Multicore processing, high-speed networking and virtualization are all aimed at making the enterprise faster and more powerful. And by most accounts, it's working fine -- that is, until the request hits the storage array.
That's when the dark secret of the IT world is exposed: that while storage capacity is increasing by leaps and bounds, I/O improvements are inching along.
But where there's a need, a solution usually finds its way to the market, and the remedy of choice these days seems to be parallel storage. Rather than upping capacity using only a few large disk drives, parallel systems employ numerous, sometimes hundreds, of smaller drives that can be accessed simultaneously. The goal is to maintain overall capacity while holding steady or reducing capital and operating costs through low-cost, low-energy components.
The potential of a lucrative new enterprise storage category is drawing new players into the market, even while it causes established storage vendors to rethink their product strategies.
One of the newest entrants is Atrato Inc., which recently unveiled the Velocity1000 system that combines hundreds of low-power 2.5-inch SATA drives intended for mobile platforms with an in-house data acceleration scheme said to provide random read/write speeds of more than 11,000 IOPS. The array sits in a 3U form factor and provides up to 50 TB of storage.
A key factor in the V1000 is the company's decision to eschew the standard RAID array for a newer technology called SAID (Self-maintaining Array of Identical Disks). The company says the SAID approach allows it to provide a highly dense, sealed enclosure while delivering 17.3 IOPS/watt, an 80 percent improvement over the industry standard 4 IOPS/watt.
Most parallel storage applications reside in the high-performance computing (HPC) sphere, in which a company called Panasas has taken the lead with its ActiveStor system. The company has forged distribution deals with Dell and SGI and is now turning its attention to greater integration with leading software platforms, namely Microsoft.
That comfortable position might not last long, however, now that vendors like IBM and EMC are on the prowl. Both companies made significant purchases within the past year to bring parallel storage capabilities in-house. IBM acquired Israel's XIV and folded its Nextra grid system into the IBM Systems Storage unit, while EMC picked up Mozy, the brainchild of parallel storage specialist Berkeley Data Systems.
For the time being, parallel storage will probably remain a high-end solution. But as the need for greater storage throughput increases due to the spread of virtual machines, it would be in everyone's interests to see this technology move down market quickly.