Managing a Bestseller

There are a couple of bookstores in my neighborhood. They could not be more different from one another.

The first is known to focus on best seller lists, to promote popular books, and use displays and traditional retail techniques to drive business. They seem to do well, year in, year out. The other bookstore is more of a community treasure, beloved by the neighborhood, with a focus on the (thoughtful) insights of their staff. Those insights are delivered via small note cards appended to shelving throughout the store, where books are displayed alphabetically, with library-like neutrality.

The first store is very market focused, changes with the season, and seems to be quite succesful. The latter store, beloved though it may be, struggles to stay in business.

Now you might consider that an awkward introduction to a discussion of datacenter storage devices, but it was the best I could muster after reading yet another week’s worth of horrible economic headlines, dominated by multi-billion dollar losses and bailouts for some of the world’s largest corporations. But I (really) don’t want to talk about the economy (or the irony of a Wall Street analyst with a sell rating on Sun asking me for a job). Nor do I want to talk about the economics of selling books. I do, however, want to talk about storage and flash memory, far more scintillating topics (to me, anyways).

As you’re aware, flash memory is making its way into data centers at a very rapid clip. Flash has exceptional performance characteristics, and is generally orders of magnitude faster than a traditional disk drive at responding to requests to read and write information – up to 100’s of times faster. It also requires little/no power, dissipates no heat, and can withstand vibration, temperature extremes and shock. Plus it’s got that great name, “flash memory” – who wouldn’t want that in their datacenter ( (myths about flash being less reliable than traditional disks debunked here).

Sun recently introduced a storage device heavily optimized with flash memory. It’s known by a similarly scintillating name, the Sun Storage 7000, and is what we call an “open storage” device – one built with commodity flash and disk components, alongside open source software (this is an excellent summary).

The 7000 has one remarkably interesting attribute: it learns. The longer it’s doing its job, interacting with applications and serving data, the faster it becomes. How it accomplishes this relates to the bookstores I first discussed.

Most storage devices behave like the unsuccessful bookstore, organizing books with a sorting algorithm to which the user ascribes no value – disks make no attempt to position data based on the frequency of access, and as a result, popular content is delivered with the same, or poorer latency as unpopular content. Storage architects go to great lengths to provide band-aids to the problem, but most fail in their attempt and fall back on massive over provisioning. That is, they throw money at the problem by “short stroking” data – making sure all data is written to the outer sectors on a disk platter, the parts that spin fastest, delivering highest performance reading/writing. This can work, but it’s exceptionally inefficient – and wastes money, power, space, disks and patience.

Conversely, the 7000 behaves like the commercially oriented bookstore, and uses algorithms (instead of storage admins) to adaptively place the most frequently accessed data where it will be fastest to retrieve: flash memory. (I was talking to a software analyst today who wanted to know why we bothered with the hardware business when so much value was in our software assets – this is a perfect example, the value isn’t in the software or the hardware, it’s in the systems we build with both.)

The internal operating system (OpenSolaris, paired with ZFS) actually “warms up” the device after it starts working – it watches traffic, notices which files are being most frequently accessed, and caches them in flash. Thereafter, they’re available near instantaneously. The 7000 can then use far slower, and less power consumptive disks for the infrequently accessed data. Net result? Hot files are served up orders of magnitude faster than even short stroked, jet fueled premium enterprise disks (did I mention those disks cost an outrageous fortune?) – and customers spend radically less on the device, on power, cooling, space, etc.

From your end user’s perspective, the front page of your news site, your most frequently accessed products or content, or the Facebook profile of the pilot who just saved the lives of 185 passengers landing an airplane on a river, are served up with lightning speed. Your users are happier, your CFO is happier, your family, with whom you’re spending more time, is happier. (And if there were ever a machine optimized for MySQL, this would be it – but it also runs brilliantly with Oracle, DB2 and SQL Server – and Postgres, of course).

