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A mid-tier of storage is beginning to appear

Jan 17, 20064 mins
Data Center

* Where will you store your less valuable data?

What will be in store for us on the hardware front during the New Year? The most significant trends will all center on storage tiering.

The economics of IT dictate that we get the most from each piece of our storage investment. When it comes to hardware usage, this means making sure that anything that doesn’t deserve to be on the high priced equipment is moved somewhere else. By doing so we free up space on the high-end arrays and can put off the chore of having to buy more of the high priced stuff.

In the old days, this meant demoting less valuable (that always meant “aged”) data to tape, typically through the process of hierarchical storage management (HSM). Just as the French sent their old prisoners to Devil’s Island, IT managers sent old data to tape.

Now we have a growing number of alternatives to insert as storage tiers between the Sharks and TagmaStors at the high-end and the cheap tape storage at the low-end. Serial ATA, an outgrowth of the ATA drives we have used on the desktop for more than a decade, is the great enabler of this.

ATA (also called IDE) has been around for years, but these aren’t your father’s ATA drives. In fact, the drives that are going to be out on the floor of your IT shop are a far cry from what’s inside your desktop machine. The new versions are more robust – they have generally better performance, “survivability”, and other characteristics than do their desktop cousins. They are also tested against a sterner duty cycle than the desktop devices, so we have to be careful when we make any comparisons.

A significant point though: the “enterprise” SATA devices do share enough parts in common with the desktop units so that they can take advantage of many of the economies of scale that manufacturing in large quantities provides. They are cheaper to build than SCSI (including the new SAS devices) and Fibre Channel drives, and while they are still not as robust as these more expensive (and higher performing) alternatives, for many managers they will definitely be good enough to take care of more than half of their storage needs.

Many of you are going to really like this concept of “good enough.” It will require you to do some thinking of course regarding which data to assign to the top-tier storage and which files to send to this mid-range, “good enough” tier, but the effort will be worth it. After all, while your data needs continue to grow, you now have cheaper alternatives to consider. Think of the money you will save.

The newest version of SATA drives will be plug-compatible with the new SAS drives, and managers will play mix-and-match with them, most typically in direct-connect situations. Already we are seeing lots of SATA out there on the floor, often coming inside the various virtual tape library products that companies such as IBM and FalconStor are providing. Many vendors are now offering SATA-based arrays as well.

What about storage tiers on Fibre Channel storage-area networks? Fibre Channel lovers needn’t despair – IQstor has just announced a SATA-based array with a Fibre Channel bridge that enables you to plug the lower cost device into your existing Fibre Channel environment. And another development is also in the wind: a Fibre Channel equivalent to SATA (FC-SATA) will be available sometime next year, and will provide a low-cost companion to high-end Fibre Channel disks. Emulex is leading the way here, working with companies such as Agilent, Fujitsu, Hitachi, and Seagate. This will be an extension to the existing Fibre Channel ANSI standard.

If you still think information lifecycle management and the idea of storage tiers is just a lot of hype, this is the year when you will have to reassess that judgment. Otherwise you’ll be spending money when you don’t have to. More on this and what else to expect in the coming year, next time.