The explosive growth of data has made information storage management ever critical within the enterprise. But data growth aside, major issues and trends in storage technology are injecting added complexity to that storage strategy. Industry experts identify some of these influencing factors on the enterprise.
Virtualization is “the big story right now” as it pushes a transformation in organizations’ storage infrastructure, where direct-attached storage is gradually giving way to network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area networks (SANs), said Philip Barnes, senior analyst for the storage market with Toronto-based research firm IDC Canada. Adopting network storage, said Barnes, means organizations can take advantage of the mobility features of virtualization, and the increased resiliency given the disk is no longer associated with a single physical machine.
10-gigabit Ethernet vs. fibre channel
While fibre channel has been the undisputed standard of choice as an interconnect in the datacenter, the arrival of 10-gigabit Ethernet networks threatens to challenge that, according to John Sloan, senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group.
While fibre channel vendors can still argue it’s a faster medium for datacentre storage, Sloan said “that differentiation will become a race” as Ethernet gains in the capacity it didn’t offer before, and becomes increasingly affordable. And although organizations will start migrating to Ethernet, fibre channel will still have a significant footprint in the datacentre given prior investments in the technology. “It’s not like they’re going to be throwing out the fibre channel overnight. It’s not going to be a revolutionary change.”
Chris Gahagan, senior vice-president of resource management software with Hopinkton, Mass.-based EMC Corp., believes there will still be a place for fibre channel in the datacentre, for instance fibre channel over Ethernet is “a way to preserve the integrity of the fibre channel network but running over an Ethernet backbone.”
Gahagan acknowledged there is an increasing number of use cases for technologies like iSCSI and NAS and “obviously EMC plays in all of the connectivity spaces.”
More likely, he said, is fibre channel will become a protocol converging with other protocols running over IP networks, as has occurred with data, voice and video over IP.
Disk vs. tape
Whether it’s a large data centre or one that’s just running a couple dozen servers, backing up from server to tape presents similar issues, said Sloan, in particular the time required to backup, reliability of the medium, and time to retrieve data.
Businesses have begun to convert to disk backup in the past couple of years, choosing a virtual tape library to help reduce the storage space by a fraction, and also perform the task of backing up and retrieval faster. The use of virtual tape libraries across organizations of all sizes, said Sloan, is typically triggered by issues encountered with tape like the process taking too long or the tape turning out to be bad.
Enterprise customers are increasingly using disk for performing operational recovery, said Gahagan, however, tape still has a role to play in helping businesses meet regulatory requirements. “Will tape ever go away? No, but I think the use cases for tape become very, very much geared towards long-term archiving.”
Coupling disk with de-duplication, said Sloan, makes “the cost per gigabyte of your backup more inline or more palatable.” The process of de-duplication entails eliminating redundant blocks of data by saving only data that changes.
De-duplication is often used with virtual tape libraries that emulate storage and function in a similar fashion except backups and recovery can be performed much faster, said Sloan. “That’s why the virtual tape library has been gaining a lot of ground.”
According to Barnes, the confusion that once existed among organizations around de-duplication — what it does, the risks, ROI, and how it fits in the datacentre — is beginning to subside.
Earlier this year, EMC began shipping flash-based disks offering better performance and response time, a technology that the company believes will influence future storage product design. Likening the technology to “a revolution”, Gahagan said datacentres will be able to combine very fast and dense low-speed storage and create an environment with “unbelievable” performance and reduced energy footprint. “[Flash] is a whole shift in how you would think about deploying capacity,” he said.
Although in its infancy and still costly, flash-based storage will, in a short time, comprise a large portion of the datacentre, said Gahagan.