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Hardware Hacking Apple Build

Wozniak Accepts Post At a Storage Systems Start-Up 183

Posted by samzenpus
from the something-to-fall-back-on dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is going back to work as chief scientist at Fusion-io, a start-up company that tweaks computers to let them tap vast amounts of storage at very quick rates. In the early days of Apple, Wozniak stood out as one of Silicon Valley's most creative engineers, demonstrating a knack for elegant computer designs that made efficient use of components and combined many features into a cohesive package and Wozniak will do similar work at Fusion-io, although this time with larger server computers and storage systems rather than PCs. 'I have a pretty quiet life, and I like to watch technology evolve,' says Wozniak. 'In this case, I like the people and the product, and said I would like some greater involvement.'"
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Wozniak Accepts Post At a Storage Systems Start-Up

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  • Good - Stay Busy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by maz2331 (1104901) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @11:23PM (#26733153)

    It's always good to stay busy, and doubly so if you can actually do something that helps grow the existing technology.

    And if he can make some cash from this gig, even better!

    Go Woz!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @11:32PM (#26733225)

      I hope he can do more than 1 Gig. Let's aim for petabytes, shall we?

    • Re:Good - Stay Busy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anthony_Cargile (1336739) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @11:57PM (#26733417) Homepage
      Well, he does until the company gets too big then he'll leave out of dissatisfaction. He has stated this, and you almost can't blame him: little usually= friendly, personal, tight; big usually= formal, !personal, and sometimes even evil.

      Regardless, he is a very skilled hardware hacker. I especially appreciate still to this day the ADB, which was designed (according to legend) in a mere weekend, on the same level of hack-skill as the "Joy wrote vi in a weekend" hacker lore. I just hope he never loses his ability for great pranks, too - that's another personal hero element he has for me.

      Keep it up woz, never change.
      • by eln (21727) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @12:37AM (#26733719) Homepage

        Heck, if I had the financial freedom to do so, I'd probably spend my time jumping around between startups too. The startup phase is in a lot of ways the best part of a company's life. It's full of boundless optimism and exciting work. It's also full of staggering risk and the ever-present specter of catastrophic failure too, which is why it's not right for everyone.

        My brain loves working for startups, but my wallet doesn't. In Woz's case, he doesn't have to worry about the wallet part, so more power to him.

        • by juuri (7678)

          Agreed. The energy and just get it done attitude in a startup is awesome.

        • by wisty (1335733)

          Well, they do say that some leaders are good in small companies, some are big in large companies, and very few (Gates, Jobs) are good in both start-ups and big companies. Woz is clearly good in start=ups, so why shouldn't he do what he is best at?

          • by hitmark (640295) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @12:23PM (#26738819) Journal

            a good leader knows when not to lead...

            still, im not sure apple is that big, in a number of employees sense. this allowing them to be more agile, and also allows jobs to keep overwatch, in true control freak fashion.

            btw, jobs was never much of a engineer. woz have rated him mediocre at best. jobs was always more of a fast talking marketing man.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Hognoxious (631665)

          In Woz's case, he doesn't have to worry about the wallet part

          My first thoughts when I read the headline were that his Apple stock had tanked and his house was in negative equity. Still, could be worse - he could have invested with Madoff.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hitmark (640295)

          im tempted to claim that big corps are the cancer of the world economy, as they kill of living, productive cells (startups) while absorbing massive amounts of resources just to maintain their existence.

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        Keep it up woz, never change.

        Woz is a revolutionary. One of his little known projects was a stint working in speeding up waste management [leenks.com].

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by az1324 (458137)

      Yeah he must be bored since its the segway-polo offseason.

    • I'd love to see Woz and Andy Bechtolsheim working on a new generation Thumper.

  • SSD == Turning Point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dsginter (104154) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @11:33PM (#26733235)

    I've had the chance to play with some pretty phenomenal solid state drives (SSD) lately and, I have to say, that I can't believe that there isn't more industry buzz.

    In a few months, an extra $100 will probably buy 120GB SSD, which will make a given PC perform like something completely different (you really need to go test drive an SSD PC if you have not yet indulged).

    In a decade, I can see handhelds having so much storage and so much processing power, that we'll all just carry around our PC-on-a-phone and just use a standard interface to put that PC on any external monitor and keyboard. Hell, I can USB boot Ubuntu from my Blackberry, already.

