Sun's fixed-content storage system, Honeycomb, comes out of hive

Data is stored as objects and striped across all nodes

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Sun Microsystems Inc. has announced its long-awaited StorageTek 5800, code-named Honeycomb, as its fixed-content repository. Sun claimed that the product will provide faster and better access to terabytes of unstructured information through metadata processing.

Honeycomb is a clustered set of nodes. Each 2U rack shelf node is, in effect, a Sun Fire 2100 server with four 500GB Serial ATA drives, an Opteron 64-bit processor and 3GB of RAM. Up to 16 nodes, termed a cell, can be clustered using Gigabit Ethernet to provide a 32TB system. There are two load-balancing switches and a service processor per cell.

Data, ranging from complex media files to e-mails, is stored as objects and striped across all nodes. Faulty data on one node can be automatically detected and corrected. The disk drives have RAID 6 protection as well, meaning a two-disk failure can be tolerated. Data is backed up to tape using BakBone Software Inc.'s NetVault software and the NDMP protocol.

The nodes in a cell "elect" a master node at start-up time. If it fails, a new one is elected, and if any node goes down, the data is reconstructed and the other nodes pick up the workload.

The software stack is layered on Solaris and is being open-sourced, meaning zero license fees. It contains extensive metadata creation and analysis features to aid searching. Applications can be written to use the software stack's capabilities through an openly available API.

There is no file/folder system structure, said Dave Kenyon, Sun's director of product management. "Look at the Apple Mac's Spotlight feature. Who needs a file system?" he added. Object-based data storage could become general-purpose, he said. A presentational file/folder system can be constructed through user roles and virtual views if desired.

A Sun spokesman said that the 5800 is a third-generation object store. Generation 1 is represented by EMC Corp.'s Centera, in which users "store one copy of the data and farm it out on request through added application code," according to the spokesman. (See also "Honeycomb takes on Centera.")

Generation 2 adds a little intelligence to that. Generation 3 has the intelligence collocated with the storage to provide faster access and better object data preservation, the spokesman said.

Honeycomb is not a large data store; it's front-ended by a fast application server head holding an index and managing the store. The "head" functionality is distributed throughout the nodes, and open-source software removes the proprietary storage application license costs.

Graham Lovell, a senior director at Sun, said that the StorageTek 5800 system is the first in a new line of third-generation object storage systems. "[It] has raised the technology innovation bar -- allowing enterprises to create petabyte-scale, safeguarded, intelligent digital repositories," he said.

Sun has already shipped more than 400TB capacity on 5800 systems to partners and early-access customers, including Oxford University, Purdue University, Southampton University, Stanford University and the University of Michigan.

A 16-node cell has a $245,000 list price.

Sun also added to its Constellation high-performance computing announcement initially made in June, detailing three aspects of Constellation: the Sun Blade 6048, with up to 48 processing blades; the X4500 hybrid storage/server system (Thumper); and Magnum, or the Sun Datacenter Switch 3456, a dense InfiniBand switch with 3,456 ports. A Constellation system is being built at the University of Texas.

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