How well do traditional operating systems stack up quantitatively (no gut feelings) against proprietary hardware in terms of performance, reliability, and maintainability for a storage system.

Specifically what are the pros/con's of Windows Storage Server, FreeNas, etc and JBOD running off a real hardware RAID controller compared with something such as HP Lefthand, Dell Equallogic, or a baby EMC SAN.

Are there benchmarks comparing WSS or a software platform with 8/16/32 spindles against a similarly equipped 'real' SAN?

Please also categorize your response in terms of a small install (one or two chassis 8 - 64 drive set) or a large install (one or two racks of drives 64+ spindles). I assume with a two rack's of drives system, the TCO management costs eclipse any savings from using white boxes.

  • You really can't compare as NAS to a SAN. They are different beasts designed to do different things.
    – mrdenny
    Aug 14, 2009 at 22:45

2 Answers 2


I guess this depends on you definition of white box Lefthand is really just a HP server with a custom OS on it.

Using Datacore you could do a similar thing, HP server with Windows and Datacore software

I've seen plenty examples where both of these outperform EMC systems, and I'm not talking bottom of the barrel AX systems either

for a white box setup the performance issue really come from the RAID cards, if your putting P800 HP cards in, they are costing you close to $1000 up anyway, but they perform very well, throw that in a Datacore system with 32gb of memory and all of a sudden you have twice as much cache as a high end EMC system, cache is where your performance lies, but the more in cache, the more not on disk, how often is the cache being written to disk? what sort of problems arise when there is a failure? individual UPS for that kind of white box is a great start, especially when you can interface it with the server for controlled cache flushing and such

Generally a whitebox SAN won't perform as well as a commercial SAN, this is generally down to components though, and just what you consider a whitebox SAN. I don't consider a Datacore or Lefthand system whitebox, because they are commercially supported software products, despite the fact that they are really just software layers for industry standard servers

Edit: Just to mirror what was said below, it is important that if the storage is important and mission critical, you have adequate support, that means not just buying the best product, but the one that offers the best support, now thats not always the big names, but its really not likely to be whoever is out back putting that white box together is it? :)

  • Would you consider "support" a large factor in why organizations purchase more expensive commercial SAN systems?
    – SirStan
    Aug 14, 2009 at 15:41
  • Absolutely, but buying from the BIGGEST commercial vendors does not always mean the best support, I've had second to none support from Datacore and rather lax support from EMC, Equallogic and Lefthand both still have great support despite their acquisition by larger players Aug 14, 2009 at 16:05

I think what Ryan says is right - you can build a whitebox solution that will be very fast and much cheaper than a named-brand SAN. And he's right, those P800's are great, we have dozens of the things, with up to 150 disks per server in fact. But the reason I don't build my own is that our business relies on storage, I need five-nines or better and I'd be up all night worrying about a self-build system when in fact I sleep very easily knowing I have one vendor to beat up if I run into problems.

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