    Warning: do not ever buy him a drink when there is a piano nearby.

    Note: these are my personal views, and aren't reviewed or approved by my employer.
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