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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.

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