Lion's best storage feature: free!

Lion isn't just i-candy for the Mac. It throws storage geeks some nice high-end features - at an unbeatable price. Does this signal new commitment to high-end storage for pros?

Lion isn't just about icandy for the Mac. It throws storage geeks some nice high-end features - at an unbeatable price. Does this signal new commitment to high-end storage for pros?

Much consumer goodness Lots of low-end semi-goodness in Lion. I say "semi-goodness" because most of it relies on the aging and corruption-prone HFS+ file system.

HFS+ loses data - I have - but most people won't know why and won't blame Apple. Nor is it something Steve will obsess about - unless it happens to him.

But the ability to retain previous versions of files, to open an app or document to where you were when you quit, and autosave are all good-to-great features. If only their foundation were more robust.

Users will wonder how they got along without them after 3 days. I know I will.

Free the Xsan 2 But the bigger news is on the high-end.

Scale-out storage clusters are popular in high-end applications. Amazon's Dynamo key-value store and Google's BigTable are good examples.

Apple's Xsan - their version of Quantum's StorNext cluster file system - is popular in Mac-based video production and scientific apps. Today Xsan 2 costs $999 per seat.

Next month: free. Oh yes, you'll have to buy a couple of $49 copies of Lion Server to get the Xsan host software. Not too shabby.

Everyone - like video production shops - can have a cluster file system for almost free.

The almost is due to today's hardware requirements: Fibre Channel - a fast, low-latency block protocol popular in enterprise data centers - host adapters and switches, RAID arrays and dedicated metadata controllers. But if you have a half-dozen tricked out Mac Pros you can probably afford the extra cost.

Xsan isn't Fibre Channel for the rest of us. Apple has simplified installation, but you still need to know your way around volumes, LUNs, storage pools, switch configuration, multi-pathing and MDC failover.

Yet low-end FC kit is much more affordable than it used to be. For a few grand you can have a small FC SAN that can scale as your needs grow.

NFS v4.0 Also new: an NFS v4.0 client built into Lion. Most folks are happily using v3 clients and the advantages of v4.0 aren't compelling. But v4.0 is a step to the much more capable v4.1 - the version that includes parallel NFS.

pNFS is a way cool architectural enhancement that enables considerable bandwidth and concurrency gains through parallelism. User and application interfaces are unchanged while performance zooms.

Just one dot-release to go.

The Storage Bits take For the huge majority of Mac users the state-saving feature will be huge. While it will work best with SSD-equipped Macs, I'm told it does OK with hard drives too - popping up a picture of your last desktop/apps/docs and then loading them when you click on one.

But for people who want to do Big Things with their Macs, free Xsan is a major win. The interesting question is: how will they make money when it's free?

I expect they'll keep their margins up by adding new - not free - features, like deduplication, snapshots, storage tiering, automated archiving and replication that serious data junkies love. These features are already available in Quantum's StorNext product, so the engineering effort is low.

The more interesting possibility concerns hardware. FC gear is still not cheap, and with Thunderbolt standard on most pro Macs, small Xsan low-cost FC-over-Thunderbolt (FCoT - you heard it here first!) clusters offering extreme performance would be drool-worthy.

There's also no reason Xsan couldn't use iSCSI over Thunderbolt or soon-to-be-common 10Gb Ethernet. Apple could make many cash-strapped video pros very happy with that.

Comments welcome, of course. I like versioning file systems, but the versions in Lion only approximate the functionality. Better, but not best.


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