Summer of SAM-FS

Thursday Jun 21st 2007 by Drew Robb

Sun's SAM-FS file system brings relief for those feeling the growing data retention heat.

During the blackouts that plagued the summer of 1977, Son of Sam terrorized New York City. Sun Microsystems, however, is eliciting a more favorable reaction to its storage file system known as SAM-FS.

SAM-FS basically means Storage and Archive File System. It is a high-performance 64-bit file system and volume manager that provides one view of data within a hierarchical storage infrastructure. It manages data whether stored on tape or disk. SAM-FS has integrated storage and archive management. It is designed to protect large volumes of data and massive numbers of files, and for long-term data storage.

In addition, SAM-FS offers continuous automatic backup. Work in progress is captured by the file system and protected in a way that is transparent to the user or application.

“Snapshots have no context,” says Gerhard Schlabschi, product marketing manager of Sun Microsystems Inc. of Santa Clara, CA. “It is available as software and can be deployed along with other applications such as email and backup.”

Sun’s file system continuously copies new or changed files to tape or other media without the need to halt the application or arrange a backup window. Up to four copies of data can be written to different media types or offsite as an additional safeguard. Like CDP systems, only new data is copied. Further, large files can be segmented in order to decrease the amount of data that has to be copied.

Another feature of SAM-FS is that complete file systems can be written on multiple servers, and off-site for DR purposes. It can also be used to free up disk space by detecting dormant files or segments. These can then be restored rapidly. In terms of recovery, Schlabschi says archived files can be recovered in minutes on any system.

One user of Sun SAM-FS is Double Negative, a visual effects company based in UK that works in the film industry. It operates SAM-FS in a Sun E450 server environment. This server runs the Solaris operating system and stores massive quantities of data on a Sony B35 tape library wit two DTF2 drives.

For one film, for example, a few minutes of special effects means a whole lot of bytes. Think about 24 frames a second with each special-effects laden frame containing multiple gigabytes that cannot be compressed. Now factor in multiple film projects going on simultaneously and multiple operators at high-end workstations for each film.

SAM-FS archives all this data which can be swiftly retrieved and easily identified – as opposed to being difficult to find in many current archiving solutions. The Sun software comfortably manages access, storage, archiving, retrieval and backup of this vast data repository.

Bring your ISV

One of the current downsides of SAM-FS, however, is complexity. Schlabschi admits that its SAM-FS isn’t the easiest software to implement. He says that in most cases, an independent software vendor (ISV) is required to integrate everything properly and create the appropriate file structures and hierarchies.

“In the future, we may release SAM-FS as an appliance, and make it more automatic,” says Schlabschi. “”This would make it much easier to implement, and is very likely to happen.”

Taking a longer view, he believes that SAM-FS will eventually converge with Sun’s 128-bit ZFS (Z file system) which is the advanced file system used by the Solaris 10 OS.

“There are loads of specialized file systems out there,” he says. “It makes sense for them to eventually unite into one universal file system.”

He thinks that such a convergence is being largely driven by soaring data retention needs and their associated compliance headaches. That makes him bullish about the future of tape. He doesn’t buy into the disk vendor mantra about tape being data. On the contrary, he thinks that tape has a big place in the future of storage.

But that future will take greater organization. For disk and tape to seamlessly work together, the complexity has to be removed from the management of that data. That, says Schlabschi, will take file systems like SAM-FS.

Interestingly, this view of tapes place in the storage world of tomorrow may bring more clarity as to why Sun acquired StorageTek a couple of years back. Many analysts were baffled by the move and few have been impressed by the initial results. But from Schlabschi’s perspective, it makes perfect sense.

“It costs about 5 percent to storage data on tape compared to disk,” says Schlabschi. “That’s really why we bought StorageTek.”

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