    • I think his old pal Steve is already on top that one:

      http://www.apple.com/iphone/ [apple.com]

      Seriously, with a bluetooth keyboard I am able to easily SSH into servers or RDP/VNC into an office machine if something goes wrong. I don't even use my Powerbook anymore for checking Email. The only thing I do use it for is light coding and surfing the web.

      I don't have the A/V adapters but I've seen them out there already.

      You aren't going to be playing Duke Nukem Forever anytime soon, but the iPhone has already come in handy

      • by beav007 (746004)

        You aren't going to be playing Duke Nukem Forever anytime soon

        True, but that has nothing to do with the processing power that you can fit into a phone. Chances are that we'll get 80fps on Crysis on a mobile phone before DNF is even released.

    • by Anthony_Cargile (1336739) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @12:04AM (#26733471) Homepage

      phenomenal solid state drives

      Combine the fast access of flash with the organization and optimizations I've seen in ext4, and you'll have an incredible system at the non-volatile storage level, which to me has always fallen behind other advancements like GPUs, processor speed/bus width, and RAM pricing/addressability (goes in hand with 64-bit processors).

      With this in mind, I eagerly look forward to my next system because of the long-awaited storage advancements over the last few years, mainly due to filesystem development (well, Linux filesystem development) and SSDs. The only gripe I have right now is the cost, which is falling steadily anyway (despite the economy) so that won't matter when its time to shop around :).

    • ZFS and SSDs (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 05, 2009 @12:17AM (#26733559)

      I've had the chance to play with some pretty phenomenal solid state drives (SSD) lately and, I have to say, that I can't believe that there isn't more industry buzz.

      Depends on who you ask. The Sun ZFS guys are all over this and are screaming at the top of their lungs about the use of SSDs for both read and write performance:

      http://blogs.sun.com/brendan/entry/l2arc_screenshots
      http://blogs.sun.com/ahl/entry/hybrid_storage_pools_in_cacm
      http://blogs.sun.com/main/tags/fishworks

      Sun many have other problems, but engineering talent is not one of them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Sun many have other problems, but engineering talent is not one of them.

        Doesn't matter if they can't afford to pay said engineers or if layoffs keep occurring at the present rate.

      • by Ilgaz (86384)

        Does ZFS people work on how to make it perfectly OS X safe with every single HFS+ feature as ".app package", "hidden finder flags" and even "resources"?

        I am sure some people confuses OSX with FreeBSD. No, Mac users and even professionals need such features which HFS+ currently provides.

        Issue with ZFS is it comes from Sun/Solaris land which really doesn't care about such "lame end user" things. If they demo ZFS perfectly working as native HFS+ on OS X, things could really change. At least for Snow Leopard. B

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ZosX (517789)

      What about the life of a modern SSD? Is it true that they have gotten them to get within the threshold of millions of writes? Hard drives are terribly unreliable in practice, but it seems that an SSD would potentially hold up for years and years if you could do millions of writes and didn't swap to the drive. Hell why not just slap a 20GB SSD on the motherboard with linux preinstalled......? Heck, integrate it into the bios for all its worth. Can you say instant on? Maybe we will start seeing devices that c

      • by symbolset (646467) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @01:28AM (#26733989) Journal

        The expected lifetime on the Intel X25-e is about 24 years in an enterprise server. The products of the company in TFA likewise. Use of SLC, sparing, internal error detection and correction, wear levelling and virtual block addressing add up to devices that are not only ridiculously fast - they also last a long time and degrade gracefully [fusionio.com] (pdf).

        Both the Intel SSDs and the IODrive are internally massively parallel.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by xlotlu (1395639)

        I want to say that in 5 years the mechanical, magnetic hard drive will be dead, but something tells me that the density will give it an edge for quite a while longer than that unless some major breakthrough occurs in the manufacture of SSD.

        Actually in 5 years' time they might be back with a vengeance. See this guy's thesis [stanciu.nl] about Laser-Induced Femtosecond Magnetic Recording

        He proved in 2007 that it's possible to use an ultrafast pulsing lasers for demagnetization and magnetization reversal, unleashing a potential recording rate of magnetic media higher than 100 Tbits/second.

        Of course, packing femtosecond lasers inside HDDs is nowhere near feasible in the foreseeable future, and neither could the plasmon antennae keep up with the high density

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Raid 0 might start to become a lot more interesting if they can prove to be reliable.

        This is the fundamental problem when trying to explain why SSDs are so absolutely magically fantastic.

        SSDs negate RAID-0. We're talking about drive i/o that is measured in nanoseconds instead of milliseconds. Solid state drives essentially remove i/o from the equation (at least, on the disk). Stacking multiple drives that each have an access time of ~0 isn't going to do you any good.

