A client asked me to explain "Nearline storage" to them. This was easy, I thought, as I started my IBM career on DFHSM, now known as DFSMShsm for z/OS, which was created in 1977 to support the IBM 3850 Mass Storage System (MSS), a virtual storage system that blended disk drives and tape cartridges with robotic automation. Here is a quick recap:
- Online storage is immediately available for I/O. This includes DRAM memory, solid-state drives (SSD), and always-on spinning disk, regardless of rotational speed.
- Nearline storage is not immediately available, but can be made online quickly without human intervention. This includes optical jukeboxes, automated tape libraries, as well as spin-down massive array of idle disk (MAID) technologies.
- Offline storage is not immediately available, and requires some human intervention to bring online. This can include USB memory sticks, CD/DVD optical media, shelf-resident tape cartridges, or other removable media.
Sadly, it appears a few storage manufacturers and vendors have been misusing the term "Nearline" to refer to "slower online" spinning disk drives. I find this [June 2005 technology paper from Seagate], and this [2002 NetApp Press Release], the latter of which included this contradiction for their "NearStore" disk array. Here is the excerpt:
- "Providing online access to reference information—NetApp nearline storage solutions quickly retrieve and replicate reference and archive information maintained on cost-effective storage—medical images, financial models, energy exploration charts and graphs, and other data-intensive records can be stored economically and accessed in multiple locations more quickly than ever"
Which is it, "online access" or "nearline storage"?
If a client asked why slower drives consume less energy or generate less heat, I could explain that, but if they ask why slower drives must have SATA connections, that is a different discussion. The speed of a drive and its connection technology are for the most part independent. A 10K RPM drive can be made with FC, SAS or SATA connection.
I am opposed to using "Nearlne" just to distinguish between four-digit speeds (such as 5400 or 7200 RPM) versus "online" for five-digit speeds (10,000 and 15,000 RPM). The difference in performance between 10K RPM and 7200 RPM spinning disks is miniscule compared to the differences between solid-state drives and any spinning disk, or the difference between spinning disk and tape.
I am also opposed to using the term "Nearline" for online storage systems just because they are targeted for the typical use cases like backup, archive or other reference information that were previously directed to nearline devices like automated tape libraries.
Can we all just agree to refer to drives as "fast" or "slow", or give them RPM rotational speed designations, rather than try to incorrectly imply that FC and SAS drives are always fast, and SATA drives are always slow? Certainly we don't need new terms like "NL-SAS" just to represent a slower SAS connected drive.