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AIT And NAS Technology: Revolutionizing Client-Server Data Storage.

This column continues a semi-regular series written by a member company from the AIT Forum.

Sony's AIT tape technology, in conjunction with solutions partners like ADIC, is making available to the enterprise market a new category of storage devices that will revolutionize the way that IT departments manage their data. It's a change that is sorely needed. Three uncontestable facts face every IT department. 1) Data is the most valuable asset of the contemporary organization--and using it well is, perhaps, the single largest contributor to the unprecedented growth in organizational productivity that we have seen over the last few years. 2) That same data is now growing so fast that a high percentage of IT resources are spent trying to figure out how to deal with it. 3) And they're falling behind.

One of the chief reasons that the battle is being lost is that many client-server IT departments still try to manage all their data as if it were active information that has to be accessible in nanoseconds. The fact is that most of the data stored on active disks is not accessed very often--it's last month's email, earlier versions of software code, an archive of graphics images, CAD drawing revisions, medical images--the list goes on. It's data that isn't needed very often, but when it is needed, having it available on-line lets all of us become much more efficient.

IT departments are getting in trouble because they treat data in two very binary ways. It's either active, ready to roll, and a half-second away from your screen or it's buried offsite in a vault so that you might as well reconstruct it because that will take less time than having somebody go get it. There's actually a third treatment, too, but it's the least desirable of all--simply getting rid of all the older data.

Keeping 90% or more of your data on active status was a great idea when there was a manageable amount of it, but data growth is straining the infrastructure. It takes so much effort to manage active disk--to organize the data, back it up, add storage resources to house it--that more and more data is threatening to get pushed into the deep-six category. The signs that it's happening are everywhere--messages to clean up disks, get rid of old e-mail, or to delete files that haven't been accessed recently (until new records retention policies got enacted, some companies used to delete all old email).

The technology behind AIT tape provides a very practical and attractive storage alternative--it's very affordable tape technology that has access times (less than 30 seconds to a file) that make it a real alternative to active disk storage in many applications. The technology is very well suited for getting to data. Tapes that fit in your shirt pocket hold 50GB native and get real compression that nets out at more than 2:1 most of the time. The media loads in a few seconds and, thanks to file location information in a chip embedded in the cartridge, search times for individual files add only a few seconds more. The average time to any file on a 100GB tape is literally less than 30 seconds for mounted tapes. That's not fast enough for the most active data--but it's perfect for the kinds of static files that we talked about before--the ones that make your life easier and more efficient, but that aren't accessed very often.

Cost is another tremendous advantage of AIT. When you couple its very low drive and media costs with the efficiencies of tape libraries, like the ones that ADIC provides, total storage costs are under one cent per megabyte in data volumes that people can actually use.

So why haven't IT departments everywhere rushed to use AIT media to cut their active data management costs down to size? It's a fair question. The impediment hasn't been the tape or the libraries that automate the management of many tapes and many drives--those are both mature and effective. The real reason more IT departments don't use tape as primary storage is that there hasn't been a low-overhead way of making the data easily available on the network.

Most people only use tape for backing up files. Backup is a great technology for protecting systems against disasters, but it's not at all designed to present a single copy of an earlier file for an end user to look at or work with and, quite naturally, it's not very good at it. It usually requires network administrators to find and retrieve the files and it takes too long.

The simplest access technology for data may well be Network Attached Storage (NAS) appliances--they're easy to administer, you can add storage easily without bringing the rest of the system down, and they support heterogeneous systems. Unfortunately, NAS appliances have been pretty much limited to disk up to now. That's great for the most active storage, but it's really too expensive to store more static data too--20 to 40 cents per megabyte is the normal range.

A confluence of technologies, however, is changing that situation. The high speed access and low cost storage of automated AIT storage and the convenience, low overhead, and scalability of NAS is now being combined in NAS appliances that use AIT media as primary storage. The result is very large capacity storage at very low cost that allows IT departments to keep static data available to end users, but to remove it from the active disks that require the highest levels of management and maintenance. It is a revolutionary data management change for the client-server IT industry. For the first time, they can manage active and static data differently to achieve the lowest cost and highest IT department efficiencies and they can keep all of the data available to end users without having to train them to use new tools.

As a long-time AIT partner, ADIC has just become the first to introduce this AIT/NAS combination to the market with the company's new StorNext NAS appliances. StorNext is a family of self-contained NAS appliances that plug directly into the network in minutes without interrupting any other network service. Each StorNext appliance can provide a single, consolidated location for data storage, which can be accessed by Windows, Unix, Linux, and web clients over the network using the same interface that's used now for accessing data stored on active disk.

What makes StorNext different from other NAS appliances is that it stores data on AIT tape instead of disk to dramatically reduce the cost of storage and, at the same time, to increase its capacity? StorNext appliances provide from 950GB up to 23.6TB of capacity at a cost that reaches below one cent per megabyte--that is 20 to 30 times less expensive than disk-based NAS appliances with 10 to 20 times more capacity. With AIT tape as the primary storage medium, StorNext appliances can provide fast access to data--less than a second for data still in cache, less than 30 seconds for files in a mounted tape, less than a minute for files on a tape that needs to be mounted.

With StorNext, IT departments have an exciting and revolutionary new option for data management. They can move--or have end users move--static data off active disks and they can store it in a NAS appliance using AIT tape storage along with all the data that is today either deleted or buried in vaults. This StorNext data is now off active disks, reducing management, slashing backup window requirements, and dramatically reducing costs. Yet every bit of it is completely available to end users through their normal file browse and search utilities with remarkably short file access times that range from less than a second to about a minute. It is an advance made possible by AIT tape technology designed for active data access in a client-server environment and by its extension to NAS appliances through ADIC's combination of advanced automated storage and integrated software.

Bryce Hein is the product marketing manager at ADIC (Redmond, WA).
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Title Annotation:Technology Information
Author:Hein, Bryce
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Article Type:Column
Date:Apr 1, 2000
Previous Article:For Business Preservation [ldots] Get It On Tape.
Next Article:Tape Automation For The Rest Of Us.

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