Although they are primarily known for their popular online backup service for both Windows and Mac OS X, Backblaze has also been recognized for their work with large-scale enterprises and businesses. Their line of Storage Pods, which can accommodate dozens of hard drives within a 4U-sized server, have been used to safeguard customer data since 2007. Moreover, the entire hardware architecture of the Backblaze Storage Pod is open to the public. This means that customers are able to build their very own Storage Pods according to the same hardware specs as Backblaze.
To this extent, the research and development team with Backblaze recently gave the public an inside look at their most recent prototype, which currently represents the Storage Pod 4.5. While this is still a work in progress, the design so far is promising.
For starters, Backblaze Labs relies on the Agile software development methodology and its efficient Scrum architecture. This methodology relies on a Scrum team, which is essentially a team of research and development professionals, who work through various sprints, or phases of development. Thanks to this method, Backblaze was able to divide the project into a series of four-week-long sprints, or phases, each of which has a primary goal of designing a working prototype for the latest Storage Pod device.
One of the initial tasks was to transform the drive grids seen in previous iterations of the Storage Pod into the more efficient drive beams seen in the most recent prototype. The current design accommodates 45 separate hard drives within three rows of 15. Initially, the team used drive brackets to hold the drives in place. This proved ineffective, however, and they ultimately settled on a system of drive beams.
As mentioned in a blog post from Backblaze: “Having Operations personnel on the Scrum team helped get the design of the drive beams right. For the first two sprints, the hard drives installed in the prototypes for testing purposes were small capacity drives. These drives were ¾-inch wide. Once installed, the gap between the drives provided enough space to use your fingers to remove the drives. Matt from Operations suggested that we use large capacity hard drives, like we do in production, to test the prototypes. These drives are one inch wide. When we did this in Sprint 3, we discovered there was no longer enough room between the drives our for fingers. This led to lowering the height of the drive beams in Sprint 5.”
Before a prototype can be finalized and sent to the consumer market, however, the Scrum team, or design team, must pass through a series of checkpoints. Apart from manufacturing one to five prototype Storage Pod chasses per sprint, the team is also responsible for delivering final product specifications, a final bill of materials, complete design files and an instructional build book. The team then has to negotiate production pricing for the manufacture of chasses as well as the procurement of the necessary hardware components. Negotiations are done using a minimum timeline of six months in production.
An Inside Look at the New Backblaze Storage Pod
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