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The Storage World Goes Xeon

Just a few years ago there was a clear division between
storage products, like Windows Storage Server based NAS appliances, which
were based on industry standard server platforms, and what the steely-eyed
storage admin considered real hardware. Real hardware used custom ASICs
(Application Specific Integrated Circuit), RISC (Reduced Instruction Set
Computing) processor and protocol offloads and other proprietary hardware to
deliver at least midrange performance and reliability.  Today the trend is to software based
architectures that are faster and cheaper to bring to market.

I first noticed this trend back in 2004 when we did a VTL
(Virtual Tape Library) bake-off.  All but
one of the products I was testing had the familiar I/O shield and PS/2
connectors of a server motherboard and that one was FalconStor's software
running on an intelligent  Fiber Channel

Some high end products like 3PAR's InServ, HDS's VSP and BlueArc's
Titan still rely on custom ASICs to make the data blocks go faster but more and
more storage products are really specialized software running on pretty generic

The degree to which vendors expose that their secret sauce
really is software varies.  It is, of
course, clearest for those vendors like Nextenta, Gluster and Caringo. They will
gladly sell you their ZFS based clustered file system or RAIN
(Redundant Array of Independent Nodes) object store software to run on
your own servers.  It's a bit less clear
for HP's P4000 (formerly LeftHand) iSCSI server or the unified storage systems
from Nimble Storage, Reldata or Overland.

Given the horsepower available in a six core Westmere XEON
or 12 core Opteron, vendors can do a lot in software.  After all Compellent has been running their
midrange arrays on Xeons for years and it helped them get innovations like
automated tiering and Live Volume out the door before any of the competition.

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