The State of Open Source Storage Page 2


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Open Source Storage Projects

None of the big data storage vendors are as committed to open source as Sun, so it is no wonder the rest of the field is rather dispersed among a wide range of players. In the backup arena, you have outfits like Zmanda Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Bacula Systems SA of Switzerland.

Amanda, the basis for Zmanda's backup offering, is billed as the most popular open source backup and recovery software in the world, with more than half a million servers and desktops running various versions of Linux, UNIX, BSD, Mac OS-X and Windows worldwide. Zmanda also has the Zmanda Recovery Manager (ZRM) for MySQL.

While Zmanda uses a business model similar to Red Hat, Bacula is the real deal in terms of frontier open source — run by a team of devotees such as Kern Sibbald, who are now starting to offer professional services to Bacula fans. Bacula manages backup and recovery to and from tape or disk. What is endearing about these guys is the smart marketing — a Dracula theme with a catch phrase that will appeal to backup veterans ("It comes by night and sucks the vital essence from your computers") — and blunt honesty. The news page features the startling admission, "We recently found and corrected a serious bug in Bacula..." Oh, for such openness whenever a big IT vendor makes a snafu.

Cleversafe is another storage vendor pursuing an open source-based business model.

FreeNas.org is a free distribution that supports CIFS, NFS, FTP, iSCSI and provides RAID 0, 1 and 5. Another useful open source tool is DRBD by Linbit HA-Solutions GmbH of Austria. It is designed for mirroring of block-level data in high-availability clustering.

Open Source Storage Barriers

While the number of applications has certainly blossomed, widespread adoption of open source storage still faces many barriers, both real and imagined.

"Open source needs to be seen as more of a turnkey supported solution, even if that is what some vendors already provide, in order to overcome perceptions that open source is only for those looking to avoid costs, have the time and people to integrate, or is just one big computer science project," said Schulz.

He also believes that the very essence of open source — being free — gets in the way of broad acceptance.

"People tend to think that free means less value than what you might pay for, or less value and stability than for software that you might otherwise buy," he said. "Likewise, there can be a support concern or misperception that you might add a lot of cost and complexity by having to integrate the solution."

Others, Schulz said, avoid it because they are in the midst of heavy head-count reductions and have the idea that additional staff will be required to support open source. But the biggest barrier may be more fundamental. Schulz believes a philosophical shift is required for open source storage to make it to the next level — it has to get past the simplistic "it's open source" value proposition and get more involved with the bigger picture.

"What I want to know is, what is the business, economic, functionality and support value proposition of open source compared to other solutions," Schulz said. "What I really want to hear is what the vendor is doing to leverage open source as part of a total solution and its overall value proposition."

Similarly, Chip Nickolett, owner of Comprehensive Consulting Solutions of Brookfield, Wisc., thinks we have yet to see the best of open source. To his mind, the big hurdle is convincing core storage professionals, who tend to regard storage as being so important from a performance, data integrity, backup and disaster recovery perspective that they are willing to spend the money on a SAN or other pricey storage hardware. They just aren't that interested in saving a few pennies on a potentially risky and — to them — unproven open source venture. Until that mindset shifts, he thinks open source will struggle around in the fringes of the storage universe.

"I really haven't seen much traction on the open source storage side of things," said Nickolett. "There are backup and disk management tools, and a few low-end NAS and SAN offerings, but nothing yet that has become 'viral' from a usage perspective."

So far, Sun and Zmanda, for example, report strong inroads for open source-based products, with a cost-savings message that's catching on in a tough spending environment. Sun's Open Storage program was its fastest-growing business in the March quarter. Even so, such offerings are still just a small part of the enterprise data storage market.

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