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DMX-4 Green or not?

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After the recent EMC announcements on DMX-4, I promised I would look at the question of whether the new DMX-4 is really as green as it claims to be. I did some research and the results are quite interesting.

Firstly we need to set the boundaries. One of the hardest part of comparing hardware from different manufacturers is that they are intrinsically different (if they were too similar, the lawyers would be involved) and that makes it difficult to come up with a fair comparison. So, I’ve divided the comparisons into controller and disk array cabinets. Even this is difficult. The DMX has a central controller cabinet which contains only batteries, power supplies, interface boards and so on. The USP however uses half of the central controller for disks. The DMX has 240 drives per cabinet, however the USP has 256 disks per cabinet. This all needs to be taken into consideration when performing calculations.

Second, I want to explain my sources. I’ve tried to avoid the marketing figures for two reasons; firstly they usually refer to a fully configured system and secondly they don’t provide enough detail in order to break down power usage by cabinet and by component. This level of detail is necessary for a more exact comparison. So, for the USP and USP-V, I’m using HDS’s own power calculation spreadsheet. This is quite detailed, and allows each component in a configuration to be specified in the power calculation. For EMC, I’m using the DMX-3 Physical Planning Guide. I can’t find a DMX-4 Planning Guide yet, however the figures on the EMC website for DMX-4 are almost identical to those for DMX-3 and it’s as close as I can get.

DMX-3/4

The DMX figures are quite simple; the controller cabinet (fully loaded) takes 6.4KVA and a disk cabinet 6.1KVA. A fully configured controller cabinet has 24 controller slots, up to 8 global memory directors and 16 back and front-end director (FED) cards. A typical configuration would have eight 8-port FED cards and 8 BED cards connecting to all 4 disk quadrants. EMC quote the disk cabinet figures based on 10K drives. Looking at Seagate’s website and standard 10K 300GB FC drives, each requires 18W of power in “normal” operation, so 240 drives requires 4.32KVA. The difference between this figure and the EMC value will cover when drives are being driven harder and the power supplies and other components which need powering within a disk cabinet. We can therefore work on an assumption of 25.4W per drive on average.

Now the figures for the controller cabinet are interesting. Remember EMC have no drives in the controller cabinet so all the power is for controllers, charging batteries and cache. So all that 6.4KVA is dedicated to keeping the box running.

USP

The HDS power calculator spreadsheet is quite detailed. It allows specific details of cache, BEDS, FEDs and a mix of 73/144/300GB array groups. A full USP1100 configuration has 1152 drives, 6 FEDs, 4 BEDs and 256GB of cache. This full configuration draws 38.93KVA (slightly more than the quoted figure on the HDS website. Dropping off 64 array groups (an array cabinet) reduces the power requirement to 31.50 KVA or 7.43KVA for the whole cabinet. This means the controller cabinet draws 9.21KVA and in fact the spreadsheet shows that a full configuration minus disks draws 5.4KVA. The controller cabinet has up to 128 drives in it, which should translate to about 3.7KVA; this is consistent with the 9.21KVA drawn by a full controller cabinet. The 7.43KVA in a cabinet translates to 29W per drive, making the HDS “per drive” cost more expensive.

This is a lot of data, probably not well presented but it shows a number of things;

  1. There’s an inescapable power draw per drive which can’t be avoided; this equates to about 20W per drive.
  2. The controller frame needs about 6KVA and this varies only slightly depending on the number of controllers and cache.
  3. The HDS controller is slightly more efficient than the EMC.
  4. The HDS disk array is slightly less efficient than the EMC.

Neither vendor can really claim their product to be “green”. EMC are playing the green card by using their higher density drives. There’s no doubting that this does compute to a better capacity to power ratio, however these green power savings come at a cost; SATA drives are not fibre channel and not designed for 24/7 workloads. Whilst these drives provide increased capacity, they don’t provide the same level of performance and DMX systems are priced at a premium so you want to get the best bang for your buck. However, if EMC were to price a SATA-based DMX competitively, then the model is compelling, but surely that would take business away from Clariion. What’s more likely to happen is customers choosing to put some SATA drives into an array and therefore see only modest incremental power savings.

So what’s the future? Well, 2.5″ drives currently offer up to 146GB capacity at 10K and only half the power demands, which also translates into cooling savings. Is anyone using these in building arrays? Hybrid drives with more cache should allow drives to be spun down periodically, also saving power. Either way, these sorts of features shoudn’t come at the cost of the levels of performance and availability we see today.

One final note of interest…HDS are quoting figures for the USP-V. These show a 10% saving over the standard USP, despite the performance improvements…

About Chris M Evans

Chris M Evans has worked in the technology industry since 1987, starting as a systems programmer on the IBM mainframe platform, while retaining an interest in storage. After working abroad, he co-founded an Internet-based music distribution company during the .com era, returning to consultancy in the new millennium. In 2009 Chris co-founded Langton Blue Ltd (www.langtonblue.com), a boutique consultancy firm focused on delivering business benefit through efficient technology deployments. Chris writes a popular blog at http://blog.architecting.it, attends many conferences and invitation-only events and can be found providing regular industry contributions through Twitter (@chrismevans) and other social media outlets.
  • the storage anarchist

    As StorageZilla points out (at http://storagezilla.typepad.com/storagezilla/2007/07/emc-power-calcu.html) the site planning guide only gives you the data necessary to properly size your power circuits. Actual power requirements (detailed down to the component) for all EMC gear is provided by the Power Calculator, available on PowerLink.

  • the storage anarchist

    With over two years of experience shipping xATA drives on the CLARiiON platform, I have to challenge your assertion that SATA drives aren’t suitable for “24/7 workloads.” Performance-wise they’re admittedly no match for 10K or 15K rpm drives, but availability-wise they seem to be doing just fine.

    To date, the $/GB&rpm pricing of 2.5″ drives still hasn’t crossed over 3.5″ drives, even when you include operational expenses. But the time is probably soon.

    Hybrid drives, on the other hand, probably aren’t as applicable to either mid-tier or enterprise-class storage – the Pack Rat discusses this over here: http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/StephenFoskettPackRat/~3/135715224/

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