Thursday, February 21, 2013

Itanium: Another Step Closer to Death

Itanium: Another Step Closer to Death
Intel had produced the Itanium architecture to compete in the higher-end 64 bit arena and eventually sun-set their aging 32 bit x64 architecture. With the release of AMD's x64 architecture, and vendors such as Sun Microsystems abandoning the Itanium roadmap for AMD x64 - pressure was placed upon Intel to include 64 bit instructions in the x86 chipset. Now with Intel x86 supporting 64 bit processing, there is little reason for Itanium to exist, placing pressure on remaining Itanum system vendors.

[Artist depiction of the Sinking of the Titanic]

Intel Itanium: The Sinking Chip
In 1999, Sun started a port of Solaris to Itanium, but it was Solaris support for Itanium was abandoned 2000, was considered again in 2004, but abandoned. Itanium servers were dropped by IBM in 2005. Dell kills Itanium servers in 2005. CentOS drops Itanium support in 2007.  In 2009, NetMgt reported that Red Hat killed support for Intel Itanium. in 2010, Microsoft Network Management reported Microsoft killed support for Intel Itanium. Gelato ends Linux on Itanium in academic HPC environments. Oracle dropped future Intel Itanium development in March 2011, but HP sued. Network management published in March 2012 that it became clear in court proceedings that Oracle was right, Intel Itanium is dead, but Oracle had to provide software support, anyway.

HP Wins & Loses:
After winning a lawsuit against Oracle, Intel announces plans to slow Itanium development. Itanium will not receive the newer socket update, to capture newer hardware features, but will merely receive an in-socket speed-bumb.
PC World has just noticed an Intel posting from late January, saying that Kittson would remain socket-compatible with the current Itanium 9300 and 9500 CPUs. Sticking a new processor in an older motherboard can still yield speed improvements, but you'll miss out on new, chipset-dependent advancements—support for faster RAM, newer RAM standards (like the upcoming DDR4), and new versions of PCI Express, SATA, and USB, among other thngs.
Clearl, HP is in a world-of-hurt. New Itanium servers are not coming.

[Itanium & Inspur image, courtesy The Register]
Itanium: Moving to China?
In April 2011, Chinese announce plans to build servers on Itanium. Huawei and Inspur announce plans to build Itanium servers. What OS will those servers run - is HP it the only owner of an OS on Itanium? One can't imagine that HP will share it's OS with a hardware competitor, unless they plan on abandoning the hardware market for Itanium, and charging them an OS fee. Will HP become an OS vendor? Perhaps HP will sell OpenVMS through them?

It may have been better for HP to purchase Sun SPARC & Solaris, to migrate their Itanium systems over to SPARC, instead of letting Oracle get the entire company. HP clearly needed something to save itself from the sinking of Intel Itanium, Oracle knew it, and it looks both Oracle & HP were pretty close to a deal that would have saved HP customers from a lot of hurt.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Systems: Facebook Taking a Page From Sun ZFS?

 Systems: Facebook Taking a Page From Sun ZFS?

Large vendors like Google have long created their own systems for their data centers. Facebook follows Google on creating their own systems for their data center, but contemplates taking a page from Sun's ZFS storage for their own flash optimizations.

[Facebook Server, courtesy ARS Technica]

Rotating Rust & Flash:
Facebook recognizes that traditional hard disks require significant power. Sun, over a half-decade ago, recognized that Flash could be used to reduce this power consumption. Sun designed ZFS file system to leverage two different kinds of flash: enterprise grade flash for the write log, and lower quality flash for read cache. By wisely choosing where to put lower quality flash in the storage tier, they were able to increase performance and reduce power consumption with fewer high-performance hard disks by combining the technology with ZFS. If the cheaper flash cell goes bad, they were only cache, and the actual data is still backed up against the real storage, which can be accessed at slower speeds, and the data can be automatically re-cached by ZFS.

