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By | Chris Mellor 21st April 2009 11:11

The hole in HP Matrix' storage heart

Where's FCoE?

Comment HP's Matrix has a great plus over Cisco's California and a big fat minus as well. It has a hole in its storage heart.

Matrix goes very much farther than Cisco in unifying storage, iSCSI storage and the servers and networking, but not so far as Cisco in unifying networking, particularly storage networking. In fact there is a thumping great enterprise storage networking cavity in Matrix' heart, just waiting to be filled with FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet).

Taking a closer look at Matrix reveals six storage aspects of note. First, there is direct-attached storage (DAS) for the server blades. The storage blade, the SB40c, has six 2.5-inch SAS or SATA disk drives on it, is managed by a SmartArray P400 3Gbit/s SAS controller, and provides up to RAID 6 protection. This is mounted inside the BladeSystem Matrix enclosure, adjacent to the blade for which it provides DAS.

Generally, SATA drives are used for capacity and SAS drives for speed. So it first appears here with a 5400rpm SATA option and both 10K and 15Krpm SAS options. But the largest SATA drive available is 250GB while the biggest SAS one holds 300GB. This gives the SB40c a 1.8TB maximum SAS capacity but only 1.5TB of SATA, the reverse of the normal SAS/SATA relationship. That's odd, particularly as 500GB 2.5-inch SATA drives are available.

Secondly, Matrix can also have an external DAS array, the MDS600. This seems a cheeky name as HP knows about and sells the Cisco MDS 9000 Fibre Channel SAN fabric switches and directors. Yet it has gone ahead and produced its own MDS external DAS drive array product, instead of using the existing MSA branding. Is there a message in this naming choice?

The 5U high MDS 600 holds 70 3.5-inch SAS or SATA drives, meaning up to 70TB of storage on 1TB SATA drives, with normal SAS/SATA relationship rules applying here. They are managed by a SmartArray P700m controller, which takes advantage of SAS zoning to virtualise the 3Gbit/s SAS connections between the server blades and the MDS 600. Blade servers and drives can be re-mapped to cope with blades having different application storage needs. Each blade server still gets its own DAS, it's just that the amount can vary from a single drive up to 100 drives.

There can be up to six MDS 600 enclosures hooked up to a Matrix 7000 chassis, making a maximum of 420TB of external DAS storage available. Protection up to RAID 6 is available, meaning protection against double drive failure.

HP says this way of providing DAS is up to 73 per cent cheaper and has up to 230 per cent more storage density than what it calls traditional DAS. We haven't seen any figures yet to back this up.

On the Fibre Channel side, Matrix server blades can link to Fibre Channel arrays, such as the EVA 4400, via a 24-port 8Gbit/s Virtual Connect Fibre Channel module, manufactured by Brocade. That's the third storage aspect of Matrix. The EVA products can use solid state drives but Matrix has no SSD DAS option. Possibly that's a road map item.

Fourthly, Matrix can use HP's LeftHand P4000 SAN (storage area network) software to provide a scale-out iSCSI SAN capability. It provides replication, thin provisioning and snapshotting. This product, running on an X86 server, aggregates the DAS on individual severs into a shared iSCSI SAN.

It can be packaged as a Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) and here we have the fifth notable storage aspect of Matrix, a bundle of VSA with the SB40c to provide an iSCSI SAN inside Matrix. It can be expanded to encompass multiple Matrix enclosures and provides what HP calls Network RAID protection, meaning that no data is lost if an SB40c/VSA node goes down.

HP is suggesting that this use of Matrix can support remote sites and small/medium enterprises with multiple sites. The LeftHand software uses VMware vSphere vStorage APIs and is integrated with VMware's Site Recovery Manager (SRM). Cisco has nothing like VSA, and it is looking to FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet) to provide the converged storage in its UCS converged server, networking and storage data centre computing system.

The sixth Matrix storage feature relates to storage networking. Cisco's UCS has a virtualised Ethernet switch, running as a virtual machine. HP has nothing like that. It has two types of network module: a Flex-10 10GigE one for Ethernet traffic and iSCSI, and a 24-port, 8Gbit/s Fibre Channel module switch manufactured by Brocade. Matrix blade servers connect to that with either Emulex or QLogic Host Bus Adapters (HBAs).

Now we come to the storage networking hole at the heart of Matrix: there is no support for FCoE, with no availability of converged network adapters (CNAs) for the blade servers, and no availability of FCoE in the Flex-10 Ethernet switch. Considering that virtually every mainstream storage supplier positions Fibre Channel as the SAN style for enterprises, with iSCSI the SAN protocol outside the data centre, this limits Matrix' appeal.

For Matrix to be a data centre converged computing, networking and storage resource, it needs FCoE, so it can get rid of Fibre Channel cables, switches and directors. HP has gone much farther than Cisco in unifying storage with its converged data centre computing resource. It's just that it's done this with iSCSI when most enterprises will want it done with FCoE. Team Reg thinks FCoE is likely to be a Matrix road map item. HP has been asked to comment but was not immediately able to do so. ®

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