It’s common sense: if you put the bestsellers on the first shelf a visitor sees when they walk in the door, they’re more likely to buy one than if you put them in alphabetical order around the store. As the bestsellers change, so do your promotions and displays – if you adapt to demand, you capture more of it. That’s the basic premise behind the 7000, to use systems innovation to drive performance, eliminate latency and radically cut purchase and operating cost.

That behavior might make a bookstore less beloved in my neighborhood, but it makes Sun more beloved in the datacenter. And it makes the 7000 a great candidate to be one of the storage industry’s best sellers.

If you’re a reseller or customer, and would like to try out a 7000 free of charge, just click here

There’s also a great simulator available for free download here – so admins can check out the user interface and diagnostic capabilities of the 7000 without installing a machine.

And speaking of best sellers, here’s a video in which the 7000 plays a starring role – showing you how not to coax the best performance out of your storage devices.


Filed under General

31 responses to “Managing a Bestseller

  1. Loving all 5 of ours. Big blog post coming "soon". Still so many nooks and crannies to test and benchmark… still so little time. 🙂

  2. Michael Meier

    You mention Oracle, DB2 or SQL Server as alternatives to MySQL. Are you still standing firmly behind the PostgreSQL support of Sun?

  3. Carolyn A. Colborn

    Well, Jonathan, tell us how you really feel! 😉
    That video is worth a hearty laugh! Happy New Year!

  4. Jonathan,
    This is great post since last year( being the first in this year) , I would like to congratulate you to come with product launch in the troubled times !!.
    But I have read in the tech journals that Flash has limited or finite number of reads/writes , if so then it needs to be replaced in few day’s or few year’s depending on the number of iop’s, please clarify.
    My other question is how long Sparc will survive?and how of revenue dies X86-64 product line is bringing to Sun?
    Do you have any sucess stories of being able take over the business from HP/DELL/ or IBM?Is SUn moving in the direction of SGI?

  5. Jonathan – I’d admire your ability to stay focused on growth and the future. And your passion and excitement for your new product.
    Not a strategy that many leaders take during these tough times. It’s easy to get paralyzed especially when you’re in a high profile role where others try to earn points by knocking you down. Long-term you will win this way.
    I dwell in the personal side of leadership and like to observe, support others who are striving forward despite the obstacles. There’s lessons for all of us in your situation
    Your growth will power yourself at a minimum and hopefully your company, forward to lots of great opportunities down the road.
    Keep following your personal compass and growth and good luck growing forward

  6. Drive Guy

    "But I have read in the tech journals that Flash has limited or finite number of reads/writes , if so then it needs to be replaced in few day’s or few year’s depending on the number of iop’s, please clarify."
    Current SSD hard drives have a lifespan that is roughly equivalent to regular hard drives. The Sun Storage 7000 also uses a combination of SSD and regular hard drives, which optimises the lifespan of the SSD components.

  7. Kebabbert

    I strongly believe you can sell SunRay 2 in large quantities. The first step would be to let ordinary users buy it. As of now, it is impossible. Only companies can buy these.
    What is cheaper? Buy a new computer, or buy a SunRay 2? And, SunRay 2 has average mean time between failure of 22 years. An life time investment. They never breaks, so you will never have warranty issues. Just sell and forget.
    If there is an cheap alternative available, then people would try out SunRay 2 instead of buying a new computer. They would probably first try Linux with SunRay, yes. But it doesnt matter because it is easier to convert a Linux/Unix guy than someone far away, such as Windows user. The number of Linux/Unix users are increasing, which means that the potential numbers of Solaris switchers are increasing.
    Make it possible to buy SunRay2, and then people will want them at work. And at the same time, they are more likely to continue buy Sun hardware such as servers. This increases adoption of Sun hardware. The only cheap hardware an ordinary user can afford, is the SunRay 2.
    The SunRay 2 will be the obvious choice when the computer cloud spreads. Then you will not need a computer. You just connect your cheap SunRay 2 that never breaks, to the cloud (provided by SUN).
    And, for SunRay 3, please make sure it can play movies in full screen, because of now, SunRay 2 can not. A home user will want to see movies in full screen.
    And fix the audio and video codecs for OpenSolaris. How can Hitachi sell OpenSolaris laptops without ability to play back DVDs and MP3? Catastrophe.
    And focus on universities – the students there, will be the new IT managers.
    Argh. There is so much to improve at SUN. I know what to do. I would prefer to email you directly of course. But chances are nigh that you read all your 1000 email/day.

