European Trip Report

DEC Storage Fellowship Conference CN/DPG/94/ JJB Gondola Trip 1994 9th. May 1994

This trip report contains information from the DEC Storage Fellowship Conference which I attended from 3rd. until 6th. May in Venice, Italy.

The Storage Fellowship Conference was the third in a series of events organised by DEC to inform their most valued customers (e.g. CERN and Lego) of their intentions in the storage market, and to listen to these customers' needs. h1(Summary) h2(Disks - well-predicted technology trends)

By the year 2000 a single 0.9" disk drive will hold 1 GByte of data. DEC expects to be putting arrays of such disks on a board, probably twelve disks per board, and such boards will automatically reconfigure RAID sets in the case of individual disk failure.

The market will probably show volumes in 1.8" drives very soon, this being driven by the need for small drives for laptops. One upshot of this is that 2.25" drives will probably never be sold in very large quantities.

There are certain mechanical limitations in disk drive manufacturing, namely the heating of the heads caused by the air friction in the 0.3 micron air gap between the heads and a disk rotating at 7200 rpm, and the speed with with the arm can be moved across the disk surface. These limitations put some upper limits on data rates, latency and capacity for today's disks. On the up-side, the reduction in size of the mechanics means that hardware reliability increases, and the reduction in the amount of electronics in the disk (smaller and fewer chips) means an improvement in firmware/silicon reliability.

DEC see the need for optical disks as very much a niche market, and it was observed how the capacity per square inch is solely dependent on the wavelength (colour) of the laser light. Until suitable blue lasers are developed, there will be little advance in this area. h2(RAID)

DEC are shipping controllers supporting RAID levels 0,1,3 and 5 for a variety of busses including SCSI and DSSI. RAID 35 is a mixture of RAID 3 and 5 being specified at the moment, and there are other RAID levels being proposed. There were some ribald comments about the company advertising RAID 7, which is looked upon as being a deplorable marketing trick, and meaning nothing to the customer.

With MTBF for disks in the region of 500,000 hours today, and increasing all the time, it has to be asked what the real need for the higher levels of RAID are in the HEP environment. h2(Storage Busses)

DEC very much like IBM's SSA, and are frustrated that IBM have not yet come to market with products. R.Larry told me that he had been waiting several months for IBM to come back to him with plans for a joint project DEC had agreed to do with them.

In the meantime, DEC had proposed Ultra SCSI to the standards body looking at SCSI futures. Ultra SCSI is completely backwards compatible with SCSI and simply specifies a clever way of interleaving signals on the SCSI bus at higher frequencies, together with specifying a better cable. In this way, speeds of up to 80 MBytes/sec will be possible between two Ultra SCSI units on the bus (whilst traditional SCSI devices on the same bus will continue to operate correctly).

DEC are committed to moving away from proprietary busses, which seems to spell the eventual demise of DSSI. They have written off HIPPI, and think FibreChannel is too expensive. P1394, the bus from Apple designed for desktop multimedia applications, they believe will have a major impact in the low-end marketplace. h2(Tapes)

Again, the technology trends in this area are well understood. DEC's plans for DLT extend into the year 2000. They have devices running in the lab. at 9 MBytes/second transfer speed. Demetrios Lignos, in charge of the DLT product line, said that they acknowledged that the DLT had a long thread time, but that they did not consider this significant when compared with the time to read or write a tape. It only became significant if single small files were to be read or written, or if random access were required. To help, the next generation of DLTs would reduce the thread time by 10%. h2(Storage Software)

I gave DEC an extremely hard time over their lack of planned attendance at the European IEEE MSS meeting next month. There were some red faces, and I believe that their attendance is now likely (if there is still room to fit them in!).

The customers present were clearly confused over the plethora of storage software tools available from DEC. There seems to be a lack of company strategic policy in this area, with offerings for OSF duplicating and overlapping with offerings for VMS.

I came close to being burned at the stake for the heretical assertion that VMS would be dead in five years, and that DEC should thus concentrate on OSF and Windows/NT in the area of storage software products. The angry crowd of customers who turned on me included Lego, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, and Lloyd's Registrars, all of which run VMS-only operations and see no reason to embark on a road that takes them away from a mature, secure and user-friendly environment to the world of flaky Unix. Afterwards, I went round making my peace with the aforementioned gentlemen, but the episode left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. h2(Delivery Issues)

All the customers present had horror stories to tell about delivery problems with Storage Works. In fact, after listening to these, I realised that CERN had escaped very lightly, despite recent delays with deliveries for CORE. Credit should go to D.Gillot, who had clearly rattled just about every cage in DEC U.S. to ensure the arrival of the CORE disks.

There was some talk of there being a "Storage Shop" set up at CERN, where we could buy storage blocks over the counter. This sounded like a good idea. In addition, there was a suggestion that loaning disk space might be a useful concept at CERN. For example, an experiment that required a TeraByte of disk for a year, say, could rent an appropriate configuration from DEC for this period. This would have the advantage of allowing us to always have the latest technology hardware, at the keenest market prices. h2

Assorted Trivia

R.Larry told me that he had just been talking to a customer in the States who required 5 TeraBytes of disk to store a single database containing personal records of every tax payer in the U.S.

The meeting was held at the Grand Hotel des Bains on the Lido at Venice. The Lido is a thin strip of land that is connected to the mainland, and protects the island of Venice from the sea. Of course, all transport to, from and on the island is by a choice of motor boat or gondola. We thus spent quite a bit of time in boats, not always a welcome thing after a nine course seafood supper. Probably the memory of this trip that will stay with me, long after disk technology trends have faded away, is the sight of two bludgeoned octopii in a rich tomato sauce, surrounded by a assortment of tentacled and multi-legged monstrosities that had better been left minding their own business on the sea bed. Oh yes, that and the sight of Richie Larry wearing a tie ....