[Beowulf] Third-party drives not permitted on new Dell servers?

Mark Hahn hahn at mcmaster.ca
Sat Feb 13 11:05:55 PST 2010

> hardware. Apparently Dell has started hardware-blocking hard-drives
> that are not "Dell certified".

I believe this should be met head-on: if a controller claiming to 
support SATA does not permit the use of any conforming SATA disk,
then the controller is not conforming.  we need to lobby the standards
organizations to consistently apply their trademark.

the situation is easy to understand: this is just one step beyond 
"warranty void if opened".  but it's a step too far, since it's not 
merely a warranty situation (where the device will continue to work
even if opened), but rather standard non-conformity for lock-in.

I think the issue of standards needs to be talked about more in the 
industry press, actually.  there's too much damaging fuzziness about 
"defacto" standards, what interop really means to the customer,
and how you should run away when a vendor lists "supported" models.

defacto standards means "not a standard, but the way X does it, and 
everyone thinks X is unchallengable."  this completely negates the 
actual meaning of standard, which is that if you have two conforming 
devices, they will interoperate.  a defacto standard means nothing 
more than "has worked with X in the tests we've done".  no promise 
for any non-tested configuration.  no promises if X decides to change.

interop is what the customer desires: instead of an N^2 problem of 
deciding whether option A is compatible with option B, each option
merely has to conform to the standard.  2N tests less work than N^2
(for sufficiently large N ;)

when a vendor lists supported configs, they are implicitly saying 
that they have no faith in standard conformity, and are instead merely
going to mark out a few places in the N^2 grid where they will take 
the blame for failure.  this is profoundly anti-customer.

we expect standards in most places (just think: tires, roads, gasoline - 
imagine if Ford only "supported" driving with Ford-brand gas, on "OEM"
tires, on Ford-approved roads where the only other cars are Fords...)

I don't know whether having standards organizations police their brands
would be good enough.  obviously, there is some conflict of interest,
since most of the support for, say, SATA-IO is let by vendors (incl Dell),
and is probably less arms-length than INCITS T10/13 committees.  but 
I think this could be dealt with as a criminal matter as well, since 
claiming standard conformance is clearly a product-liability issue.

my personal experience is with HP products: nearly all HP disk controllers
refuse to work with products not bought through HP channels.  there is some
escape at the lowest end where HP doesn't bother to break any of the 
chipset-integrated controllers (afaik).  to me, this difference indicts.

as MAKERs say, if you can't open it, you don't own it.  I think as customers
we should demand standard-conformity, even though vendors have often gotten
away with it in the past.  the same vendors _do_ actually support standards-
based interop for some products (ethernet, power cables, vga/dvi/hdmi,
pci/pcie, usually even dimms).  if a product doesn't conform to its specs,
then it's broken.  how many class-action suits would it take to get vendors
to recognize this?

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