  8. Kevin Hutchinson

    Is there any scope to create customized variations of the 7000 storage line for various industry verticals like health care, legal, music, video, etc? It’s great to have sexy technology, but it’s even better to sell it like hot cakes!
    Any chance of a blog post about your planned product and service deliveries this year in cloud computing? It’s all a bit vaporware right now. How soon will we see results from this new business unit?

  9. Big Pappi

    "But I (really) don’t want to talk about the economy (or the irony of a Wall Street analyst with a sell rating on Sun asking me for a job)."
    Tell me who this person is? I will challenge them to a fight.

  10. Nathan Evans

    Johnathan, I have been watching Sun forever since I first found out our local telco ran Solaris. I think you are all doing a fine job and suspect that with the right marketing, the world will notice that Sun is the most creative company on earth, and every other company seems to follow. All those companies have over your head is marketing. Perhaps is time to re-introduce the world to Sun microsystems.

  11. Monty Carlos

    Do you get the huge speed boost with larger files?
    I’m doing Monte Carlo simulations in Windows and large-ish (say 500mb to 1gb) files are written to disk with intermediate results, and writing and reading these files becomes the speed limiting process.
    I’m guessing the speed boost with larger files partially depends on the capacity of the SSD drives?
    Would something like this 7000 accessed by a windows machine over a network be "orders of magnitude" faster for read/write of large files than a locally attached fast hard disk setup?

  12. Dave

    Great to see you blogging, and all the best for 2009. I’d like to echo the sentiments of the Sun Ray poster above (although not related to your post), a Sun Ray 3 (keeping a similar form factor to the Sun Ray 270 for example) with integrated graphics such that it could do full-screen vid will surely push an already great product over the top.
    The latest integrated chipsets from AMD for example are very power efficient, I believe the 780G is passively cooled and offers hardware H264 decoding as well. Something like this in a Sun Ray would blow the doors wide open for signage applications, or kiosks where video content is required. Just imagine how many desktop Windows PCs already performing this duty such a solution could replace!
    The video enhancements in the SRSS 4.1 update gives a tantalizing glimpse of just how cool this would be…

  13. Jonathan – I’d admire your ability to stay focused on growth and the future. And your passion and excitement for your new product.

  14. Terry McKenzie

    Optimism founded on great products is hard to beat. Great post, and great way to kick off 2009. Thanks!

  15. Javier Portallo

    I don’t understand why this is such a big deal. I get why flash matters, but surely NetApp and EMC will just put flash drives in their storage devices and then you’ll be no better.

  16. 100 times faster + smart I think the device should be shipped with LT’s and DT’s.
    Rajeev Vashisht

  17. James Oakes

    Hi Jonathan, I agree with one of the comments above, which is that all the other vendors will embrace flash, so really Sun will just be another supplier. What Sun need is something unique to bring to the market – a product/offering that you can make a decent amount of money from (profit, with ethics!) which hopefully will get the Sun brand into the press for all the right reasons … dare I say it – much like Apple have done with the i(Jesus)Phone. Come on – you guys must be able to pull something out of the hat in those Sun research labs!!!! If you want any help just drop me a line 😉

  18. Why Stop Now

    "But I (really) don’t want to talk about the economy (or the irony of a Wall Street analyst with a sell rating on Sun asking me for a job)."
    If you’ve seen your stock price lately, Jonathan, then you know this analyst is rather insightful.

