Can RAID Keep Up with Storage?

Arthur Cole

Storage systems are under their fair share of pressure when it comes to meeting the expectations of the next generation of data users.

But while most eyes are on the developments like solid-state storage and advanced cloud architectures, the question remains whether tried-and-true RAID technology will be able to make the transition to highly dynamic, infinitely scalable computing.

Ironically, one of the biggest threats to RAID is the steadily increasing capacity of traditional disk drives. As Enterprise Storage Forum’s Jeff Layton noted recently, the bigger the drive, the more difficult it is for RAID software to ensure adequate protection. With disk speeds and Unrecoverable Read Error (URE) rates remaining constant, it’s getting to the point that failure is becoming a near certainty and recovery times will be much longer due to higher volumes. Technologies like NetApp’s Dynamic Disk Pools (DDP) will help by spreading recovery tasks across a greater number of drives, but this may produce a performance penalty.

If anything, then, RAID technology seems to be following a more specialized track as it pursues footholds in key vertical markets. For instance, Panasonic has a new Blu-Ray archival system that uses the popular optical format as a robotic RAID solution capable of maintaining data integrity for 50 years or more. Capacities aren’t the greatest and throughput is lacking compared to enterprise-class technology, but it does provide a relatively low-cost solution for long-term storage.

As well, we have LaCie’s new 5big Thunderbolt system that sports up to 20 TB and can hit 785 MBps in RAID 0. Unfortunately, as a Mac OS solution, it only supports RAIDs 0, 1 or JBOD, making it most effective as a two-volume system for critical and high-frequency applications. On the plus side, it features an advanced cooling design that uses an aluminum casing, an on-board fan and heat exhausts that don’t generate much noise. As well, the unit comes in at a reasonable $2,000 for the 20 TB version.

Of course, RAID is not defined by its storage media as much as its software. And Fujitsu, for one, is working toward both high performance and open source in the latest versions of the Eternus system. The company has tapped Intel subsidiary Wind River’s real-time VxWorks storage OS, as well as the company’s Hypervisor and Linux platforms, to boost performance of the system without driving the price up. Using the Hypervisor system, for example, Fujitsu is able to leverage its Intel multicore processors to support both 64-bit VxWorks and standard Linux loads under a scalable architecture that can accommodate small, medium or large enterprises.

Is the RAID, then, destined for obsolescence? Truth be told, it faces a diminished future as the primary storage and data protection solution for enterprise workloads. But that doesn’t mean development on new RAID technologies will suddenly grind to a halt.

The fact is that enterprises of all stripes will continue to demand fast, reliable data storage and retrieval, whether it is in the cloud or the data center next door. And even though RAID may be showing its age, the question remains: If not RAID, then what?



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