        • Stacking multiple drives that each have an access time of ~0 isn't going to do you any good.

          Um. Throughput, mkay? Of course it will help, don't be silly.

          C//

        • by compro01 (777531)

          Last time I checked, RAID-0 is useless for access times regardless of the media. The purpose is bandwidth. And it would definitely benefit most SSDs in regards to write speeds.

    • by ouachiski (835136) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @01:19AM (#26733943)

      In a decade, I can see handhelds having so much storage and so much processing power, that we'll all just carry around our PC-on-a-phone and just use a standard interface to put that PC on any external monitor and keyboard.

      Ok I have heard this a million times now and I just dont see it happening. Cell phones are easily lost, broken, dropped in toilets or stolen. Could you imagine what you would feel if you dropped your pc in the toilet. I can see integrating more tasks into it, but you will still have a need for a base station.

      • by zippthorne (748122) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @01:31AM (#26734007) Journal

        But your base station need not be in your house. Your base station could be network-based storage.

        You wouldn't feel too bad about dropping your PC in the toilet if you could get another one at CVS for the price of a couple packs of razor blades.

        Such a PC won't be a game station, or scientific number-cruncher, but it could satisfy a rather large niche that is only just now being developed.

        Frankly, though, I'm surprised no one has taken a palm, given it a dock that hooks up directly to a large (B&W) LCD monitor and keyboard, as a typewriting and email device.

      • by Ed Avis (5917)

        Obviously you wouldn't carry around your sensitive data on the phone. That's just daft. It would be stored on a central server somewhere where it's backed up.

        Given that, it does indeed seem a bit pointless to rely on plugging in a physical device. More likely you'll just navigate to some web site and have all your applications, data and settings available. This is pretty much already the case for many users.

    • by Atario (673917)

      They are quite amazing. The company I work for moved its production database servers over to these exact devices several months ago, and now we never have DB performance issues or timeouts.

      The bad part, of course, is that slow-DB issues are only discoverable on test or staging servers, and you have to remember to do it. Come to think of it, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > 120GB SSD, which will make a given PC perform like something completely different

      I take it you've not actually used one of those pieces of garbage yet. My boss bought a dozen of them for our devs, and every single one of the devs has since rejected them. While the read speed and the write speed of the SSD's aren't bad, they're slow as crap when you mix small writes with reads. You know like you do with real world systems like compiling software and with certain database usage patterns. To do a smal

      • by sarabob (544622) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @05:14AM (#26734831)

        Which is why fusion-io is different from normal SSDs. The devices have 20% or more spare capacity and use a log-based FS with block mapping, so your writes don't go through the read/erase/rewrite cycle.

        Obviously there is a little slowdown once the 20% has been used up and it goes into garbace-collection mode, but there are plenty of white papers around about steady-state usage (ie once it has started GC) and you can opt to use even less of the physical capacity in order to get more performance. See http://www.oracle.com/technology/deploy/performance/pdf/OracleFlash15.pdf [oracle.com] for example.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by afidel (530433)
        Um, get better SSD's then. Intel x25-e does ~70K 4K 100% random writes with the SATA controller on my HP workstation, you need a very large array of traditional disks fronted by a great controller to match that.
  • My Hero! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the_B0fh (208483) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @11:33PM (#26733237) Homepage

    Woz was always my hero. I was just a pimply faced kid when I first discovered Apple IIs (or more correctly, Apple II compatibles, since I was from a 3rd world country). Then I started reading about what he did, and his designs and so on. And when AAPL went public, he gave away his own shares to people who helped Apple get off the ground. Very very nice, very down to earth guy, from what I read about him. IIRC, he wanted to sell the Apple Is for $200 or so, and Jobs wanted $2000, and they settled on $666.66.

    I was so disappointed when he left Apple and quit working on the Apple II series - that was such a great computer, and ahead of its times.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I had a very brief close encounter with him, in which I got to ride his Segway. He was, indeed, eminently approachable, with absolutely no "mightier than thou" attitude, self-assured, willing to engage, and very affirming to talk to.

      (And that was *before* I recognized him!)

    • Something I wrote a few years ago after meeting Wozniak:


      Saw Steve Wozniak speak at a local college this past weekend. He's one of my heroes and someone I have consciously emulated throughout my life and career. It's not every day that one gets to meet an icon. Few will disagree that Wozniak started the personal computer revolution....