  19. Kevin Hutchinson

    To Javier and James, only Sun has DTrace for the real-time analytics, and ZFS to squeeze every possible microsecond of latency out of the network traffic. EMC and NetApp don’t have similar technologies (although they have good de-dupe, which I think Sun could use). NetApp is prosecuting Sun to try to prevent ZFS being made available to the market place, so they must see it as a significant threat. (Sun is countersuing – see for details)

  20. That video is really interesting and funny :).

  21. It is possible to run a national chain of profitable neighborhood bookstores staffed by knowledgeable people.
    The book store you describe as being beloved in your neighborhood has a selling problem, not a products problem and not a people problem.
    Management could "easily" fix it: replace those narrow and forbidding front doors with something a little more welcoming; add a greeter to break the ice for new customers; hire people specifically to tell new customers what’s great about the store; reward bookstore employees who help people pick books that are right for them; and, broaden the customer base by getting customers to sell the bookstore to their friends and colleagues – do all that, and the business will quickly overtake the monopoly operator selling only the half dozen most popular titles.

  22. Happy New Year! Analogy is awesome, it’s just like the page ranking system of Google, making the data more in demand accessible swiftly.
    Some refreshing innovation in these strange and unpredictable times. At the end of the day and of lives this is what matters. What difference each of us made. Cheers for this achievement!

  23. Z

    The only thing is that the Sun storage boxes are a order of magnitude cheaper than the ones from EMC and Netapp, and that matters quite a bit.
    when are you releasing the Sun Ray desktop virtualization appliance?

  24. That video is very funny and made me laugh like crazy!
    Happy New Year! Glad to see you are back posting 😉

  25. Great to see you blogging, and all the best for 2009.That video is very funny and made me laugh like crazy!
    Happy New Year!

  26. I noticed you didn’t mention Informix in your list of DBs. I’ve been looking at a developer copy, and it’d be great if Sun and IBM could get together, again, on this.
    Regarding disks, the industry has been shifting away from anything that "spins" for years. That’s the trend. If it doesn’t spin, it’s way less likely to fail. Disk failure="you’re fsck’d!" 🙂
    Regarding Linux, any "distro", it’s a joke of an OS, especially "RHEL". Get real! HP-UX? *chuckles* Don’t even get me started. AIX? It just doesn’t have the range and speed of Solaris, sorry. 😦 IBM does make decent database software, though. Much respect to and for IBM. Until, mySQL becomes more developed, I’d like to get Informix® running on Sun® hardware. 🙂
    Mark® 🙂

  27. Bill W

    "Innovation Loves a Crisis"
    With the Crisis the World is in at the present time, Sun’s innovation should begin to show up in the next 4 qtrs!!! One thing i can’t understand is what did that "handshake" between Sun’s former C.E.O.and the C.E.O. of Google ever bring to Sun?? ($$)

  28. Bill W

    i remember this post by you Jonathan and can say a big Amen to it!!!
    In times of crisis, we have a big opportunity to stand apart from our peers, to be better connected to the market, even if it’s in turmoil. Yes, our customers are going to be under stress, but that’s simply another way of saying "open to change." And I want Sun to be the company engaging them in the transition – with our ideas and our roadmaps. The door is open.
    And yes, we will see some customers disappear – we will also see many emerge even stronger. And the market, as it’s done for the past 30 years, will return to growth – led by the companies that took advantage of the downturn to become even more valuable, to grow even faster.
    So I want to assure you, we are watching the market very carefully, to understand the impact on Sun, and the challenges in front of us – on a macro and micro level. But I and my leadership team know the drill, we’ve seen this before when the last bubble burst – *now is the time* to get in front of the opportunity, and firmly establish new ground. Now’s the time our customers will be most open to change.
    Let’s be sure we’re there to help – and to take advantage of the opportunity.

  29. Iwan

    Appreciate an update on BlackBox (how many sold). Hope it’s selling well.

  30. gp

    Hi Jonathan ,
    Can please also support and promote ubuntu , I love debian based systems like ubuntu and will never migrate anything which is not linux to lesser extent debian , I think Sun Taking Ubuntu as enterprise solution with Opensolaris as option will Kick RedHat Butt ……..ubuntu is most popular linux distro has got huge userbase …doing so Sun will have nothing to loose

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