Bill Roth, Ulitzer Editor-at-Large

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Storage Costs Overview

John McLaughlin's HeadMany IT organizations engage in financial fiction with management when analyzing their costs for IT. They call it TCO — Total Cost of Ownership. But most of the time, what they deal with is My Cost of Ownership or even My Cost of Acquisition. Rarely do they attempt to include all of the costs as they are spread over many departments.

For many IT departments, storage has become one of the largest, if not largest, budget item. It’s not hard to see why. Unstructured data keeps growing, media files keep getting larger and cheaper to produce, and there is sense that ‘big data’ will, somehow, be of great value. And nobody wants to throw any of that data away.

OpenStorage consideration

Organizing data into tiers and archiving old data to tape sounds like a great idea, yet few people do it; it’s often easier to just buy more storage. That’s getting harder as the total amount of storage under manage increases and IT is asked to do more with less.

Nexenta is a storage software company. We believe that we can help IT address their storage challenges and reduce the Real Cost of Ownership (RCO) by using software to exploit all of the attributes of modern storage hardware.

Real Costs

Business owners and senior management should be concerned about the RCO of storage when they do financial planning.  But what should be included in RCO? Here are the areas to consider:

  • Cost of buying new gear
  • Operation of the gear for its useful life (five to seven years)
    • Hardware / software support contract(s) for life of the gear
    •  Cost of power to run and cool the gear will be greater than the acquisition cost
    • Data center costs (e.g., rack space, power usage effectiveness (PUE))
    • Management / administration costs (people)
  • Disposal fees, license replacement, migrations fees:
    • When you dispose of the old gear, do you also dispose of the software license? If yes, then you will need a new license.
    • Cost of moving to the new gear
      • Cost of moving off the old gear

Cost of Buying New Gear

OpenStorage is an approach to building storage system from Open Source software and commodity hardware:

  • System software
    • Storage access methods (file and block)
    • Device management
    • Data integrity
    • Replication services
    • Data management
  • Controller(s)
    • Commodity x86 servers with large amounts memory for caching
    • Optionally, cluster of two for high availability
    • Commodity HBAs for SAS, FC, 10GbE, etc.
  • JBOD Enclosures
    • With high-capacity, commodity disks at commodity prices
    • With SSDs for IOPs

This is in contrast with proprietary systems that are built with similar components:

  • Propriety software
    • All enhancements must come from one vendor: limited rate of adding new functionality
    • All costs of development paid by that one vendor: keeping costs high
    • Limited features, innovation: limited ability to exploit new technology
  • Propriety controllers
    • Expensive (but profitable for vendor)
    • Lag behind industry innovations
  • Proprietary disk enclosures
    • Limited choice of disks, high prices
    • Stops customers from just adding their own commodity disks

Nexenta’s software is based on the enterprise operating system Solaris (which became OpenSolaris, which, in turn, is the basis of the illumos operating system).

A key feature of the software is ZFS technology, which provides many capabilities, including data integrity, scalability, and the ability to mix ARC (memory), SSDs, and disks into a Hybrid Storage pool (HSP).

Operation of the Gear

A large percentage of the RCO for storage systems is power consumption for running the system and cooling it down.

Customers want these things from the storage system:

  • Capacity
  • Performance (IOPs and / or    throughout MB/s)
  • Security
  • Reasonable costs
    • Easier management

The choices that are made to obtain these attributes, and the vendor chosen, will have significant impact on power consumption.


Using fewer high-capacity disks (e.g., 3TB or 4TB) at lower speeds (e.g., 7200 RPM) will consume less power and take less space for a given capacity than using faster, lower capacity disks (10k RPM, 2.5” 900GB disks or 15k RPM, 3.5”  300GB or 600GB disks).


With the ZFS Hybrid Storage Pool, the combination of SSDs, main memory caching, and high-capacity disks can deliver better performance than fast disks alone—while consuming far less power because there are fewer disks and the disk that are used are power efficient.

All SSD storage systems are exciting, but today, they have limited capacity and high costs. A storage system that can evolve from all mechanical disks, to SSD/mechanical, to all SSD is very attractive. That’s exactly what you can do with Nexenta powered storage.


Disks fail:  RAID can be used to deal with disks that fail. And ZFS has enhancements that allow RAID protection with no special hardware. A group of two or more disks can be linked into a RAID device with one or more “parity” disks.  A replacement disk is tasked with taking the place of a failed disk:

  • Automatically — hot standby, no operator intervention required  
  • Manually — warm standby, disk is in system and online; operator instructs system to do the replacement
  • Resilvering — the process of writing the missing data to the replacement disk.  

Bits in blocks of data become bad, firmware makes mistakes. This is a real problem for most storage systems. ZFS not only detects such bad bits, but it can correct them much like ECC memory can detect and correct memory errors.


Easier Management:

Nexenta’s Unified Storage solution allows one pool of storage to provide multiple storage services simultaneously. For example, file-based Network Attached Storage (NAS) services can be provided to one set of clients via the CIFs/NFS and, at the same time, Storage Attached Network (SAN) services can be provided to another set of clients via FC/iSCSI.


Disposal Fees, License Replacement, Migrations Fees

When a Nexenta powered storage solution reaches the end of its life, you can migrate the license to a new box and repurpose the old system.

This is much less likely to result in disposal fees.

As Nexenta support’s industry standard protocols, migrating to and from a Nexenta systems is fairly easy.


Nexenta’s OpenStorage approach allows IT organizations to do more with less while reducing the Real Cost of Ownership for IT’s biggest line item, which is storage:

  • Systems built with Open Source-based software and commodity hardware components cost less to acquire and maintain.
  • High capacity, scalable, unified storage means fewer boxes that are easier to manage.
  • Grow capacity by adding a JBOD or live-swapping older, smaller disks for newer, larger disks. This allow for “just-in-time” capacity that is rack-space efficient.
  • ZFS Hybrid Storage Pools lower power costs by using energy efficient SSDs for IOPS, along with a smaller number of efficient, high-capacity disks for capacity.
  • Industry standard, open protocols make migration easy.
  • Industry standard hardware is easier to repurpose and dispose of.
  • Nexenta’s capacity licenses are permanent and can be transferred to new systems.

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More Stories By Bill Roth

Bill Roth is a Silicon Valley veteran with over 20 years in the industry. He has played numerous product marketing, product management and engineering roles at companies like BEA, Sun, Morgan Stanley, and EBay Enterprise. He was recently named one of the World's 30 Most Influential Cloud Bloggers.