Western Digital – The A Is For Active, The S Is For Scale

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 15.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

   

Western Digital recently presented at Storage Field Day 15. You might recall there are a few different brands under the WD umbrella, including Tegile and HGST and folks from both Tegile and HGST presented during Storage Field Day 15. I’d like to talk about the ActiveScale session however, mainly because I’m interested in object solutions. I’ve written about Tegile previously, although obviously a fair bit has changed for them too. You can see their videos from Storage Field Day 15 here, and download a PDF copy of my rough notes from here.

 

ActiveScale, Probably Not What You Thought It Was

ActiveScale isn’t some kind of weight measurement tool for exercise fanatics, but rather the brand of scalable object system that HGST sells. It comes in two flavours: the P100 and X100. Apparently the letters in product names sometimes do mean things, with the “P” standing for Petabyte, and the “X” for Exabyte (possibly in the same way that X stands for Excellent). From a speeds and feeds perspective, the typical specs are as follows:

  • P100 – starts as low as 720TB, goes to 18PB. 17x 9s data durability, 4.6KVA typical power consumption; and
  • X100 – 5.4PB in a rack, 840TB – 52PB, 17x 9s data durability, 6.5KVA typical power consumption.

You can scale out to 9 expansion racks, with 52PB of scale out object storage goodness per namespace. Some of the key capabilities of the ActiveScale platform include:

  • Archive and Backup;
  • Active Data for Analytics;
  • Data Forever Architecture;
  • Versioning;
  • Encryption;
  • Replication;
  • Single Pane Management;
  • S3 Compatible APIs;
  • Multi-Geo Availability Zones; and
  • Scale Up and Scale Out.

They use “BitSpread” for dynamic data placement and you can read a little about their erasure coding mechanism here. “BitDynamics” assures continuous data integrity, offering the following features:

  • Background – verification process always running
  • Performance – not impacted by verification or repair
  • Automatic – all repairs happen with no intervention

There’s also a feature called “GeoSpread” for geographical availability.

  • Single – Distributed erasure coded copy;
  • Available – Can sustain the loss of an entire site; and
  • Efficient – Better than 2 or 3 copy replication.

 

What Do I Use It For Again?

Like a number of other object storage systems in the market, ActiveScale is being positioned as a very suitable platform for:

  • Media & Entertainment
    • Media Archive
    • Tape replacement and augmentation
    • Transcoding
    • Playout
  • Life Sciences
    • Bio imaging
    • Genomic Sequencing
  • Analytics

 

Thoughts And Further Reading

Unlike a lot of people, I find technical sessions discussing object storage at extremely large scale to be really interesting. It’s weird, I know, but there’s something that I really like about the idea of petabytes of storage servicing media and entertainment workloads. Maybe it’s because I don’t frequently come across these types of platforms in my day job. If I’m lucky I get to talk to folks about using object as a scalable archive platform. Occasionally I’ll bump into someone doing stuff with life sciences stuff in a higher education setting, but they’ve invariably built something that’s a little more home-brew than HGST’s offering. Every now and then I’m lucky enough to spend some time with media types who regale me with tales of things that go terribly wrong when the wrong bit of storage infrastructure is put in the path of a particular editing workflow or transcode process. Oh how we laugh. I can certainly see these types of scalable platforms being a good fit for archive and tape replacement. I’m not entirely convinced they make for a great transcode or playout platform, but I’m relatively naive when it comes to those kinds of workloads. If there are folks reading this who are familiar with that kind of stuff, I’d love to have a chat.

But enough with my fascination with the media and entertainment industry’s infrastructure requirements. From what I’ve seen of ActiveScale, it looks to be a solid platform with a lot of very useful features. Coupled with the cloud management feature it seems like they’re worth a look. Western Digital aren’t just making hard drives for your NAS (and other devices), they’re doing a whole lot more, and a lot of it is really cool. You can read El Reg’s article on the X100 here.

Leave a Reply