Choices Abound in Unified Storage

Arthur Cole

A unified storage architecture offers a dramatic improvement over existing file-and-block storage networking, particularly in newly virtualized environments.

But aside from the obvious benefits of increased flexibility, simplified management and reduced hardware requirements, what are some of the other ways to differentiate between the growing legion of unified platforms hitting the channel?

For a company like EMC, the "clarion-call" (sorry) is simplicity. Let's face it, a unified architecture is a vast improvement over multiple storage networks, but it still requires a fairly sophisticated monitoring and management stack to keep the traffic flowing. To that end, EMC is relying on its Unisphere system for the CLARiiON and Celerra midrange platforms, which the company claims can reduce operator management tasks some 90 percent. The system also comes ready to integrate with VMware's vCenter stack, as well as the vSphere platform and the vStorage APIs for Array Integration (VAAI).

EMC clearly has the mid-range of the market in its sights. Isilon is aiming for larger game by incorporating iSCSI into its OneFS operating system. The goal here is to bring some order to diverse data environments by consolidating block-and-file applications under a single storage pool and then scaling that pool to whatever extent is necessary. The system supports CIFS, NFS, HTTP and FTP on the file side, and brings iSCSI block storage under the same management structure to reduce data fragmentation and improve resource utilization.

Over at Oracle, the focus is on extending its unified platform, the Sun Storage 7000, to larger data sets and faster transfer speeds. The company has added 4 and 8 Gbps Fibre Channel support and 1 and 2 TB SAS drives that push capacity to 576 TB. It also sports built-in in-line deduplication tools that can be coordinated with existing in-line data compression to cut overall storage requirements up to 80 percent.

But if full unification is not in the cards just yet, perhaps there is a way to gain NAS functionality into SAN environments. A company called Aberdeen says it can manage that in the AberSAN platform, which combines Fibre Channel and iSCSI block level connections and then adds a dose of multi-user network sharing. The feat is accomplished through a SAN virtual appliance plug-in that pools internal disk capacity on the AberSAN to create a virtual SAN for use by ESX servers. This allows the server to share storage resources without having to go through external arrays, HBAs or switches.

It is very difficult to gauge the full implications of a change like unified storage from the specs of the various platforms. But you have to start somewhere.

In the end, the ease of the transition will be largely determined by a number of intangibles ranging from legacy infrastructure to the experience level of your in-house storage management staff.


In IT, simple is always better, but sometimes you have to undergo a fair amount of complexity to get there.

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