Open source software is hardly a new concept, but it has only recently begun to make significant inroads into the world of enterprise data storage, where the big name proprietary vendors have (at least until now) had the advantage.
But as the open source community has grown and code has matured, with Linux taking root in more and more enterprises large and small, storage vendors, including big names like Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA), have been developing open source networked storage solutions.
One network storage software vendor, Openfiler, never needed to be convinced of the benefits of offering enterprises an open source network storage operating system.
Openfiler saw open source the Linux kernel as a way for enterprises to inexpensively yet efficiently deploy and manage their storage networks years ago. And it developed an open source network storage operating system with a Web-based GUI that worked with any industry standard x86 or x86/64 server, which enterprises could download for free. Several years later, Openfiler boasts more than 1,000 customers and is busy developing new features to serve its growing customer base and both enterprises and vendors have taken notice.
iSCSI, NAS, FC, RAID...
In addition to the Linux kernel, Openfiler uses open source technologies such as Samba CIFS fileserver and LVM2 block device virtualization to give small and large enterprises the ability to do file-based network attached storage (NAS) and block-based storage area networking (SAN) "in a single cohesive framework."
For enterprises seeking a file-based storage networking solution, Openfiler provides CIFS and NFS support to ensure cross-platform capability. And for enterprises with virtualization environments such as Citrix (NASDAQ: CTXS) XenServer and VMware (NYSE: VMW), Openfiler provides both Fibre Channel and iSCSI (target and initiator) support. Openfiler also supports RAID.
While some storage administrators may be hesitant to try an open source network storage solution, even one with an unbeatable price tag, Rafiu Fakunle, the co-founder and project lead of Openfiler, said they shouldn't be.
"Open source has been around for a while, and it has built up a level of credibility," he said. Indeed, Openfiler software has been around for more than six years now and has amassed more than 1,000 customers. "So you don't have to worry that if the software breaks, there's no one to fix it, because you have a vendor backing you up."
Fakunle said that with open source software, you don't have to wait for the next release or upgrade to get a problem fixed or get the feature you really want. For example, if a user has downloaded Openfiler and wants a specific feature, he can submit a request, "and if it's not too difficult, we'll implement it within a few days, or sometimes within hours," he said.
And because Openfiler is based on the Linux kernel, "it's compatible with most operating systems out there in terms of hardware," Fakunle added. "So even if a specific vendor doesn't sell the driver for their hardware, we have folks in the open source community who can reverse engineer stuff to get it to be compatible with a specific piece of hardware."
Indeed, open source has taken off to such an extent that even traditional, proprietary storage vendors are taking a serious look, and some are even developing their own open source solutions.
"If you look at some of the guys who are doing storage right now, even the proprietary guys, you will find that the vast majority of them are actually using Linux as the base for their storage offerings," he said. "And the reason they're doing that is because there is all this stuff in place, based on the Linux kernel, and these big name vendors IBM, NEC, Oracle with its BTRFS file system, Sun Microsystems with OpenSolaris have a vested interest in making sure that their products continue to work in those enterprises. So they've completely changed their philosophy.
"They're, like, if you can't beat them, then join them."
The big difference between the big-name vendors' network storage operating systems and Openfiler? The price. Would you rather spend $30,000 to get the functionality you need, or would you rather spend a tenth as much, or less, with full support? asked Fakunle.
Speaking of support, while it costs users nothing to download Openfiler software, support comes with a price tag, albeit a reasonable one. For small and mid-sized businesses, the per node support subscription fee is approximately $1,100 per year. For enterprise support subscriptions, which include high availability and block replication support, the annual fee is approximately $2,550 per node for a single-node configuration, or $5,950 for a two-node clustered configuration. For additional information on Openfiler support, visit openfiler.com/products/support-comparison.
Coming Soon: Open Source for the Cloud
Recently, in an effort to reach more customers, Openfiler has been working with LINBIT, another open source software vendor that does block-level replication, to develop a cloud computing solution.
According to Fakunle, the new solution will give users the ability "to not only do replication between two nodes within the enterprise, but actually store or export those blocks that are being replicated to a cloud computing environment, such as Amazon or any other cloud vendor who has a Linux offering."
So if an enterprise's local storage "happens to get kicked in the proverbial you know what, you'd be able to [quickly and easily] restore your data," he said.
Openfiler is also "firming up" its iSCSI offering. "Right now, the iSCSI target software within Openfiler allows you to deploy your VMs and what have you and is compatible with earlier versions of Windows clustering on the client side," he said. "The new release of Openfiler for iSCSI is going to support persistent reservations, which is part of the SCSI-3 specification. And that will allow you to run Windows 2008 clusters with Openfiler. That brings Openfiler up to date with the offerings from the big guys."
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff writes about IT issues and is a regular contributor to EnterpriseStorageForum.com.
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