The StorageMojo take on Boxwood

Let me get the negatives out of the way first:

  • Boxwood is a prototype, not a product. While the BoxFS testing is suggestive, the real proof is in application, especially database, performance.
  • An eight node prototype isn’t very large. The scalability questions aren’t answered to my satisfaction, though certainly the team is well aware of the issues. Again, suggestive, not conclusive.
  • There is no evidence that Microsoft is productizing Boxwood.

On that last point, Chandra does note on his homepage that he’s been working on a project at Microsoft’s Hotmail unit, that a senior Microsoft exec acknowledged as a major undertaking for internal use only. Since Hotmail has rather famously been running on either FreeBSD or Linux, depending on whose report you believe, it seems likely he is helping Hotmail move to a Windows-powered infrastructure using Boxwood-like abstractions. If he can help Hotmail, perhaps someone in Redmond will wake up to the potential of this technology to further embed Microsoft in the data center.

Despite the negatives, Boxwood is a signal achievement for several reasons.

  • A robust infrastructure using low-cost servers and networking with an API (discussed only in passing in the paper and possibly vestigial) designed for commercial application development.
  • The explicit inclusion of database support through ACID transactions in the B-tree layer.
  • The use of Windows at the server level. Potentially this makes scale-out clusters available for Microsoft’s huge VAR base.

Strategically, Microsoft is one of the only players in the industry who would look at destroying the array business as a revenue opportunity rather than a disaster. If they get hungry for growth, say if Vista, or some future OS, doesn’t spur business, the extra several billion a year in software revenue they could pull in might cause them to rationalize the pain they would cause their system vendor OEMs.

Is that screaming I hear in Hopkinton?
While such a scenario would hurt HP, IBM and Dell, it would absolutely devastate EMC, which has no server business to fall back on. EMC’s obvious response would be to buy a Linux server business and go into the software cluster storage business. Big iron arrays will never go away, but their growth could. If I were them, I wouldn’t wait.

Comments, as always, welcome. I’ll try to get something up about Storage Networking World tomorrow.