Seeking the Right Mix of Storage Media

Arthur Cole

It was a pretty wild year for the storage industry, what with supply disruptions and rapid advances in both media and architectures. But now that things are getting back to normal, the question for storage professionals remains: What is the best way to move forward as enterprise users continue to increase the reliance on legacy architectures for both capacity and flexibility?

The good news is that the hard drive industry looks ready to emerge from its year-long walk in the wilderness following last fall's significant flooding in the Thai production corridor. Market researcher IHS iSuppli is reporting HDD sales are on pace to set a record this year, largely driven by ramp-ups in PC production as suppliers look to fill the channel with new Windows 8 machines. The industry is set to hit 524 million units, a 4.3 percent gain over last year, even though prices are running nearly a third higher than pre-flood levels.

At the same time, new models are pushing capacities to higher levels and finding their way to smaller form factors in a bid to satisfy increasingly diverse deployment options. A case in point is Western Digital's new RE drive that pushes the 3.5-inch SAS/SATA realm to 4 TB. The device utilizes five platters each holding 800 GB and is rated at 1.4 MTBF, providing a high degree of long-term reliability for use in file servers, NAS servers and video platforms. The drive features WD's NoTouch ramp load system that limits wear and tear on the record heads, as well as Dual Stage Actuation (DSA) and Rotary Acceleration Feed Forward (RAFF) anti-vibration tools.

Then there is Toshiba's new 500 GB Canvio, an ultra-thin device aimed at portable applications that measures in at just 9x107x75 mm. With a USB 3.0 interface capable of handling large media files, the drive takes dead aim at the influx of SSDs in notebooks and laptops. The drive features advanced tools like the NTI Backup Now EZ system to streamline backup to either the drive itself or the cloud, as well as NTSF drivers for Mac environments that allow storage and access from a PC or Mac without having to reformat. That the drive comes from Toshiba, inventor of NAND Flash memory, is testament to the fact that HDDs will continue to have a place in the digital universe going forward.

Still, it should be clear by now that solid state is likely to be the first choice for enterprise deployments, according to Storage Switzerland's George Crump. In the same way that server provisioning is on a "virtual-first" basis, new storage is likely to favor Flash, with hard disk reserved for active data. Part of this is due to the ever-narrowing cost parity between the two media, but the main driver is the fact that solid state provides the throughput needed for advanced virtual and cloud architectures, particularly as random I/O traffic heats up. Flash is also proving to be much more flexible in both provisioning and management, fitting nicely on a standalone platform, on the server or as a cache.

In the end, then, it looks like storage managers will be dealing with hybrid environments for some time. As SSDs make their way into previously all-HDD environments, care will have to be taken to ensure that the right data makes it into the right environment. But even after the transition is complete, there will still be a fair amount of spinning media working away in the data center.

Add the cloud into this mix, and it's clear that storage environments of the future will offer equal measures of performance, flexibility and diversity.

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