During one of the Intel presentations at the Developer Forum last week the presenter made the statement that Intel processors are deployed in 70%-80% of storage arrays shipped today. Initially this may seem like a surprise but on closer inspection, it’s pretty obvious to see that it’s probably an accurate statement. EMC converted to Xeon technology with VMAX and already used commodity hardware with CLARiiON and now VNX. Hitachi have moved to Xeon processors with VSP (although they still retain some custom ASICs). Pretty much every new storage platform being released is based on the Xeon chipset, including the use of Atom processors in SOHO/home NAS devices.
A related conversation took place between Barry Whyte and Nigel Poulton, following Nigel’s post this week on custom ASICs. Nigel believes custom ASICs will be around for another 5 years, Barry not so.
I have to say I agree with Barry. We’ve seen commoditisation taking place for some time and companies such as Compellent have based their design on the premise of commodity hardware. Even last week I visited Pure Storage, Nutanix and Solid Fire, all using standard components in their arrays.
One of the subjects of Barry and Nigel’s conversations was 3Par, a company founded in 1999 which released its first products in 2002. I don’t have any specific information on the first 3Par array design but it’s a good starting point to look back at the processors of that time compared with today. A quick check at any of the processor benchmark sites shows that processor speeds are 10-20 times faster today than 2000, so implementing thin provisioning and zero block reclaim had to be done in silicon for performance reasons.
With today’s latest Xeon processors that are multi-threaded and multi-core, that’s no longer the case. The cost and leadtime in developing custom ASICs doesn’t justify their development when the same functionality can be developed in code – code that can be improved and modified on a much faster cycle than designing a new ASIC.
At the last few HP Blogger days it’s been easy to see how HP have acquired and moved products such as LeftHand and Ibrix to their commodity server hardware. It’s an easy win for HP as they have the hardware base and just need the software IP. It may seem that 3Par represents more of a challenge but probably not. HP Labs released their own deduplication technology, so I’m sure they will work out how to implement thin provisioning and zero block reclaim in code. The hardware is here today to deliver it.
The future is definitely in code and I’d expect HP will drop the custom ASIC within 24 months. HDS/Hitachi still retain a custom ASIC within their hardware but must be thinking about retiring it soon. On that subject we should remember HDS have just acquired BlueArc. The premise of their offering was also custom hardware. Will HDS choose to retire dedicated silicon from that product line too? I expect so.
I think in terms of “enterprise” class arrays that leaves us with only the DS8000 series not on Intel Xeon. I imagine most readers will have their own opinions on that piece of storage legacy storage. Enough said.