Big Tin

Big tin: IT infrastructure used by organisations to run their businesses. And other stuff too when I feel like it…

Seagate’s new KOS disk drives aim to entice cloud builders

Among the most interesting conversations I had at the storage show SNW (aka Powering the Cloud) in Frankfurt this year was with Seagate’s European cloud initiatives director Joe Fagan, as we talked about the company’s proposed Kinetic Open Storage (KOS) drives.

The disk drive company is trying to move up the stack from what has become commodity hardware by converting its drives into servers. Instead of attaching using a SATA or SAS connector, Kinetic drives will have – a SATA or SAS connector, not an RJ45. But the data flowing inside the connector will be using IP not storage protocols, while the connector remains the same for compatibility purposes.

The aim is to help builders of large-scale infrastructures, such as cloud providers, to build denser, object-based systems by putting the server on the storage, rather than, to paraphrase Fagan, spending the energy on a Xeon or two per server along with a bunch of other hardware. Seagate argues that KOS could eliminate a layer of hardware between applications and storage, so data will flow from the application servers directly to storage rather than, as now, being translated into a variety of protocols before it hits the disk.

Fagan said two cloud builders were interested in the technology.

Behind this is, of course, a bid to grab some of the cash that enterprises and consumers are spending on cloud applications and services.

There are a few ‘howevers’, as you might imagine. Among the first is that every disk drive will need an IP address. This has huge implications for the network infrastructure and for network managers. Suddenly, there will be a lot more IP addresses to deal with, they will have to be subnetted and VLANned – did I mention that Kinetic drives will use IPV4? – and all this assumes you can summon up enough v4 addresses to start with.

Another concern is that mechanical disk drives fail relatively frequently while servers don’t, as of course they have no moving parts. So when a drive fails – and in large-scale deployments they surely will – you have to throw away the internal server too. Could be expensive.

And finally, there’s also a huge amount of inertia in the shape of today’s installed systems and the expertise needed to manage and operate them.

Is that enough to halt the initiative? Seagate clearly hopes not, and hopes too that other drive makers will come on board and develop their own versions in order to help validate the concept. It has provided APIs to help app developers exploit the concept.

As ever, time will tell. But will you find these drives in a server near you any time soon? Don’t hold your breath.

Filed under: Data centre, Storage, , , , , , ,

Review of new WD 3TB WD30EZRX disk drive

Quiet and huge describes this new 3TB Western Digital disk drive pretty well. It contains enough data that, if printed out on paper would probably cover the whole of Wales or several elephants, but who’s counting? You could certainly fit well over 500 standard DVDs onto it.

The WD30EZRZ updates the previous model, the WD30EZRSDTL, by upgrading to the latest 6Gbps SATA interface, which won’t make much difference to most people as it will take several drives to fill that data pipe. In other words, the update is largely academic for most users, and the drive is mechanically identical to its 3Gbps predecessor.

What this drive promises is an ability to fit into a range of environments without disruption. If you sit next to your PC all day, you’ll know that the disk drive is one of its noisiest components. And if you have a PC in the living room, you’ll know that when it wakes up and does its stuff, you can hear the drive start rotating and then make a rattling sound when it’s working.

All drive makers have gone some way to making disk drives much quieter than before, with WD’s range of domestically-oriented devices dubbed ‘cool, quiet, eco-friendly’ by the manufacturer. #

So in addition to being quieter, this drive is claimed also to use less power. Fortunately for disk drive makers, the main users of power and generators of noise are the same: the motor that spins the disk and the actuator that moves the drive head — that’s the component that ‘rattles’. So by reducing the power to both of these they can achieve their objectives at the cost of performance. WD doesn’t reveal the speeds its ‘green’ disks spin but one enterprising reviewer calculated it from the sound of the disk at between 5400 and 7200 rpm.

The drive is quiet when idle — within a metre of it, it’s barely audible even while out of the PC case — and you can barely hear the drive rattle when seeking. A sound meter sited the standard distance of a metre away didn’t register the sound in a normal office environment.

But what does that quietness cost in speed? I tested the WD30EZRX using an Intel motherboard housing Intel’s four-core i7-2600K CPU clocked at 3.40GHz and with 8GB RAM. Running the SiSoft Sandra disk benchmark against the drive revealed a data transfer rate, at 100MBps, unchanged from its predecessor’s results. This isn’t the fastest transfer rate there, nor is the drive’s access time of nine milliseconds the lowest, but for most purposes the trade-off is probably good enough.

So if you need a drive to store your DVDs or CDs on, this is close to ideal. But watch out: 512GB solid state disks (SSDs), which are silent and hugely faster than mechanical devices, are commonplace if expensive. And while SSDs will always cost more than rotating media, they’re now approaching the point when you might consider abandoning spinning drives altogether.

In the meantime, the WD is at least as good as its rivals in the places where it matters.

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