The current enterprise data-center model for system design has many architectural layers, each with usually more function than is actually required. Taking just the storage layer, we find that the disk drives come with controllers and software that help manage allocation, performance, data placement, manage remote and local copies. There is complex software, procedures and hardware that manages backup and recovery. Other architectural layers include middleware, presentation services, and network layers.
The type of architecture that typifies cloud computing does away with layers of hardware; the only components are 1µ commodity servers, disks and IP switches. The application is also lean and mean, including all the functions required and no more. For example, the storage functions of allocation, data placement for performance and recovery are performed by a file system. Examples of file systems with the necessary functionality are UC Berkley’s OceanStore Project or Google File System. The data is virtualized and multiple coherent copies can be stored across a network of servers and storage. The file system virtualizes blocks of data and keeps track of where they are and how safe the data is. The file system assumes that software and hardware can and will fail, and will recovery seamlessly without user impact. Other functional components of the system are added only as required, and often from open source.
The result is a complete re-architecture and slimming down of the system. The function that was provided by the storage and backup systems are now provided by the file-system with a single architectural layer. What was an application supported by “fat” (over functioned) layers is now reduced to a “slim” functionality in very few layers. The choice of functionality included in each application is appropriate to the business requirements.
EMC’s Hulk is a good example of hardware designed for this new paradigm. It is a bare metal assembly of 1µ Intel servers, IP switches, and 1TB commodity disk drives. It is designed for each component to be swapped out while the system is running by an operator and comes with thin margins, no software and no maintenance costs. EMC’s Maui (based on OceanStore, or just looking like OceanStore?) might provide one version of many alternative software options that can be run on Hulk.
The benefits of such an architectural approach for appropriate applications are very significantly reduced costs of computing and increased potential to outsource the operations.
Action Item: IT executives should put their best and brightest architects and encourage experimentation on completely different ways of delivering application value to the enterprise and to enterprise customers, suppliers, partners and other stakeholders. Storage executives and professionals should become conversant with the emerging technologies and become trusted advisers to application designers and development teams on file systems and the management of data.