SNW Trots Out 'Cool' Storage Tech

The Storage Networking World I attended in Dallas last week was a substantially different event than SNWs of old. In the past, SNW was the event where storage vendors socialized with each other, mixing business and pleasure over drinks and the pre-conference golf outing. This SNW seemed to have a lot more end users there for the education sessions and hands-on labs.

Howard Marks

April 8, 2012

5 Min Read
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The Storage Networking World I attended in Dallas last week was a substantially different event than SNWs of old. In the past, SNW was the event where storage vendors socialized with each other, mixing business and pleasure over drinks and the pre-conference golf outing. This SNW seemed to have a lot more end users there for the education sessions and hands-on labs.

Since the Dallas Omni was a smaller venue than those used for SNWs of the past, it was hard to judge the size of the crowd, but I found it telling that while there seemed to be a good crowd at lunch and between sessions, while sessions were going on the halls were generally empty. So the crowd was definitely getting educated. Unfortunately with my busy schedule of briefings, I only made it to a couple of sessions. They were well attended and even better, there were lots of good questions from the audience.

Unfortunately, just as the vendor:user ratio shifted to the users, the vendors have started drifting away. HP, Oracle and HDS had the only 20x20-foot booths in the hall, and the total exhibit area would have fit in a Microsoft or IBM booth at a big show like Comdex in the old days. Over the last few years we’ve seen a shift from big shows run by independent outfits, of which Interop, run by our corporate overlords here at UBM, seems to be the last, to vendor-driven 'worlds' by EMC, VMware, HP, IBM and the rest. While it might make sense for an EMC customer to send folks to EMCworld for education, that means they’re never going to be exposed to cutting-edge storage arrays from the likes of Nimbus, Tintri, Nimble, Starboard and Tegile, since they can’t buy a booth at EMCworld or HP Discover.

I did see some interesting tech, starting with Symform’s peer-to-peer cloud storage, which uses encryption and Reed-Solomon-type dispersal coding to use subscriber’s disk space as a repository for other user’s data. Users get to store as much data as they donate disk space. Since the load is spread across all the users, the bandwidth demands are low, and you don’t need to donate anything more than SATA disk space on a PC to the cloud.

Startup SavageIO brought a high-density storage system that packs 4 2.5-inch SSDs and 48 hot-swappable 3.5-inch SATA drives in a 4u cabinet. The disks are driven by a Xeon motherboard and LSI MegaRAID controllers through a SAS expander and SavageIO’s own backplane. While running 4 SATA drives through each SAS channel will limit the system's performance, it should be a good way to build low-cost storage systems with NexentaStop, Gluster or your choice of software. I’m a little concerned about the drive mounting though, as they stand the drives up and support them with Plexiglas dividers. I’d rather have better vibration isolation.The most exciting things I saw were all innovative ways to package flash and NVRAM from Micron and Viking Modular. Micron showed me the 2.5-inch PCIe SSD that Dell and HP can use in their Romley servers. They’ve squeezed the PCIe connection into the SAS/SATA connector so server vendors can make a few of their hot-swap drive slots into multi-purpose hot-swap SAS/SATA/PCIe slots with 4 x2 PCIe lanes.

Just as cool was Viking’s SATA DIMM, which packs up to 400GB of SLC or 480GB of MLC flash, onto a standard-size memory DIMM. You can plug a pair of SATADIMMs into a standard server motherboard and run SATA cables to connectors on the top. The SATADIMM will use the DIMM socket for power.

Even better, Viking’s also re-routed the SATA connections to unused pins on the DIMM connector so a blade server vendor could either install SSDs in a lot smaller space, or even cooler, set up a few dual-purpose slots that could be memory or SSD as needed. They had a cool demonstration array that packed 3.8TB of flash in a 1u box to show what vendors could do with the SATADIMM tech. The topper was Viking’s NVRAM DIMM that lets storage system vendors use the DIIMM slots of their controllers for NVRAM. Each DIMM has 8GB of DDR3 RAM, and a daughter card with 8GB of flash, and a connector for an ultra-capacitor. When the DIMM socket loses power, the module dumps the contents of memory into the flash and retrieves it when the system powers back up.

The most exciting part of the week was when a thunder storm cell in the Dallas area spawned several tornadoes and we were all instructed to leave the press room with it’s lovely view of downtown Dallas and the grassy knoll to a windowless room while the attendees were trapped in the expo hall. Being from New York, I’m not used to natural disasters, and the video on the local news of tractor trailers flying through the air was a little unsettling. This isn’t the first time the weather has tried to kill me at SNW, as a hurricane blew through the Orlando show a few years ago.

Is SNW all it used to be? ‘fraid not. Do I wish there was one event the whole storage industry would come together at? Sure do. But SNW is the best we have, and I for one am glad I went. The conferences come fast and furious this time of year. In a couple of weeks I’ll be speaking at the Solid State Symposium. Then May brings Interop and EMCworld.

About the Author(s)

Howard Marks

Network Computing Blogger

Howard Marks</strong>&nbsp;is founder and chief scientist at Deepstorage LLC, a storage consultancy and independent test lab based in Santa Fe, N.M. and concentrating on storage and data center networking. In more than 25 years of consulting, Marks has designed and implemented storage systems, networks, management systems and Internet strategies at organizations including American Express, J.P. Morgan, Borden Foods, U.S. Tobacco, BBDO Worldwide, Foxwoods Resort Casino and the State University of New York at Purchase. The testing at DeepStorage Labs is informed by that real world experience.</p><p>He has been a frequent contributor to <em>Network Computing</em>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<em>InformationWeek</em>&nbsp;since 1999 and a speaker at industry conferences including Comnet, PC Expo, Interop and Microsoft's TechEd since 1990. He is the author of&nbsp;<em>Networking Windows</em>&nbsp;and co-author of&nbsp;<em>Windows NT Unleashed</em>&nbsp;(Sams).</p><p>He is co-host, with Ray Lucchesi of the monthly Greybeards on Storage podcast where the voices of experience discuss the latest issues in the storage world with industry leaders.&nbsp; You can find the podcast at: http://www.deepstorage.net/NEW/GBoS

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