Open source storage is on the march

Summary:From being the poor relation to deployment in pretty much every institution, public and private, open source software (OSS) in the shape of Linux and others has taken over a huge proportion of the world's servers.It was quite a mountain to climb.

From being the poor relation to deployment in pretty much every institution, public and private, open source software (OSS) in the shape of Linux and others has taken over a huge proportion of the world's servers.

It was quite a mountain to climb. At first, sceptics -- a group that included me -- struggled to see how the business model could work. Could the software developers sustain themselves by giving away the software? Could they keep up with commercial developers? Would enterprise users get the kinds of support they were used to? And would the software be robust and as feature-rich?

Those questions were eventually all answered in the affirmative. As a result, OSS is widespread -- in servers, at least. In other areas it's a different story. We've talked enough previously about desktops -- but what's happening in the other two of the three key datacentre technologies: networking and storage?

There's a lot of open source network management software, especially if you include low-level technologies such as DNS, DHCP and Ethernet monitoring but, as far as I'm aware, not a lot of OSS embedded in switches, for example. If you know of some, please let's hear about it.

Storage however is a different story. There's lots of OSS for storage. Systems such as Nexenta, FreeNAS and OpenFiler offer a range of technologies for managing disks as NAS appliances and presenting them to users as shares in pretty much any way you care to mention -- although AFP (Apple Filing Protocol) support is lagging. And super-robust, enterprise-grade disk management technologies such as Sun's ZFS are now available to everyone, free.

At first blush, you might imagine that OSS storage just plugs the gap between consumer-grade NAS boxes such as those from Iomega and NetGear, and the high-end (and very expensive) products from the likes of EMC and NetApp.

But higher-end systems are starting to appear. I'd include Gluster in this, as it has developed an open source distributed file system that communicates across multiple servers and is claimed to scale to multiple petabytes. Nexenta's new product, Namespace Cluster, is claimed to do something similar – it will be officially launched at VMware's VMworld event next month.

Much of this matches what the big commercial vendors are offering. And while this is a highly self-selecting set of respondents, a survey of open source storage users at Europe’s first Open Storage user conference, which was hosted by Nexenta in Amsterdam in May, found that the deployment of OSS Storage is on the rise. Among the results were:

- Most expect to use or deploy open storage within the next 18 months - Over 11 percent claimed to be responsible for managing 500TB or more - Seventy percent said open storage usage would eventually replace or overtake the proprietary storage solutions they use today

Take those results with a pinch of salt, but open source storage software is making progress and, with the initial stigma attached to OSS now evaporated, the barriers are only technological, not ideological.

Topics: Networking


Manek Dubash is an analyst and journalist with over 30 years experience. Focused on business technology, he observes and comments on enterprise infrastructure issues for a range of industry-influential websites. His work has appeared in national newspapers as well as specialist technology journals and websites. He has also held senior pos... Full Bio

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