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Big Blue's GPFS: The tech's fantastic. Shame about the product

Simplify it and you'll have a winner

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

Storagebod IBM is a great technology company: so many of the technologies we take for granted can be traced to back to Big Blue. And many of today’s implementations still are poorer than the original implementations.

And yet the firm is not the dominant force it once was; an organisational behemoth, riven with politics and fiefdoms doesn’t always lend itself to agility in the market and often leads to products that are undercooked and have a bit of a "soggy bottom".

I’ve been researching the GSS offering from IBM, GPFS Storage Server. As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a big fan of GPFS and have a fair amount installed – but don’t think that I’m blinkered to some of the complexities around it.

There’s a lot to like about GPFS; it builds on the solid foundations of GSS and brings a couple of excellent new features into play.

One such feature is GPFS Native RAID, also known as declustered RAID, a software implementation of micro-RAID – where RAID is done at a block level as opposed to a disk level. This generally means that the cost of rebuilds can be reduced and the time to get back to a protected level can be shortened. As disks continue to get larger, conventional RAID implementations struggle and you can be looking at hours if not days to get back to a protected state.

Also included is Disk Hospital: by constantly monitoring the health of the individual disks and collecting metrics for them, the GSS can detect failing disks very early on.

But there's a dirty secret in the storage world: most disk failures in a storage array are not really failures and could be simply recovered from. A simple power-cycle or a firmware reflash can be enough to prevent a failure and going into a recovery scenario.

X-IO has been advocating this for a long time – this can reduce maintenance windows and prevent unnecessary rebuilds. It should reduce maintenance costs as well.

Both of these technologies are great and very important to a scalable storage environment.

So why isn’t IBM pushing GSS in general? It’s stuffed full of technology and useful stuff?

The problem is GPFS… GPFS is currently too complicated for many, it’s never going to be a general purpose file system. The licensing model alone precludes that, so if you want to utilise it with a whole bunch of clients, you are going to be rolling your own NFS/SMB 3.0 gateway. Been there, done that… still doing that but it’s not really a sensible option for many.

If IBM really wants the GSS to be a success, it needs a scaleable and supported NAS gateway in front of it: it needs to be simple to manage. It needs integration with the various virtualisation platforms and IBM needs to simplify the GPFS licence model … when I say simplify, I mean get rid of the client licence cost.

I want to like the product and not just love the technology.

Until then, IBM has got the gear but doesn't seem to know what to do with it... ®

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