January 28, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Sun hopes for better storage with Honeycomb

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Webster added. For example, a retailer might want to link a stream of data logged by radio frequency identification systems that track product sales with a stream of video that records customers' actions in stores. Those two linked data streams, indexed by metadata that records the time the information was gathered, could be used to find out customer traits retailers want to know.

Not first to market
Sun isn't alone with Honeycomb. Its chief competitor is storage specialist EMC, which not only beat Sun to market with a competing product, Centera, but also acquired a company called Documentum whose software provides a necessary interface to make metadata useful.

EMC had more than 1,200 Centera customers in 2004, has lured software companies to build Centera support into 165 applications, and has sold a total of 30 petabytes of Centera storage capacity so far. "It's clear from our results that Centera has real momentum and is being embraced in the market. Customers are struggling with unstructured data and looking for help," spokesman Greg Eden said.

Sun believes it has an edge, though. Where EMC relies on a database housed on a separate server to store and process metadata, Honeycomb builds that function directly into the storage system, Davis said. Sun's approach is cheaper, simpler and doesn't require separate administrators, he said.

In addition, Sun once again will play its openness card. It will provide an open interface for metadata and work to standardize it so software companies and customers won't have to worry about tailoring products for different storage systems or for having data locked into a single suppliers' storage system, Canepa said.

Another competitor in the market for this so-called content addressable storage, or CAS, is start-up Permabit, whose technology is used in Storage Technology's Lifecycle Fixed Content Manager 100 system, introduced Monday. And Hewlett-Packard offers its HP StorageWorks Reference Information Storage System.

As currently planned, each Honeycomb system is a rack-mounted module 5.25 inches tall. More and more modules can be added to increase storage capacity, but that expansion doesn't require more administrative staff, Davis said.

The systems will use Sun's Solaris 10 operating system running on Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processor, he added. Opteron's fast input-output capability is useful for the task, Davis said.

Honeycomb will be incorporated later into the company's StorEdge 5210 and 5310 systems. Those systems use Intel's Xeon processors today, but "before the end of the year, those will ship with Opteron technology," Canepa said.

Thousands of disks
High data reliability is the other half of the Honeycomb promise. Today, RAID technology can store data across a group of drives such that no data is lost even if one drive fails. Administrators replace the failed drive, and a RAID system can reconstruct the data.

But with drives now reaching 500GB in size, "the rebuild process can end up taking days," during which there is a serious possibility of a second drive failure and irretrievable data loss, Canepa said.

Honeycomb aims to sidestep this by storing data across many drives; the system can withstand multiple failures without blinking, Canepa said. The result might eventually be a more relaxed and less expensive approach to storage system maintenance.

"If you think of having hundreds or thousands of disks, you may accumulate failures for two or three months, then go out on a periodic basis and replace those," Canepa said. "Or you may have enough capacity that you never replace them. After five years, you just migrate the data off of it."

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Isn't this what M$ tries also?
I believe they call it WinFS or was it vaporware?
Posted by Steven N (487 comments )
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