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Toshiba Demonstrates High-Performance Ethernet HDD And SMR Technology

By - Source: Toshiba

Toshiba has two new Ethernet-connected HDDs on display at OpenStack Summit 2015 that are designed for object storage environments. One device is a standard HDD with a built-in Ethernet connection that leverages SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) technology, marking the introduction of the first SMR HDD from Toshiba. The other offering is an innovative combination of an SSD and an HDD in a 3.5" package that connects via Ethernet and runs an open-source Linux kernel on the drive itself.

Object storage is gaining momentum and is shaping up to be the platform of choice for large scale-out applications, primarily because it circumvents many of RAID's limitations. Object storage will address the majority of bulk storage applications, such as primary storage, unstructured data, information governance, analytical data, and archival and cold storage. 

The only problem with key/value stores (object storage) is that it isn’t known for its performance. System-level enhancements (such as caching metadata information in server RAM or pools of SSDs) help to cure the speed ailment. However, the entire premise of an Ethernet-HDD architecture is to reduce the number of servers. In the chart above, we see that the use of Ethernet HDDs removes the need for more servers in this deployment due to the fact that each drive presents itself as a node. This is the key value proposition (pun intended) of the approach because it removes the CPUs; RAM and the associated cost, power and management requirements that come with a server cluster. This equates to big cost savings.

However, reducing the servers also reduces the DRAM that is typically used for metadata caching, and it also diminishes the pools of SSDs in the equation. Toshiba's new SSD/HDD Ethernet hybrid, which is currently only referred to as Key Value Drive P (Performance), merges the SSD and HDD into a 3.5" enclosure that can plug into existing Open Kinetic-compatible drive enclosures.

Adding in the ability to run an open-source Linux kernel on the drives' processor unlocks almost endless possibilities. Details are slight on the design, but it is easy to imagine the embedded Linux kernel controlling the SSD and HDD, which could automate caching of the hot data and/or metadata while also allowing new capabilities, such as in-situ information processing. A cluster of these Linux-enabled drives could be designed to coordinate together to create mini-compute clusters for analytics routines, data scrubs, erasure coding calculations and dispersal (without host interaction or traffic), and so on.

Leveraging an open source Linux kernel is key because it will allow the hyperscalers, who will likely be the first to implement this type of architecture, to program their own unique capabilities into the system.

The chart above also highlights the refined storage stack and hardware implementation possible with an archival or bulk storage application. This type of implementation would not require high performance, and Toshiba proffers its Key Value Drive C (Capacity) product for this use case. The Capacity variant also leverages the Ethernet connection, but it brings SMR into the picture. SMR incurs performance penalties during random write workloads, but this is of little concern for the target use case. The increased density, which provides lower Watts-per-TB metrics, is a welcome addition to vast data repositories (or lakes). 

Toshiba is leveraging the Open Kinetic platform, which was pioneered by Seagate. The wisdom behind this decision is important; it will allow Toshiba to interface directly with Open Kinetic APIs and hardware. The emergence of an industry standard for Ethernet HDDs is also important to the long-term viability of this new class of product. All too often, we witness extremely promising technologies that languish in the lab due to a lack of broad acceptance.

HGST also has Ethernet-HDDs in the works that can run an embedded Linux kernel on the drive, so this can help to create broader adoption of techniques to unlock the vast untapped resources that lie in the idling HDD processors deployed by the millions in the datacenter.

Toshiba's unique take on object storage HDDs, with the infusion of SSDs and SMR technologies, offers it an advantage in certain use cases in comparison to the other vendors. The multi-device key value Ethernet drive technology demo is showcased at booth P1 during OpenStack Summit 2015 held in Vancouver, and Toshiba has additional resources available online.