Enterprise Storage Catching Up with the Times

Arthur Cole

Pity the poor enterprise storage infrastructure. While the rest of the data environment is reaping the benefits of virtualization, broadband networking and the like, storage has been the slowpoke of the bunch, struggling to keep up with an increasingly complex universe.

SSDs have certainly helped, but even here the blessings have been mixed. As a high-speed tier, SSDs have added to the complexities of storage management by forcing platforms to drill ever deeper into data loads to determine who is worthy of the most favorable performance.

Small wonder, then, market research firm TheInfoPro has dubbed 2012 the Year of Storage Optimization. The group's latest survey of enterprise executives found that interest in shoring up storage management systems in support of virtualization and other initiatives is high, even as overall spending on storage infrastructure is set to decline. Among some of the key technologies under consideration are automated tiering, as well as data reduction techniques like deduplication, compression and thin provisioning.

Leading storage vendors are keenly aware of this, and are scrambling, even uniting, to take advantage of it. For example, Fusion-io and NetApp have teamed up on a virtual storage platform that combines server-side Flash and advanced management technologies. The program is designed to foster enhanced compatibility between systems like Fusion-io's ioMemory platform and the Data ONTAP operating system, along with Flash Cache, Flash Pool and various other caching systems. The ultimate goal is to devise a means to provide always-on application availability at a time of increasingly complex storage architectures.

At the same time, reconfiguration of long-standing storage systems to incorporate SSD and other technologies is forcing some top-tier vendors to simplify their storage hierarchies. The new all-SSD version of the 3PAR P10000 from HP, for instance, provides up to 512 SSDs per array as a single tier, cutting hardware footprints and boosting I/O some 70 percent. For enterprises that need to integrate the system into traditional Fibre Channel architectures, HP also provides the Adaptive Optimization system for automated tiering.

Storage appliances are keeping up with the times as well. Overland Storage's new SnapSAN NAS device features automated tiering modules, as well as thin provisioning and replication components, aimed at improving performance for mid-level enterprises. The system includes the AutoTier policy-based management stack, as well as the AutoCache I/O performance system and AutoTune traffic optimization tool, all designed to funnel data to the appropriate storage option quickly and easily. The SnapSAN 5000 scales up to an enterprise-worthy 288 TB.

Storage will likely continue to be the laggard of the enterprise for a while longer, although it's nowhere near the limiting force that it was just a few years ago. As enterprises become increasingly sophisticated at building and managing high-performance storage infrastructure, users will be the first ones to notice the tangible results.

And as the working world increasingly comes to rely on mobile technology and the cloud, enhanced storage architectures are arriving just in time.

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