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What Constitutes a Disk System ?
Yesterday, I started this week's topic discussing the various areas of exploration to helpunderstand our recent press release of the IBM System Storage SAN Volume Controller and itsimpressive SPC-1 and SPC-2 benchmark results that ranks it the fastest disk system in the industry.
Some have suggested that since the SVC has a unique design, it should be placed in its own category,and not compared to other disk systems. To address this, I would like to define what IBM meansby "disk system" and how it is comparable to other disk systems.
When I say "disk system", I am going to focus specifically on block-oriented direct-access storage systems, which I will define as:
One or more IT components, connected together, that function as a whole, to serve as a target forread and write requests for specific blocks of data.
Clarification: One could argue, and several do in various comments below, that there are other typesof storage systems that contain disks, some that emulate sequential access tape libraries, some that emulate file-systems through CIFS or NFS protocols, and some that support thestorage of archive objects and other fixed content. At the risk of looking like I may be including or excluding such to fit my purposes, I wanted to avoid apples-to-orangescomparisons between very different access methods. I will limit this exploration to block-oriented, direct-access devices. We can explore these other types of storage systems in later posts.
People who have been working a long time in the storage industry might be satisfied by this definition, thinkingof all the disk systems that would be included by this definition, and recognize that other types of storage liketape systems that are appropriately excluded.
Others might be scratching their heads, thinking to themselves "Huh?" So, I will provide some background, history, and additional explanation. Let's break up the definition into different phrases, and handle each separately.
read and write requests
Let's start with "read and write requests", which we often lump together generically as input/output request, or just I/O request. Typically an I/O request is initiated by a host, over a cable or network, to a target. The target responds with acknowledgment, data, or failure indication. A host can be a server, workstation, personal computer, laptop or other IT device that is capable of initiating such requests, and a target is a device or system designed to receive and respond to such requests.
(An analogy might help. A woman calls the local public library. She picks up the phone, and dials the phone number of the one down the street. A man working at the library hears the phone ring, answers it with "Welcome to the Public Library! How can I help you?" She asks "What is the capital city of Ethiopia?" and replies "Addis Ababa." and hangs up. Satisfied with this response, she hangs up. In this example, the query for information was the I/O request, initiated by the lady, to the public library target)
Today, there are three popular ways I/O requests are made:
CCW commands over OEMI, ESCON or FICON cables
SCSI commands over SCSI, Fibre Channel or SAS cables
SCSI commands over Ethernet cables, wireless or other IP communication methods
specific blocks of data
In 1956, IBM was the first to deliver a disk system. It was different from tape because it was a "direct access storage device" (the acronym DASD is still used today by some mainframe programmers). Tape was a sequential media, so it could handle commands like "read the next block" or "write the next block", it could not directly read without having to read past other blocks to get to it, nor could it write over an existing block without risking overwriting the contents of blocks past it.
The nature of a "block" of data varies. It is represented by a sequence of bytes of specific length. The length is determined in a variety of ways.
CCW commands assume a Count-Key-Data (CKD) format for disk, meaning that tracks are fixed in size, but that a track can consist of one or more blocks, and can be fixed or variable in length. Some blocks can span off the end of one track, and over to another track. Typical block sizes in this case are 8000 to 22000 bytes.
SCSI commands assume a Fixed-Block-Architecture (FBA) format for disk, where all blocks are the same size, almost always a power of two, such as 512 or 4096 bytes. A few operating systems, however, such as i5/OS on IBM System i machines, use a block size that doesn't follow this power-of-two rule.
one or more IT components
You may find one or more of the following IT components in a disk system:
motorized platter(s) covered in magnetic coating with a read/write head to move over its surface. These are often referred to as Hard Disk Drive (HDD) or Disk Drive Modules (DDM), and are manufacturedby companies like Seagate or Hitachi Global Storage Technologies.
A set of HDD can be accessed individually, affectionately known as JBOD for Just-a-bunch-of-disk, or collectively in a RAID configuration.
Memory can act as the high-speed cache in front of slower storage, or as the storage itself. For example, the solid state disk that IBM announced last week is entirely memory storage, using Flash technology.
Lately, there are two popular packaging methods for disk systems:
Monolithic -- all the components you need connected together inside a big refrigerator-sized unit, with options to attach additional frames. The IBM System Storage DS8000, EMC Symmetrix DMX-4 and HDS TagmaStore USP-V all fit this category.
Modular -- components that fit into standard 19-inch racks, often the size of the vegetable drawer inside a refrigerator, that can be connected externally with other components, if necessary, to make a complete disk system. The IBM System Storage DS6000, DS4000, and DS3000 series, as well as our SVC and N series, fall into this category.
Regardless of packaging, the general design is that a "controller" receives a request from its host attachment port, and uses its processors and cache storage to either satisfy the request, or pass the request to the appropriate HDD,and the results are sent back through the host attachment port.
In all of the monolithic systems, as well as some of the modular ones, the controller and HDD storage are contained in the same unit. On other modular systems, the controller is one system, and the HDD storage is in a separate system, and they are cabled together.
serve as a target
The last part is that a disk system must be able to satisfy some or all requests that come to it.
(Using the same analogy used above, when the lady asked her question, the guy at the public library knew the answer from memory, and replied immediately. However, for other questions, he might need to look up the answer in a book, do a search on the internet, or call another library on her behalf.)
Some disk systems are cache-only controllers. For these, either the I/O request is satisfied as a read-hit or write-hit in cache, or it is not, and has to go to the HDD. The IBM DS4800 and N series gateways are examples of this type of controller.
Other systems may have controller and disk, but support additional disk attachment. In this case, either the I/O request is handled by the cache or internal disk, or it has to go out to external HDD to satisfy the request. IBM DS3000 series, DS4100, DS4700, and our N series appliance models, all fall into this category.
So, the SAN Volume Controller is a disk system comprising of one to four node-pairs. Each node is a piece of IT equipment that have processors and cache. These node-pairs are connected to a pair of UPS power supplies to protect the cache memory holding writes that have not yet been de-staged. The combination of node-pairs and UPS acting as a whole, is able to serve as a target to SCSI commands sent over Fibre Channel cables on a Storage Area Network (SAN). To read some blocks of data, it uses its internal cache storage to satisfy the request, and for others, it goes out to external disk systems that contain the data required. All writes are satisfied immediately in cache on the SVC, and later de-staged to external disk when appropriate.
As of end of 2Q07, having reached our four-year anniversary for this product, IBM has sold over 9000 SVC nodes, which are part of more than 3100 SVC disk systems. These things are flying off the shelves, clocking in a 100% YTY growth over the amount we sold twelve months ago. Congratulations go to the SVC development team for their impressive feat of engineering that is starting to catch the attention of many customers and return astounding results!
So, now that I have explained why the SVC is considered a disk system, tomorrow I'll discuss metrics to measure performance.