This was a busy week for digital storage meetings with the Facebook sponsored Open Compute Project Summit right across the street from the SNIA Winter Symposium and the Non-Volatile Memory Storage Industry Summit. I want to talk about both events and their implications to the future of digital storage. This piece will cover some observations about digital storage at the Open Compute event.
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An important element in modern computing is digital storage. For an outfit like Facebook that uploads and stores 350 million new photos each day and stores them in a no-customer-cost social network, understanding and controlling the costs of storage are a crucial element in doing business. It is not surprising then that there were many digital storage developments showcased during the conference and in the show’s exhibit area.
Long term storage of content with acceptable access speeds and low cost is an important element in the Open Compute Project’s efforts to use dense commodity computer elements to create ultra-efficient, minimal energy consumption, compact data centers. As a consequence the Open Compute Project has an interest in a number of important storage elements including flash memory, optical discs and hard disk storage.
One of the more interesting announcements and displays featured a petabyte Blu-ray disc storage system. This robotic library system had 10,000 Blu-ray discs, each with 3-layer 100 GB storage capacity for 1 PB of total storage capacity. These discs are in 12 disc cartridges, each cartridge having a raw storage capacity of 1.2 TB. Facebook is reported to be considering this technology for a “cold” storage facility with a total capacity of at least one Exabyte (1,000 petabytes).
Looking on-line, 100 GB writable Blu-ray discs are priced at about $45 each, this would make the total cost of a 12 disc cartridge $540 (probably much less with a very large unit volume). If that price to Facebook were $250 per 12-disc cartridge then the price of the media in a PB storage system (10,000 discs) would be $2,500,000. This would not include the price of the drives, robotics and rack system. Let’s say the entire system could be $3 M. How does this compare to magnetic tape, another common archive storage technology?
After talking with sources at Spectra Logic it would appear that tape has about a 20X advantage in $/GB, would consume about half the floor space of Blu-ray discs and has a 6 X faster data transfer rate per drive. It is not clear why Facebook would want to use optical discs for such a cold storage application.
In addition to a sophisticated Blu-ray disc archive the Open Compute Summit included several displays featuring the new 6 TB He-filled HDD from HGST (a division of Western Digital). 6 TB is the new high capacity point for HDDs and is achieved with a slight increase in storage areal density but even more by adding 2 more disks in a conventional 3.5-inch HDD form factor. In addition to higher capacity the drive is said to run a few degrees cooler for equivalent RPM drives with fewer disks and to consume less power.
Seagate Technology also announced open source development tools for their new Kinetic HDD platform with Ethernet connectivity direct to the drive. The release of the Seagate Kinetic drive connector specifications and the T-Card development adapter to the OCP community enable design, testing and delivery of new systems allowing an easy cost-effective method for object-based storage solutions. These solutions allows replacing conventional SATA or SAS backplanes with Ethernet-based back planes. Hyve Solutions as well as other vendors were showing products using the Kinetic drives.
Digital storage is an important and prominent feature for the design for object based cloud storage. This is driving companies with lots of content, such as Facebook, to explore and develop new low cost storage technologies. Innovation and commodity products have enable inexpensive cloud based storage and the drive to reduce on-line storage costs to enable more content in the cloud will continue to drive the development of new and imaginative storage solutions.