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Tales from a Field Trip – Part I: We are not in Kansas anymore
By Krishna Sankar

The other day some of us visited the facilities of our systems supplier. It is a good facility with capabilities to rack and stack, plus a world class testing setup. They have very knowledgeable folks working there, who understand the hardware systems life-cycle, across the procurement-install-deploy-support-troubleshoot-maintain cycle. Our fearless ops leader Kris and our file systems guru Ravi were with me. We had a long conversation around various aspects of our future storage infrastructure. The suppliers shared their experiences (without violating customer confidentiality of course), and tossed around a few ideas. All in all it was a very productive site visit. We came back with an appreciation of what they do as well as a few important insights. Let me share some of them with you.

1. A modern digital multimedia world is the genesis for innovative designs in storage systems. Assume you are a media server company serving video content like movies and shows. Your storage requirements are very different from traditional storage systems.

  • Your storage servers need to be very reliable and seamless (just think what a user experience would be if the movie reset in the middle) and have a dual motherboard system with an internal 10 GB heartbeat.
  • What if some video content becomes very hot and is in great demand across the globe? Well they have  a design for that! A front end SSD based cache that aggregates the hot video files as needed.
2. A hardware systems life-cycle is interesting, to say the least.
  • For example, assume you are selling thousands of systems (each with many disk arrays) and one disk manufacturer finds a bug in one firmware version. How do you update the right disks? First, you have to know which systems have those specific disks and which ones have that firmware version. Now assume your systems supplier systemically runs tests on all the systems and all the disks. The report has extensive data like version numbers, serial numbers and so forth. Now your work is easy! You just need to match the systems with your customers and craft an email to the admins!
3. Disk is the new tape, literally! There are companies that buy systems with 60 disk drives – high density disk arrays fronted by a head-end 2U system – just for archival and backup of less used data, things like images of old checks, copies of bills and so forth. Many times they need to keep this information either for legal reasons or as a part of their service to customers.
By the way, even Kansas is not the old Kansas anymore. It’s capital is Google, KS and it has the fastest wireless!

 

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