Storage not only plays a critical role in a company’s IT strategy, it’s also increasingly important to the survival of the overall business. It’s vital that IT departments understand key storage issues, how to address them, and how these issues impact the entire enterprise.
A strong understanding of key storage issues enables companies to rapidly gain control of their network’s most valuable resources, which in turn will help them get the maximum return on investment (ROI). Let’s take a look at some of the key issues in today’s storage industry.
Storage Standards and Their Long-Term Impact
— John Joseph, EqualLogic
Being able to effectively gauge which storage standards are likely to have a long-term impact on the storage market is a vital aspect of understanding key storage issues and their impact on enterprise viability.
For example, many industry experts are currently touting serial interfaces such as Serial ATA (SATA) and Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) as a technology that will have a long-term impact on storage device interconnects.
“SATA will continue to gain momentum in secondary storage applications,” states Kevin Wittmer, director of technical marketing, Maxtor Corporation. Wittmer says that the SATA II Working Group is currently defining enhancements to the first Serial ATA 1.0 specification that add more functionality for the entry-level server and network storage markets. Serial ATA II’s enhanced features include command queuing, port multiplier, port selector, ganged cables, and staggered hard drive spin up.
Wittmer continues on the serial interface theme by touching on SAS, the next-generation SCSI disk and near-cabinet interface that was developed as a follow-up to the parallel SCSI interface. “SAS incorporates the advantages of serial technologies while preserving the 20+ years of investment in the SCSI command protocol,” says Wittmer.
The SAS interface was developed to meet the needs of mainstream enterprise-class storage systems and provide the flexibility required to meet the cost, availability, scalability, and performance requirements for future generations of storage systems and applications. Its point-to-point architecture will provide performance scalability beyond what is available in today’s storage arrays based on the Parallel SCSI bus or the Fibre Channel arbitrated loop (FC-AL), according to Wittmer.
Because SAS is compatible with SATA, it will enable IT managers to select one universal storage system to meet all of these requirements. IT managers will be able to create ‘graded pools of storage’ with a single RAID system utilizing both SAS and Serial ATA drives.
These graded pools of storage capacity can be allocated to applications based on the application’s requirements for performance, availability, capacity, and cost. “This allows the IT managers to maximize their investments and scale storage as their companies grow,” says Wittmer.
The Key Benefits of IP Storage
Other industry experts believe that the move to IP networks will have an equally important long-term impact on overall business by bringing rich interoperability, scalability, and manageability features to storage.
“By providing a common management and data path network fabric, administrators will be able to deploy management infrastructure more easily at a lower cost,” says John Joseph, vice president, marketing with EqualLogic, Inc. “IP/Ethernet management tools are light years ahead of storage management tools, so one of the key benefits of iSCSI is the wealth of IP management infrastructure it brings to storage.”
Joseph maintains that iSCSI and its sister name service iSNS will bind together devices using the common networking fabric of IP and Ethernet. And tried-and-true standards such as TCP/IP, iSCSI, iSNS, IPSec, and Ethernet will provide an affordable and familiar network infrastructure.
Strategies and Best Practices for Promoting Effective Storage Management
Another key issue to consider is which strategies and best practices best promote effective storage.
According to Bob Guilbert, vice president of marketing and business development at NSI Software, a basic starting point that many companies fail to consider is simply taking into account the company’s actual storage needs as related to its overall business goals and requirements.
— Kevin Wittmer, Maxtor
“By first assessing their business needs with regard to availability, manageability, scalability, and regulatory requirements, IT managers can determine what the acceptable service levels are for their business and their customers,” says Guilbert. “Once this information has been gathered, it should be used to determine the hardware, software, application solutions, and processes needed to ensure all service levels and legal requirements are adhered to.”
This planning strategy, according to Guilbert, can help ensure that the appropriate solutions are deployed and prevent overspending on unnecessary purchases. “Including ongoing review of these solutions and processes will keep your IT strategies in line with any changes in your business strategies,” he says.
Migrating to SANs
Reducing the number of components in a system leads to more effective management. “In storage, this is achieved by storage consolidation — the process of migrating to a storage area network (SAN) where fewer storage arrays can serve multiple servers and applications,” says EqualLogic’s Joseph.
In addition, consolidating storage onto smarter storage systems (e.g., complete, intelligent solutions) reduces management complexity. Ideally, he says individual storage arrays should collaborate with one another to form a single, scalable pool of storage that appears and can be managed as a single storage system — and routine processes, such as provisioning and the addition of new hardware, should be automatic.
Information Lifecycle Management
Maxtor’s Wittmer believes that one of the most effective strategies is Information Lifecycle Management (ILM). ILM is a strategy that when implemented with the appropriate storage can reduce storage costs and increase flexibility. Within ILM, says Wittmer, the key is understanding two major principles:
- Transferring data to different storage resources as it ages and access needs change
- Assigning data to the least expensive storage possible without compromising service
Wittmer also says that within an ILM framework, there are four pools of storage to account for:
- On-line, for transactional data
- Mid-line, for fixed-content data
- Near-line, for staging and spooling
- Off-line, for remote site archiving and data recovery
Wittmer believes that dynamically matching a given application with the correct pool of storage based on cost, capacity, and performance needs will help IT managers maximize their investment.
Understanding key storage issues will help IT departments better manage performance and control what goes on so that they can assure the continuous availability and reliability of their storage resources.
This is Part 1 of a two-part series. The second part will answer the following questions:
- With widespread power outages, potential threats of terrorism, and natural disasters fresh on the minds of IT planners, what do IT planners need to do to better protect their organizations? And how can storage vendors help IT planners reach that goal?
- How can storage vendors help enterprises improve the efficiency and effectiveness of storage management?
- With competitive pressures from industry deregulation, many businesses are being judged on their business continuance plans more closely than ever before. How can storage vendors help IT planners better position themselves to recover quickly from an unplanned outage or from data corruption?
- Competency in storage management is a requirement for any IS organization that hopes to provide a cost-effective and highly available environment for an enterprise’s critical applications and business processes. What role do storage vendors play in this process?