Blades for Storage

Over the last decade, I've had a significant interest in the benefits of blade server architectures. In early 2000, I worked on a development project that used CompactPCI cards from ZiaTech (later acquired by Intel) where we used the CompactPCI bus as a high-performance low-latency system-to-system interconnect. Several years later, we also evaluated blade systems from IBM and HP to see if we could leverage some of the benefits of blade systems for StorageGRID deployments. But, at every point, there were major downsides, namely, cost, bandwidth and storage interconnectivity.

Thus, until now, I've never found a product that provides the storage connectivity that allows a blade system to complete economically with DAS attached shelves linked to 1U servers. That changed this week, with IBM announcing the new BladeCenter S Chassis.

Enabling Features of the BladeCenter S

There are three features in this product that allow it to be a perfect foundation for software-based storage systems:

Feature #1 - SAS/SATA RAID modules, which allow you to hang up to eight SAS/SATA shelves off each BladeCenter chassis. With 12 TB of SATA storage per shelf, that allows you to have 96 TB of raw addressable storage per BladeCenter. This feature is unique to the IBM offering at this time, and is the key enabling feature of the product for storage software solutions.

Feature #2 - Internal SAS/SATA storage, with two bays, each holding 6 3.5" drives (up to 6 TB SATA, 3 TB SAS). This is perfect for system and database disks, and allows all of the control storage to be co-located with the compute blades.

Feature #3 - 10GigE switch modules and blade NICs give you the bandwidth you need to provide high-performance storage services to external clients without bottlenecks.

Scalable Hardware for Storage Software

With the BladeCenter chassis starting at less than $2,500, this allows a common architecture and hardware platform that extends from entry-level systems consisting of two HA blades with internal storage all the way up to multi-chassis systems managing hundreds of terabytes of storage. This also reduces support costs, as you can leverage a common pool of replacement parts.

The blade architecture allows the compute hardware to be field replaceable, which reduces MTTR. And as the attached storage is assignable across blades, there is the possibility to design a system that has a hot standby blade that dynamically reassigns the storage associated with the failed blade, and resumes providing services.

If I were to design a new software storage product, this would be the foundation hardware I would choose. The software would run in VMs, granted, but this hardware finally provides the cost/performance/supportability tradeoffs that I view are critical for such a product to succeed, and provides sufficient built-in storage to allow a common hardware platform to extend down to entry-level systems.

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