      Technology seems to be about stretches of incremental progress interspersed with head-wrenching forward lurches. Sometimes it is not so much the brilliance of one person, but t

  • by the positive path (1288162) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @11:39PM (#26733283)
    Good for Steve! The world needs more minds like his in the game.
  • by liquidsin (398151) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @11:53PM (#26733379) Homepage

    In the early days of Apple, Wozniak stood out as one of Silicon Valley's most creative engineers demonstrating a knack for elegant computer designs that made efficient use of components and combined many features into a cohesive package and Wozniak will do similar work at Fusion-io, although this time with larger server computers and storage systems rather than PCs.

    For the sake of easy readability, I'd like to give the grammar nazis somewhere to file all of their remarks.

  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @12:10AM (#26733515)
    ...I would be very, very rich man.

    tweaks computers to let them tap vast amounts of storage at very quick rates

    In other words, Yet Another Half-Baked Clustered/Distributed Filesystem we can add to the list of dozens of failed distributed/clustered filesystems.

    • by Anthony_Cargile (1336739) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @12:18AM (#26733569) Homepage
      Want another penny? Here you go:

      A cloud-distributed filesystem using each processor's bottom 2 or 3 general-purpose registers as a block for said filesystem, writing the contents only during certain times, or during periods of low access. This allows for lightning fast storage retrieval perfect for a database or large amounts of quickly updating information that needs to be retrieved just as fast, even better if archiving is not preferred after a brief period (think ticker tape), despite the possible redundancy of a RAID backup using said timing mentioned above. limiting factors are the speed of the reader(s), network speed, and bus bandwidth. Registers not used for storage are used for typical processing, aided by the amount of processors involved in cloud computing (think blue-gene).

      There ya go, maybe I should make my own startup now?
    • by symbolset (646467) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @01:13AM (#26733909) Journal

      In other words, Yet Another Half-Baked Clustered/Distributed Filesystem we can add to the list of dozens of failed distributed/clustered filesystems.

      Um... not even close?

      This isn't a clustered/distributed anything. It's also not "virtual".

      It's a very real, very fast, local storage for very real computers - servers mostly, but if you've got a few grand to blow on an extreme gaming rig, why not go the extra bit to make your levels load faster?

      Their quoted numbers are per PCIe X4 device >100,000 IOPS and >640MB/s both reading and writing, and they have independent benchmarks back that up. They're not kidding. The game has changed. This changes everything about how traditional workloads are configured, when you use a SAN vs local disk, how much throughput your apps can get, how many VMs you can run in a server... basically everything in the server world except where you store the data. You still want to store the data in the SAN for redundancy reasons.

  • Storage systems are not trivial pieces of hardware and the range of approaches for handling the problem is staggering.

    In the red corner, you've your basic NAS and SAN solutions. In the blue corner, you've direct-disk-to-memory systems using RDMA and Infiniband. In the green corner, you've WAN solutions (SCSI-over-IP, RAID-over-IP).

    In the purple corner, you've smarter drives (virtual sectors, filesystems in hardware). In the cyan corner, you've more powerful hardware (many read heads per platter, uber-large RAM caches).

    (Knowing Wozniak's reputation for doing things different, he's probably inventing a rhododendron corner.)

    There is no shortage of opportunity. However, as with the early home computer market, there is a shortage of consensus on what a storage system actually does, other than "store stuff". That seems to be a world Wozniak does well in - the lack of standards meant the Apple II did well, the presence of standards meant that NeXT didn't. In the current computing world, where standards are everything (especially if they come with pretty holographic stickers), can he do much with the flexibility in the arena?

    • by HockeyPuck (141947) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @01:00AM (#26733847)

      Let me translate this for you...

      These are "LAN Solutions"
      "SCSI-over-IP" - iSCSI
      "RAID-over-IP" - some volume manager sitting on top of iSCSI

      "WAN Solutions":
      WAFS (Wide Area File Services) from the likes of Cisco or Riverbed. They optimize CIFS/NFS protocols which are horrible over high latency links.

      Infiniband... Dying... besides infiniband used SCSI over IB to a IB to FibreChannel gateway.

      Don't forget tape and our friend FICON.

      Where can he be flexible? In the past few years we've seen the adoption of:

      -Virtual Tape Libraries (tho they've been in the mainframe world for ages)
      -Deduplication in Hardware
      -Encryption of Data at Rest (in the tape drive; and now in the disk drive)

      We've got plenty of CPU power with multi core systems... what about using that for Compression? (Sorry StorageTek did that in the 80s on their Iceberg (aka IBM's RVA Subsystem).

