Eight Failures, One Awesome Demo

Photo: Hardware expert Tom McKnight pulls random SSD drives from an all flash array during last Friday’s Storage Field Day 10 in San Jose, California.

Hardware expert Tom McKnight pulls random SSD drives from an all flash array during last Friday’s Storage Field Day 10 in San Jose, California.

The “killer demo” is legendary in the computer industry, where it’s been a crucial element in the success of many companies. When done well, a live demo can be a magical mix of storytelling, vision, and marketing – with the added thrill of knowing that at any moment everything could go horribly wrong.

The demo I witnessed last Friday consisted of failure after failure – and it all turned out perfectly. I work for a data storage array manufacturer (Nimble Storage) that was a sponsor of last week’s Storage Field Day 10, which brought a dozen top European and North American data storage bloggers to Silicon Valley for presentations on the latest technologies and products.

These people are all quite knowledgeable – and opinionated – about data storage technologies, so instead of the usual marketing BS the presentation jumped right into the demo.

A Nimble AF5000 flash array hummed away at the front of the room, pumping six high-definition video streams to a large screen. The lights twinkled on the array’s 24 dual flash carriers (DFCs), each containing a pair of 4TB SSDs (solid state drives), for a total raw storage capacity or over 160 TB.

Then the fun began. Hardware guru Tom McKnight walked around and asked participants to draw numbers at random from a box containing cubes labeled 1 through 24.

The first number drawn was #14, so McKnight walked up to the array, and calmly pulled out drive #14. Nothing happened. The next cube selected was #16, so McKnight pulled that one out as well; again, nothing happened. Cube #20 was selected, so he pulled drive #20; nothing. Then onto a different RAID group. He pulled drive #6, then #24, then 10; still nothing.

 

Okay, that was pretty cool. A quarter of the array’s SSDs pulled at random, no slot dependencies, and it doesn’t skip a beat. I’ve read our company’s technical stuff about “triple-parity plus RAID”, but this is the first time I really got it.

Next it was a power supply. McKnight ripped one out, but the high-res video on screen kept streaming away unaffected. Then, a controller. I heard a noticeable whoosh when he pulled out the controller module, as the fans ramped up to make sure everything stayed cool.

And that was that – almost. Eight hardware failures, but the system was still running as designed. And then, just so that everyone in the room could be sure that it really was a live demo, McKnight pulled the array’s power cable out of the wall.

Did that stop it? Of course it did; a data array needs electrical power to run. The point is that data services were not affected by multiple component failures, thereby proving the resilience of the overall system. This time the proof was direct, visceral, and memorable.

Customers today have countless ways to learn about the products they’re interested in, and they don’t need help or permission from your marketing department. A compelling demo captures their attention, earns their interest, and delivers a payload to the emotions as well as the mind.

You can check out the Storage Field Day demo here, or learn more about Nimble Storage here.