True Cost Of Open Source Storage Software

Some open source storage software is free, but what will support cost you?

George Crump

January 15, 2013

4 Min Read
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7 Cheap Cloud Storage Options

7 Cheap Cloud Storage Options

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Open-source storage software is software that is available for download, typically at no cost, that can provide valuable data services to traditional storage hardware. These services include features we have grown accustomed to, such as thin provisioning, snapshots and cloning. Prior to open-storage software, these services typically came with the storage array that you purchased and were specific to that vendor's products. Open-source storage software offers the advantage of letting you use commodity storage hardware.

As I discussed in my article "The Value Of Open Source Storage Software In The Enterprise," open-source storage software is moving out of the hobbyist stage and into large production data centers. An open- source software solution is available for a variety of storage infrastructure use cases. There are open-source filers, open-source block storage solutions, open-source object storage solutions, and in many cases there are several options to choose from.

[ Need more tips on choosing storage products? Check out Storage Software Vs. Hardware: What's More Important? ]

The key benefits to open-source software are its affordability and flexibility. It is essentially available for free plus support costs and can use almost any storage available. There are a variety of purchase options. You can go pure open source and seek help from the community when needed. You can go with a company that provides the open-source storage software and support for a fee. Or, you can go with the growing number of vendors that provide the software, enhance it beyond what is available in open source, and provide support.

Total Cost Of Free Storage Software

Open source has some hidden costs that you need to be aware of. It might be free or nearly free, but the support costs are not. Although support fees on open-source storage software are in line with turnkey storage vendor support, they do need to be factored into the overall cost.

The second cost factor is the time it takes to resolve an issue. Some of the organizations that provide after-market support on these solutions have little advantage over you in accessing advanced technical help. They are mostly counting on their own internal storage skill set. Also keep in mind that the supporting storage can be more challenging because it has to cover a wider range of variables.

A few organizations do have source-code-level understanding of the product they support, and they can actually go in and fix or work around a bug. This is unique in open source. In my years of running support organizations, the ability to access the source code could have made life much easier.

Also, there are several vendors who add value to open source by enhancing the software. This can include integration to operating systems, hypervisors or applications. It also can come in the form of better storage components that outperform what the open-source software can do.

A good example is ZFS, which I discuss in the article "VM Aware Vs. ZFS Storage". Many vendors use ZFS as the foundation of their storage system, but then add or enhance its core capabilities. Vendors have enhanced the SSD integration, deduplication and even the metadata management of ZFS. These enhancers all are excellent additions to the community but they do come at a cost, and in many cases that cost is buying the hardware from that vendor.

There is also the cost of the physical storage hardware. Depending on the software product, this often means still purchasing a shareable storage array. And you want a device that is built well and will perform well. That costs money. Even if you are looking at a storage software solution that can cluster and share direct attached storage across standard compute hosts, the quality of the hard drive does matter.

In the end, open storage software is not free, but it is affordable. You need to calculate what these savings will be vs. other competitive, turnkey storage systems on the market. A key factor will be the skill set of the staff. If there is a deep technical storage bench, that can go a long way to keeping the total cost of open source storage software to a minimum.

Our four business scenarios show how to improve disaster recovery, boost disk utilization and speed performance. Also in the new, all-digital Storage Virtualization Gets Real issue of InformationWeek SMB: While Intel remains the biggest manufacturer of chips in the world, the next few years will prove vexing for the company. (Free registration required.)

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