By bmc on Feb 19, 2009
My blog post eulogizing SPEC SFS has elicited quite a bit of reaction, much of it from researchers and industry observers who have drawn similar conclusions. While these responses were very positive, my polemic garnered a different reaction from SPEC SFS stalwart NetApp, where, in his response defending SPEC SFS, my former colleague Mike Eisler concocted this Alice-in-Wonderland defense of the lack of a pricing disclosure in the benchmark:
Like many industries, few storage companies have fixed pricing. As much as heads of sales departments would prefer to charge the same highest price to every customer, it isn't going to happen. Storage is a buyers' market. And for storage devices that serve NFS and now CIFS, the easily accessible numbers on spec.org are yet another tool for buyers. I just don't understand why a storage vendor would advocate removing that tool.
Mike's argument -- and I'm still not sure that I'm parsing it correctly -- appears to be that the infamously opaque pricing in the storage business somehow helps customers because they don't have to pay a single "highest price"! That is, that the lack of transparent pricing somehow reflects the "buyers' market" in storage. If that is indeed Mike's argument, someone should let the buyers know how great they have it -- those silly buyers don't seem to realize that the endless haggling over software licensing and support contracts is for them!
And if that argument isn't contorted enough for you, Mike takes a second tack:
In storage, the cost of the components to build the device falls continuously. Just as our customers have a buyers' market, we storage vendors are buyers of components from our suppliers and also enjoy a buyers' market. Re-submitting numbers after a hunk of sheet metal declines in price is silly.
His ludicrous "sheet metal" example aside (what enterprise storage product contains more than a few hundred bucks of sheet metal?), Mike's argument appears to be that technology curves like Moore's Law and Kryder's Law lead to enterprise storage prices that are falling with such alarming speed that they're wrong by the time as they are so much as written down! If it needs to be said, this argument is absurd on many levels. First, the increases in transistor density and areal storage density tend to result in more computing bandwidth and more storage capacity per dollar, not lower absolute prices. (After all, your laptop is three orders of magnitude more powerful than a personal computer circa 1980 -- but it's certainly not a thousandth of the price.)
Second, has anyone ever accused the enterprise storage vendors of dropping their prices in pace with these laws -- or even abiding by them in the first place? The last time I checked, the single-core Mobile Celeron that NetApp currently ships in their FAS2020 and FAS2050 -- a CPU with a criminally small 256K of L2 cache -- is best described as a Moore's Outlaw: a CPU that, even when it first shipped six (six!) years ago, was off the curve. (A single-core CPU with 256K of L2 cache was abiding by Moore's Law circa 1997.) Though it's no wonder that NetApp sees plummeting component costs when they're able to source their CPUs by dumpster diving...
Getting back to SPEC SFS: even if the storage vendors were consistently reflecting technology improvements, SPEC SFS is (as I discussed) a drive latency benchmark that doesn't realize the economics of these curves anyway; drives are not rotating any faster year-over-year, having leveled out at 15K RPM some years ago due to some nasty physical constraints (like, the sound barrier). So there's no real reason to believe that the 2,016 15K RPM drives used in NetApp's opulent 1,032,461 op submission are any cheaper today than when this configuration was first submitted three years ago. Yes, those same drives would likely have more capacity (being 146GB or 300GB and not the 72GB in the submission), but recall that these drives are being short-stroked to begin with -- so such as additional capacity is being used at all by the benchmark, it will only be used to assure even less head movement!
Finally, even if Mike were correct that technology advances result in ever falling absolute prices, it still should not prohibit price disclosures. We all understand that prices reflect a moment in time, and if natural inflation does not dissuade us from price disclosures, nor should any technology-induced deflation.
So to be clear: SPEC SFS needs pricing disclosures. TPC has them, SPC has them -- and SFS needs them if the benchmark has any aspiration to enduring relevance. While SPEC SFS's flaws run deeper than the missing price disclosure, the disclosure would at least keep the more egregious misbehaviors in check -- and it would also (I believe) show storage buyers the degree to which the systems measured by SPEC SFS do not in fact correspond to the systems that they purchase and deploy.
One final note: in his blog entry, Mike claims that "SPEC SFS performance is the minimum bar for entry into the NAS business." If he genuinely believes this, Mike may want to write a letter to the editors of InfoWorld: in their recent review of our Sun Storage 7210, they had the audacity to ignore the lack of SPEC SFS results for the appliance, instead running their own benchmarks. Their rating for the product's performance? 10 out of 10. What heresy!