PDL Abstract

Active Disks - Remote Execution for Network-Attached Storage

Carnegie Mellon University Ph.D. Dissertation, CMU-CS-99-177, November 1999.

Erik Riedel

Electrical & Computer Engineering
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15213


Today's commodity disk drives, the basic unit of storage for computer systems large and small, are actually small computers, with a processor, memory, and 'network' connection, along with the spinning magnetic material that permanently stores the data. As more and more of the information in the world becomes digitally available, and more and more of our daily activities are recorded and stored, people are increasingly finding value in analyzing, rather than simply storing and forgetting, these large masses of data. Sadly, advances in I/O performance have lagged the development of commodity processor and memory technology, putting pressure on systems to deliver data fast enough for these types of data-intensive analysis. This dissertation proposes a system called Active Disks that takes advantage of the processing power on individual disk drives to run application-level code. Moving portions of an application's processing directly to the disk drives can dramatically reduce data traffic and take advantage of the parallelism already present in large storage systems. It provides a new point of leverage to overcome the I/O bottleneck.

This dissertation presents the factors that will make Active Disks a reality in the not-so-distant future, the characteristics of applications that will benefit from this technology, an analysis of the improved performance and efficiency of systems built around Active Disks, and a discussion of some of the optimizations that are possible with more knowledge available directly at the devices. It also compares this work with previous work on database machines and examines the opportunities that allow us to take advantage of these promises today where previous approaches have not succeeded. The analysis is motivated by a set of applications from data mining, multimedia, and databases and is performed in the context of a prototype Active Disk system that shows dramatic speedups over a system with traditional, "dumb" disks.

KEYWORDS: storage, active disks, embedded systems, architecture, databases, data mining, disk scheduling

FULL DISSERTATION: pdf / compressed postscript