What Is Open Storage Anyway?

Over the past few months I have been talking to a lot of people about Open Storage. So far I haven't talked to anyone outside of Sun who doesn't first ask the question "What is Open Storage anyway?" or "When you say Open Storage what does that mean exactly?". But defining a concept like Open Storage can be difficult. Here is one definition ...

Open Storage: As a general term, open storage refers to storage systems built with an open architecture using industry-standard hardware and open-source software.

This might be obvious to some, but lets break this down just a little.

Open Source - Using Open Source software is a key differentiator. Most storage vendors use proprietary software for their storage systems. Some might argue that using Open Source is more prone to vulnerabilities since the code is easily available. But in actuality, Open Source software is inherently more secure and more flexible since it is widely tested and can be easily updated to accommodate changes in the industry. Also, in the case of Sun's Open Storage products we fully support them with warranty and support contracts so if there ever is a problem we will step in and fix it.

Open Standards -  Using open standards is important so that you can always get to your data no matter what might happen to the company who makes your storage system. By using standards and protocols that have been widely accepted you can make sure that you can communicate with your storage system even if someone else's proprietary communications method becomes obsolete.

Open Architecture - This refers to using industry standard components instead of proprietary hardware that can only be sourced from a single vendor. Building a storage system this way reduces costs dramatically and allows the system to be upgraded to take advantage of new components and functionality as they become available.

Also, keep in mind that according to the above definition this concept is not Sun specific. Anyone could create an Open Storage solution or product using this definition (take a look at OpenFiler and FreeNAS for example). However, this definition still leaves a lot of ambiguity. It explains the concept, but does not give any detail about the various pieces needed to put together an Open Storage solution.

So, I came up with a framework to define the different areas that comprise Open Storage so that when I talk about it I can relate a given product or component to it's place in the framework. This is how my brain works (your mileage may vary). It is not official Sun marketing speak, although I hope it is adopted since it makes sense to me.

Open Storage Framework

Since it is a framework, I tried to keep it as simple as possible. The framework is divided into two layers: a software layer and a hardware layer. Within each of those layers are three different categories or "buckets" which components can fit into.

It is not a traditional layer model or anything like that. Think of it more like an organizational tool or a recipe.

Now let's take a look at each category and figure out what each one means.

Applications This is the thing you are running. It could be Oracle, Drupal, Sendmail, or any combination of applications. The FISHWorks user interface on Sun's Unified Storage Systems also fits into this category.
Open Utilities This category includes the operating system and all the utilities that the application depends on. Open Solaris, Linux, Gnu Tools, ZFS and Dtrace would all go here.
Open Protocols Open Protocols are free to use and have a specification that is open for all to see. Examples would be NFS, LDAP and iSCSI.
Compute This is where the processing gets done. Not only tradition CPUs go in this category, but also embedded devices. The key here is that they are "off the shelf" components that can be upgraded or changed as technologies change.
Memory/Cache Memory devices or "cache" speed up the communication between the compute and storage layers. This could be as simple as the RAM in a server or could include other products like the new Solid State Drives (SSDs) that are part of Sun's Unified Storage System's Hybrid Storage Pools.
Storage Of course the framework would not be complete without good old traditional storage components like hard disks and tape drives. However, depending on how they are used SSDs could fit into this category as well.

Leaders in the fatest growing and most innovative companies are really getting this.

Here is what Don MacAskill of SmugMug said on his blog ... "A storage device should be just a server with some open-source software and lots of disks. (The “open source” part is important. I’m sick of relying on closed-source RAID firmware). The amount of flexibility, performance, reliability and operational cost savings you can achieve with software RAID rather than hardware is enormous. With real datacenter-grade flash storage devices just around the corner, this becomes even more vital. ZFS makes all of this stuff Just Work, including properly adjusting the write caches on the disk, eliminating the RAID-5 write hole, etc."

