Thumper & Friends

Thumper & Friends

announced a bunch of
new boxes this morning (of, course, the damn
Register has had the
poop for weeks, I find our leakiness irritating). There’s a
Real Big Opteron
(personally, I’m more of a scale-out than scale-up kinda guy, but big
iron is a big part of our business). There’s a
blade box.
I know nothing about blades, never been near one. Then there’s the
Thumper oops X4500, it’s
interesting. I even have a grainy amateurish photo of the inside of a
pre-production model.

At a recent internal meeting, we got an up-close-and-intimate walk-through
from Andy Bechtolsheim on How It Works; if we could figure out how to clone
him and give the whole world that kind of pitch, we’d sell these things by the
Suffice it to say that the maintainability and I/O bandwidth of these boxes
are remarkable.

Now, the Thumper; it’s a 4U box with two fast dual-core Opterons and some
silly, idiotic, enormous number of 250G or 500G disks.
And really big, fat pipes throughout. Here are a few of the disks.

Ask the Bloggers ·
When I was getting ready to write this, I had a detail question about the
Thumper, and since all the people I know in the Systems org are out on the
marketing road-show today, I asked the internal bloggers’ list, and that turned
out to be a smart move, I learned some interesting things:

  • If one of the disks fails, the little LED beside it lights up. The
    software handles it (see below) and things go on running; the intent is that
    you service it about once a year, swapping out the failed drives, which are
    easy to find. Bringing down maintenance costs is a big deal with a lot of our

  • The LEDs are actually three-state: activity (Green), OK-to-remove
    (Blue), and Fault (amber).

  • It ain’t light. I suppose we’ll do a try-and-buy, and if you try one,
    please don’t try to hoist into place yourself. I gather that internally, we
    use a

SATA What?!?! ·
Now, here’s the really interesting part. These are all SATA disks; i.e.,
pretty fast, really cheap, typically regarded as not suitable for use in big
back-room servers. The thing that makes it all work is ZFS, which goes fast
not by using the fastest disks, but by using lots of paths to the data, and
which assumes that disks are going to fail sometimes and is built to just deal
with it.

Remember, RAID used to stand for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks?
That’s the idea here.
This sucker was originally designed as a streaming-video server. But
everywhere I look I see the data getting bigger and bigger and the transaction
rate getting higher and higher. So I bet there are lots of places where this
will come in handy. [Tim Bray Ongoing]

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