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Open source software takes the storage stage

Open-source storage software is available for a number of user needs

By Jerome Wendt
July 28, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Tens of thousands of users are deploying open-source storage software in an effort to avoid pricey proprietary products such as array clustering and disk eraser applications and to get some long-term protection through the availability of source code.

Rafiu Fakunle, CEO of London-based open-source vendor Xinit Systems Ltd., said users have downloaded more than 38,000 copies of its Openfiler NAS and SAN software from the Web site. And Zmanda Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif. -- the company providing support for the open-source backup software product Amanda -- said that it supports 20,000 users worldwide.

Open-source storage software is available to address a number of user needs, experts say. Amanda is a backup software product targeted at small and midsize businesses that allows the creation of a single master backup server to back up multiple hosts. DBAN (Darik's Boot and Nuke) allows users to securely wipe the hard drives of their computers.

Other open-source storage software includes Lustre, OpenAFS and SAMBA, network file systems used for different tasks. Lustre is used in large-scale cluster computing, while OpenAFS is deployed to create a single file space across all computers so that any computer can access a file on any other computer. SAMBA allows Linux servers to provide file and print services to Microsoft Windows clients.

Integrators like the Network Resource Group (NRG) in Manhattan, Kan., say they can deliver substantial savings for their customers using open-source storage software. Terry Hull, a principal network engineer at NRG, recently put together a VLAN for a client using iSCSI and open-source storage software.

"The incremental costs for the technology were $1,500 for the open-source software versus $25,000 for a comparable configuration from Lefthand Networks and $75,000 for a Dell Fibre Channel SAN," Hull said.

But experts remain skeptical about the wisdom of implementing open-source storage software products. Jacob Farmer, chief technology officer at Cambridge Computer Inc. in Waltham, Mass., has some clients who implemented OpenAFS and Lustre in order to avoid the high cost of clustered file system software from a company like TerraScale Technologies Inc. in Montreal.

Despite Cambridge Computer's successes in deploying open-source storage software, Farmer said, "only those with highly skilled personnel were able to pull it off. The rest found that these products were too complex and had deceptively high costs of ownership."

Key questions that users need to answer before using open-source storage software are:

  •  What is open-source storage software's value proposition?
  •  What products are available for their specific needs?
  •  How stable and scalable are the products?
  •  What risks do they present?
  •  Under what circumstances should an end user consider open-source?
  •  What level of user skill is required to implement and support them?
  •  What software support options are available?

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