Red Hat Storage Server 2.1

Spartan Camp

But Who Is Going to Pay for That?

After a few days of testing with a temporary license, the price list for RHSS finally reached our lab – prompting some incredulous frowns from the test team, who initially believed there must be some kind of misunderstanding. According to the list, a two-node cluster with support on weekdays costs no less than 9,000 Euros, while the same cluster with 24x7 support is priced at 14,000 Euros. Realistically, however, no one will operate cloud storage with only two nodes; assuming you have four storage hosts, a one-year license with 24x7 support will cost 26,000 Euros. And, if you move to a three-year contract, you will pay almost 70,000 Euros for the same system. Mind you: The prices are only for licensing the Red Hat Storage Server. The required hardware is likely to send the price of the solution skyrocketing. The documentation does not reveal whether Red Hat also has aggressive discount strategies similar to its competitors.

Against the backdrop of these prices, it seems questionable whether any advantage remains for RHSS customers compared with traditional SANs, although Red Hat marketing documents [4] claim that RHSS 2.1 "can generate up to 52 percent in storage system savings and an additional 20 percent in operational savings." These figures clearly represent a comparison with conventional, proprietary SAN products, rather than a home-grown solution.

Has Red Hat simply overstepped the mark? Although the company has put some work directly into developing the components that are now integral parts of the RHSS, these components are available for free without RHSS. Admins can even combine them in a similar way, thus creating a kind of DIY RHSS (see the box titled "Build Your Own RHSS") without thousands of dollars of capital outlay.

Build Your Own RHSS

RHSS uses standard components that are interwoven in Red Hat style. Many scenarios are conceivable – the decision for or against them, of course, also depends on what the local conditions look like and what technologies are already in place.

If you want an exact replica of RHSS, your first port of call is the GlusterFS storage solution. Although Red Hat drives the development of GlusterFS, prebuilt packages do exist for other distributions, or they are very thoroughly maintained by the developers of other distributions. CentOS could be your target OS; matching Gluster packages are available from the Gluster community [7], and you will also find matching packages for Ubuntu [8].

Admins need command-line skills to work with GlusterFS and Swift. If you prefer to work with the keyboard instead of pushing a mouse, you will quickly find your way around thanks to the RHSS documentation, but this is also true of an equivalent, individual installation.

If you rely on a tool like Puppet or Chef for managing configuration files, you can fall back on these services without RHSS. You'll find instructions for dealing with GlusterFS in both Puppet and Chef [9] [10].

The one-off configuration of the OpenStack components for a specific storage technology is not complicated and can be quickly done by hand – in production scenarios, this configuration is fairly static in most cases, so changes should not be necessary down the road.

The entire functionality that ensures smooth cooperation between GlusterFS and OpenStack is included directly in the GlusterFS and OpenStack sources; using RHSS does not give you a head start knowledge-wise, and a storage system built on the same lines can provide the same functionality.

Another consideration is whether GlusterFS really is the only option for this configuration. Ceph is another great solution that is conquering the Software Defined Storage market and grabbing plenty of media attention.

Just like GlusterFS, Ceph is free software, and just like GlusterFS, all the OpenStack components provide support for it. Some experts believe Ceph's design is superior to that of GlusterFS. And, as an object store, Ceph should certainly have far less trouble than GlusterFS providing different interfaces for different use cases.

Other things that speak in favor of Ceph are seamless Chef and Puppet integration. Inktank, the company behind Ceph, offers complete packages for all the major enterprise distributions at [12]. The only disadvantage is that Ceph currently lacks a GUI – unless you have a support contract with InkTank.

A DIY storage server does obviously differ from a real RHSS in one pertinent point: RHSS comes with a support contract; the admin therefore has the option of asking Red Hat for help in case of difficulty. Because GlusterFS is the core component of RHSS, support customers therefore receive support directly from Gluster upstream. It doesn't get any better than this! Still, a cautious buyer should keep in mind that Red Hat's support is focused around the software, whereas the hefty cost for SAN support applies to the complete system of proprietary hardware and software together.

If you want to take a closer look at RHSS before shelling out all this money, you can take it for a test drive [6]. Red Hat offers AWS-hosted VMs designed to give you an impression of RHSS's capabilities (Figures 1 and 2). A mouse click starts a complete RHSS setup, comprising six storage nodes, on which the tester can then try out the individual GlusterFS and Swift functions. A very detailed manual available through the test drive GUI explains how this works.

All told, testers can put RHSS through its paces for 15 hours, divided into three separate test runs, each lasting no longer than five hours. Registering for the test can take some time; applications for the test must be vetted manually. The Linux Magazine editorial team was granted access about 12 hours after applying (only a fraction of the announced 48-hour waiting period).

One benefit of the test drive is that Red Hat provides VMs for the server components, as well as Windows- and Linux-based clients. Linux uses FUSE to support local GlusterFS mounts, and the Windows client uses SMB to access GlusterFS files.


RHSS is technically sound work. On RHEL underpinnings, it gives users a combination of GlusterFS and OpenStack Swift. The fact that Red Hat has invested a large amount of work in those very services is to the company's credit – both RHSS and the projects themselves have benefited from these improvements to a considerable extent – and GlusterFS has become much better in terms of quality in the past year and a half. But, hard work alone does not appear to justify the price that Red Hat is asking for its product. In fact, it is questionable whether Red Hat could ever extend RHSS to an extent that a price of some 9,000 Euros would be justified for a system with two nodes. Apart from GlusterFS and Swift, as well as Samba, the product does not appear to currently contain any added-value components – including anything that could possibly be viewed as a unique selling point, such as an easy-to-use configuration interface.

You could set up a similar cloud-based storage cluster for OpenStack with Ubuntu or SUSE. The difference is basically the support that Red Hat includes in the price. Now that GlusterFS belongs to Red Hat, that support actually comes from upstream developers.

Despite the high cost, RHSS is still less expensive than operating a SAN with specialized hardware. Red Hat is clearly targeting customers who would otherwise have bought a SAN and are forced to purchase a support contract due to internal requirements.

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