      I don't need more capacity, I need to be able to manage it easier.

      • by dfn_deux (535506)

        Infiniband... Dying...

        How do you figure? Infiniband is the absolute final word in minimizing cost per port/density and provides rdma and ultra low latency on crazy high bandwidth connections. There is a reason that companies like NetApp use infiniband for their clustering solutions ;good luck maintaining cache coherency between two or more nodes over something else. Check out how scalable informatics is using IB links on storage boxes that can do over 5k iops at 1500 MB/s

        • by jd (1658)

          1500 MB/s? Hmmm. Infiniband allows you to direct one or more lines (up to 12 in any given direction) to a given target and permits switches (and routers, but that adds latency) in that arrangement, so individual packets can be switched from individual input lines to any number of devices.

          Currently, Infiniband over PCIe 2.x supports 5 GB/s per line, although any given server is also limited to 5 GB/s. This would limit you to 12 servers and 36 of the storage boxes you mentioned, on a single storage-area netwo

    • It's a slam dunk. A no brainer. Two years from now you're going to be explaining to some young kid fresh out of college that "this is how we do it now. Forget that stuff they taught you." Again.

      Right before you tell her to get off your lawn.

    • by mochan_s (536939)

      The startup is on SSDs only. Look up their products page. products [fusionio.com]

      So, you're in the wrong ring, though the same building.

      • by jd (1658)

        Silly rabbit, Rings are for Tokens! (Or is that Tolkeins? I forget.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by moosesocks (264553)

      There is no shortage of opportunity. However, as with the early home computer market, there is a shortage of consensus on what a storage system actually does, other than "store stuff". That seems to be a world Wozniak does well in - the lack of standards meant the Apple II did well, the presence of standards meant that NeXT didn't. In the current computing world, where standards are everything (especially if they come with pretty holographic stickers), can he do much with the flexibility in the arena?

      I always thought that the Apple ][ did well because it was cheap and versatile, and that NeXT failed because their machines were outlandishly expensive and proprietary.

  • Not to dismiss what he's done, but for being the chief scientist in a storage startup, it seems like he is a bit underqualified compared to what the cutting edge of storage looks like nowadays.

    It seems that it may be more likely they brought him in in order to impress investors, i.e. an investor is more likely to put money into something where they have a big name of an entrepeneur that's struck it big. And it doesn't get much bigger than Wozniak.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bhtooefr (649901)

      Actually, the Disk ][ was arguably a bigger achievement than the Apple ][ itself, and Woz designed that, too, with no knowledge of how storage worked at the time.

  • Forget SSD... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by solios (53048) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @01:29AM (#26733993) Homepage

    ...yeah, it's the buzzword. It's the current growth area.

    Let's consider what The Woz did for floppies Back In The Day. While the early floppy drives are to modern drives the way the Wright Brothers plane is comparable to the B2 Stealth Bomber.... the fact is, The Woz turned the industry on its head. While in one light his contributions can be viewed as an incremental improvement, in every other light, HOLY CRAP HE KICKED SO MUCH ASS when it came to primordial microcomputer disk controllers. He proved that the highest-tech, super-chip-count hyper-expensive controllers could be implemented with a handful of chips.

    And he could - COULD! - do it again.

    I'm totally behind some company - ANY company - throwing money at The Woz, betting on the off chance he gets another flash of insight and pushes storage technology 20 years further ahead in as many minutes.

    Was Woz the Right Genius at the Right Time, or is he a straight-up Hacker's Hacker, who just needs the right operational conditions for his genius to manifest?

    Time will tell.

    • by PhotoGuy (189467)

      Let's consider what The Woz did for floppies Back In The Day. While the early floppy drives are to modern drives the way the Wright Brothers plane is comparable to the B2 Stealth Bomber.... the fact is, The Woz turned the industry on its head. While in one light his contributions can be viewed as an incremental improvement, in every other light, HOLY CRAP HE KICKED SO MUCH ASS when it came to primordial microcomputer disk controllers. He proved that the highest-tech, super-chip-count hyper-expensive control

  • How much would I need to pay to work there?

    It must be like to have Mozart hanging around with your band...

  • Woz hasn't done anything interesting in the last thirty years. I recognize his contributions are significant but just because he joins some start-up nobody has ever heard of doesn't mean it's going to be the next Apple or something. I suppose techies need their celebrities too and /. is their tabloid.

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