Wednesday May 16, 2007

ZFS and RAID - "I" is for "Inexpensive" (sorry for any confusion)

When I were a lad "RAID" was always an acronym for "Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks". According to this Wikipedia article 'twas always thus. So, why do so many people think that the "I" stands for "Independent"?

Well, I guess part of the reason is that when companies started to build RAID products they soon discovered that were far from inexpensive. Stuff like fancy racking, redundant power supplies, large nonvolatile write caches, multipath I/O, high bandwith interconnects, and data path error protection simply don't come cheap.

Then there's the "two's company, three's a crowd" factor: reliability, performance, and low cost ... pick any two. But just because the total RAID storage solution isn't cheap, doesn't necessarily mean that it cannot leverage inexpensive disk drives.

However, inexpensive disk drives (such as today's commodity IDE and SATA products) provide a lot less in terms of data path protection than more expensive devices (such as premium FC and SCSI drives). So RAID has become a someone elitist, premium technology, rather than goodness for the masses.

Enter ZFS.

Because ZFS provides separate checksum protection of all filesystem data and meta data, even IDE drives be deployed to build simple RAID solutions with high data integrity. Indeed, ZFS's checksumming protects the entire data path from the spinning brown stuff to the host computer's memory.

This is why I rebuilt my home server around OpenSolaris using cheap non-ECC memory and low cost IDE drives. But ZFS also promises dramatically to reduce the cost of storage solutions for the datacentre. I'm sure we will see many more products like Sun's X4500 "Thumper".

ZFS - Restoring the "I" back in RAID

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