Facebook has finally figured it out cheap Flash could reduce storage costs. Note, the discussion on using lower quality NAND flash in this data center article.
Data center-class flash is typically far more expensive than spinning disks, but Frankovsky says there may be a way to make it worth it. "If you use the class of NAND [flash] in thumb drives, which is typically considered sweep or scrap NAND, and you use a really cool kind of controller algorithm to characterize which cells are good and which cells are not, you could potentially build a really high-performance cold storage solution at very low cost," he said.
A good thing can not be kept from the market, indefinitely. Now, if the Facebook team could just inquire with someone who has been doing what they are discussing for a half-decade, to finish their contemplations. Their goal is pretty simple:

Facebook is burdened with lots of "cold storage," stuff written once and rarely accessed again. Even there, Frankovsky wants to increasingly use flash because of the failure rate of spinning disks. With tens of thousands of devices in operation, "we don't want technicians running around replacing hard drives," he said.
The cheap flash does go bad, while Facebook does not want engineers running around replacing spinning disks, they need to understand they do not want to be doing the same thing, with replacing flash chips. This analysis was a driving force behind the ZFS architecture.

[Illumos Logo]
On Hold in Illumos:
The discussion had hit the OpenSolaris splinters, regarding providing persistent storage in the flash Level 2 ARC Cache, past reboots. Of course, this simple change could offer some amazing possibilities for enhanced performance after a reboot (as well as some additional life expectancy on the cache components, for not having to be re-written.)
Unfortunately for Facebook, they could have been making this competitive edge a half-decade ago, had they implemented on Solaris, OpenSolaris, or one of the OpenSolaris splinters. - which are so prevalent in the storage provider arenas. How Facebook decides to do it's implementation will be an interesting question. Will they perform backups of their cheap flash data in more in more cheap flash (which is still more expensive than disk storage), or will they useless expensive storage to provide the redundancy for the flash, like Sun designed, Oracle now leverages, and many other storage providers (i.e. Illumos, Nexenta, etc.) now leverage?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tab Update: Solaris

Solaris Tab Update!
The Solaris Tab was updated with some new Reference Material links, to correlate to the Solaris 10 Update 11 Release (aka Solaris 10 1/13.)

Solaris Reference Material
2010-09 [HTML] Solaris 10 Update 9 Reference Library (Solaris 9/10)
2011-08 [HTML] Solaris 10 Update 10 Reference Library (Solaris 8/11)
2013-02 [HTML] Solaris 10 Update 11 What's New? (Solaris 10 1/13)
2013-02 [HTML] Solaris 10 Update 11 Reference Library (Solaris 10 1/13)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Oracle: Solaris 10 Update 11 Released!

Oracle: Solaris 10 Update 11 Released!

Solaris 10 was launched in 2005, with ground-breaking features like: DTrace, SMF (Services), Zones, LDom's, and later ZFS. The latest, and perhaps last, update of Solaris 10 was expected in 2012, to co-inside with an early release of the SPARC T5. In 2013, Oracle released yet another update, suggesting the T5 is close to release. The latest installment of Solaris 10 is referred to as 01/13 release, for January 2013, appears to be the final SVR4 Solaris release, with expected normal Oracle support extending to 2018. Many serious administrators will refer to this release as Solaris 10 Update 11.

(Oracle SPARC & Solaris Road Map, 2013-02-11)

What's New?
Oracle released the "Oracle Solaris 10 1/13 What's New" document, outlining some of the included features. The arrangement of the categories seems odd, in some cases, so a few were merged/re-orded below. Some of the interesting features include:

(Solaris 10 Update 11 Network File System Install Media Option)

(Solaris 10 Update 11 SVR4 Package Dependency Install Support)
  • Administration Enhancements
    OCM (Oracle Configuration Manager) Client Service
    Oracle Zones Pre-Flight Checker
    SVR4 pkgdep (Package Depends) Command
    Intel x86 FMA (Fault Management Architecture) Sandy Bridge EP Enhancements
    AMD MCA (Machine Check Architecture) Support for Family 15h, 0Fh, 10h
# zfs help                                                              
The following commands are supported:                                   
allow       clone       create      destroy     diff        get         
groupspace  help        hold        holds       inherit     list        
mount       promote     receive     release     rename      rollback    
send        set         share       snapshot    unallow     unmount     
unshare     upgrade     userspace                                  
(Solaris 10 Update 10 zfs help system enhancements)
# zpool help                                                            
The following commands are supported:                                   
add      attach   clear    create   destroy  detach   export   get      
help     history  import   iostat   list     offline  online   remove   
replace  scrub    set      split    status   upgrade                    
# zfs help create                                                       
             create [-p] [-o property=value] ...                        
             create [-ps] [-b blocksize] [-o property=value] ... -V     
(Solaris 10 Update 10 zpool help system enhancements)
  • ZFS File System and Storage Enhancements
    Help tiered into sub-commands for: zfs, zpool
    ZFS aclmode enhancements
    ZFS diff enhancements
    ZFS snap alias for snapshot
    Intel x86 SATA (Serial ATA) support for ATA Pass-Through Commands
    AMD x86 XOP and FMA Support
    SPARC T4 CRC32c Acceleration for iSCSI
    Xen XDF (Virtual Block Device Driver) for x86 Oracle VM
# zfs help create                                                       
             create [-p] [-o property=value] ...                        
             create [-ps] [-b blocksize] [-o property=value] ... -V     
(Solaris 10 Update 10 zpool help create system enhancements)