Another example is Joyent, Inc. Since the founding of the company four years ago, Joyent has participated in the OpenSolaris storage community to serve its customers better by tapping the community's knowledge and engineering expertise. The company relies on one of the largest OpenSolaris installations in the world to provide a highly scalable, on-demand infrastructure for Web sites. “We've scaled clients up to over 1 billion page views a month using Joyent Accelerators built on ZFS, D-Trace and Containers in OpenSolaris,” says Rod Boothby, vice president of Platform Evangelism at Joyent.

These examples and many others like them seem to bolster the idea that the Open Storage concept is not only viable, but a better way going forward to implement storage systems. Clearly there is room here for interpretation and this framework will probably change over time. Perhaps your ideas about Open Storage are different from mine. I would love to hear them. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.


Fishworks isn't open source and only runs on Sun hardware. Is it Open Storage?

Posted by Wes Felter on March 05, 2009 at 07:24 AM EST #

No. Fishworks is not Open Storage. If you are referring to the Fishworks GUI (and related tools), it is an application that makes use of the rest of the Open Storage components I talk about above. It is also the enabling piece that powers Sun's 7000 Unified Storage Systems. You can think of it as the glue that bring all the other pieces together to make them easy to use. You are correct that Fishworks software is not open source .... yet. Hopefully it will be soon. However, one of the benefits of the Open Storage framework is that it enables anyone to go out and make their own management software if they so choose.

Posted by Aaron Newcomb on March 05, 2009 at 08:11 AM EST #

Hi Aaron,
regarding your blog and twitter account: we in EMEA would love to see much, much more posts & tweets from you.
then we would integrate your blog & twitter into our soon launching open storage online campaign - check this pre launch webpage (german stuff...):

any chance, that you can drive up frequency ;-) ?


Posted by Christian Mueller on April 16, 2009 at 12:50 PM EDT #


Yep. I will be posting more. Just have to find the time. It's a never ending battle :)

Posted by Aaron Newcomb on April 27, 2009 at 04:35 AM EDT #

Great post. One opinion though, I wouldn't consider it open storage due to the lack of the Fishworks GUI being made avaialble to the public.

Posted by Todd Bryant on December 19, 2009 at 04:51 AM EST #

Aaron, you state: "Open Architecture - This refers to using industry standard components instead of proprietary hardware that can only be sourced from a single vendor."

How does this work with Sun's stated position that only Sun's J4400 JBOD is supported? Sounds completely closed to me.

Or that one must use just a handful of Sun-only servers? I'm sorry, the product is wonderful, but Sun's 'Open Storage' angle is totally bogus - it's 100% single-vendor proprietary.

Posted by Kemp Watson on March 06, 2010 at 05:18 AM EST #


Some examples of what I am talking about in regards to Open Architecture are using standard disk drives, standard interfaces, etc. For example, the Sun Storage 7000 series uses SAS interfaces, AMD and Intel chipsets and standard drives that are sourced from industry leading suppliers. We don't make our own interface cards to go into our 7000 systems and then charge customers an arm and a leg for them like other vendors do.

The idea isn't to let customers necessarily cobble any bits together that they want. We just couldn't offer support for a system like that. The idea is to offer our own systems that adhere to industry standards so that customers aren't paying more for outdated technology that comes from a single source.

If you take a look at the history of the 7000 units since their release back in the fall of 2008. You will notice that as newer/faster technologies have been introduced we have been able to upgrade our line up by incorporating those technologies quickly. Also, the pace of firmware development has been nothing short of amazing in terms of the frequency of release as well as the number of new features available. In my opinion, one of the biggest reasons for this is that we can develop to existing standards instead of making up our own as we go that may or may not be better than the existing ones and certainly would not be widely adopted.

Posted by Aaron Newcomb on March 06, 2010 at 05:43 AM EST #

Great thoughts! Thanks for a well-written post.

Posted by Mary on December 28, 2010 at 07:50 AM EST #

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