Competitive Pressures:
Competition makes the Operating System market healthy! Let's look at the competitive landscape.
(Illumos Logo)

Solaris USB 3.0 is in a better support position than Illumos still missing USB 3.0 today since Solaris 10, Solaris 11, and Illumos all have top-of-the-line read and write flash accelerators for hard disk storage... a USB 3.0 flash cache will provide a nice inexpensive performance boost! Slower Solaris USB 3.0 support from 2013q1 on SPARC will be shunned with Solaris ZFS SMB's considering Apple MacOSX. Apple released USB 3.0 support in 2012q4 with Fusion Drive, making OSX a strong contender. Apple may have been late to Flash when proper licensing could not be agreed between Sun/Oracle and Apple, Apple is still late with deduplication, but now Oracle and Illumos are late with USB 3.0 to combine with ZFS.

(Lustre logo, courtesy hpcwire)

Sun purchased Lustre, for ZFS integration back in 2007. NetMgmt salivated as Lustre for ZFS was on-tap back in 2009, ZFS needed cluster/replication for a long time. Redhat purchased GlusterFS in 2011 and went beta in 2012, for production quality filesystem clustering. IBM released ZFS and Luster on their own hardware & Linux OS. NetMgt noted Lustre on EMC was hitting in 2012, questioned Oracle's sluggishness, and begged for an Illumos rescue. Even Microsoft "got it" when Windows 2012 bundled: dedupe, clustering, iSCSI, SMB, and NFS. It seems Apple, Oracle, and Illumos are the last major vendors - late with native file system clustering... although Apple is not pretending to play on the Server field.

(Superspeed USB 3.0 logo, courtesy

The lack of File System Clustering in the final update of Solaris 10 is miserable, especially after various Lustre patches made it into ZFS years ago. Perhaps Oracle is waiting for a Solaris 11 update for clustering??? The lack of focus by Illumos on clustering and USB 3.0 makes me wonder whether or not their core supporters (embedded storage and cloud provider) really understand how big of a hole they have. An embedded storage provider, should would want USB 3.0 for external disks and clustering for geographically dispersed storage  their check-list. A cloud provider should would want geographically dispersed clustering, at the least.

(KVM is bundled into Joyent SmartOS, as well as Linux)
Missing native ZFS clustering and hypervisor at Oracle is making Solaris look "long in the tooth". Xen on Oracle Linux with Xen being removed from Solaris is a poor excuse by Oracle. Joyent's SmartOS KVM integrated into Illumos helps the Solaris community move forward, but what is the use of a hypervisor without shared-nothing clustered storage, to migrate those VM's at will? Missing USB 3.0 and native ZFS clustering is putting pressure on Illumos to differentiate itself in the storage market.

Oracle Solaris 10 is alive and well - GO GET Update 11!!! Some of the most important features include the enhancements to CPU architecture (is SPARC T5 silently supported, since T5 has been in-test since end of 2013?), USB 3.0, iSCSI support for root disk installations, install SVR4 package dependency support, and NFS media support. Many of these features will be welcomed by SMB's (small to medium sized businesses.)

(Bullet Train, courtesy gojapango)
The Solaris Train continues to move at Oracle, producing high quality product, SPARC support, and new drivers (i.e. USB 3.0) - if Solaris 11, Illumos, or SmartOS releases ZFS clustering, the resulting OS will be market leading.