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How to control proliferating storage options: three tips for reining in your storage environment.

Every month, it seems, IT managers face another storage option, an addition to the nearly incomprehensible alphabet soup of acronyms for technologies, protocols, and standards--some open, some proprietary--that complicate the storage picture.

SCSI, SAN, Fibre Channel, NAS, iSCSI, ATA, serial ATA (SATA), IP, CIFS (Common Internet File System) NFS, SMI-S, CAS, virtual tape libraries, host-based replication, network-based replication, shadow volumes or snapshots, RAID DP, multi-path I/O, DFS, and more. The storage options seem endless, and they can be mixed in what appears to be unlimited combinations to create even more options.

Storage Proliferation

IT managers must figure out which of these options and combinations will meet their storage needs today and into the future. Then they must select vendors and products, squeeze whatever they choose into an IT budget that is never big enough, and implement their storage plans. Finally, they have to manage the resulting storage environment to ensure data is protected and available and that performance is sufficient, and do it all in a way that is cost-efficient. It seems like an impossible challenge.

The skyrocketing demand for storage has complicated the storage problem and is forcing organizations, even small and midsize organizations, to turn to sophisticated networked storage options. Where once tens of gigabytes of storage would suffice, today even midsize organizations have terabytes of storage. Tens and hundreds of terabytes of storage is not uncommon. It won't be long before organizations will find themselves running petabytes of storage. A few already do. This burgeoning, insatiable demand for storage is drastically changing the storage game.

Increasing Complications

Network storage, considered by many the answer to the storage problem, has grown far more complicated than anyone imagined. Once restricted to IP-based NAS and Fibre Channel-based SAN, network storage itself has grown more complicated as organizations wrestle with demands for more access to more capacity and more types of data by more users and applications. Organizations are mixing NAS and SAN using technologies like iSCSI in combination with Fibre Channel and IP. Managers have just begun to think about where content addressable storage (CAS) fits into the networked storage scheme--yet another complication.

Similarly, simple tape backup has evolved into automated tape libraries and virtual tape solutions in the face of the need to back up, protect and restore massive amounts of data. Meanwhile the shrinking of overnight backup windows, resulting from highly competitive 24x7 markets, has fueled the demand for replication and snapshot solutions that can be used to copy data while production systems continue to operate unimpeded by storage backup operations.

To keep up with the need for more storage capacity, organizations are turning to low-cost, high-capacity ATA and serial ATA disk storage to augment their high performance SCSI disk storage. Disk capacity, it turns out, is becoming nearly as cheap as tape--especially when you consider the cost of tape handling and other tape overhead.

Low-cost disk capacity is arriving not a moment too soon. With various government regulators mandating widespread data storage, data accountability, data protection and data backup, disaster recovery organizations will need more disk capacity than ever before. The regulatory spotlight also makes storage a top priority item that is attracting the attention of the auditors and lawyers. At the same time, competitive market pressure is driving business strategies that require fast, continuous access to data.

And storage management (never very good) has become a nightmare with leading analyst firms warning that storage management is essential to moving forward. It is no longer possible to manage storage by managing individual devices and systems one by one. Storage has become too big, too complex, and is changing too rapidly.

Simplify, Virtualize, Appliance-ize

What is the IT manager to do? The answer can be found in three words: simplify, virtualize, and appliance-ize.

With planning and discipline, an IT manager can rein in a wildly proliferating storage environment and bring it under control. Through simplification, virtualization, and the use of storage appliances, organizations can deliver effective storage to their applications and users, protect and recover data, and ensure high performance and availability.

Simplify means rationalizing the storage environment. Through the use of IP and iSCSI, organizations can complement file-based NAS storage with fast block-based storage access to transactional applications like Exchange and Oracle. Similarly, the organization can standardize on widely accepted protocols such as NFS and CIFS. Where Fibre Channel, which immediately complicates the storage picture, is required, it can be isolated in the data center where it can be reached using iSCSI and IP.

Virtualize means masking the underlying complexity of the myriad storage devices, systems, and protocols with an insulating layer. Virtualization raises the level of abstraction, allowing IT managers to address storage at a logical business level. For instance, multiple backup servers can spool their output to a network-based tape server that acts as a virtual tape library. This virtual tape environment consolidates the management of multiple backup devices and complex backup processes into a single, virtual tape backup process. Even the ordinary vaulting process--duplicating tape, trucking the tape offsite, and depositing it into the vault--can be replaced by an IP-based virtual tape process that safely deposits a copy of the data at a remote site.

Appliance-ize means taking advantage of the technology appliance phenomenon. Technology appliances are combinations of hardware and specialized software in a single device to handle a particular task. Initially, appliances were used to simplify complex network tasks like firewalls and VPNs. The technology appliance concept, however, applies equally well in storage.

Multi-Function Storage Appliances

Appliances have tended to be single-function devices. In storage, for example, an organization might have a NAS appliance or a backup appliance. The appliance solution, in fact, has proven so effective that organizations found themselves facing a proliferation of appliances, which created another management problem.

To solve this problem, organizations are turning to multi-function storage appliances from FalconStor, HP and others. Like a Swiss Army knife loaded with different blades for different tasks, the multi-function storage appliance can bridge multiple protocols (IP, iSCSI, Fibre Channel, SCSI, ATA) and perform multiple tasks, such as tape backup, disk-to-disk replication, remote mirroring, snapshots, and more. It provides an abstraction layer that not only masks the complexity of the underlying storage systems and devices but combines key functionality that can be invoked through a single, consistent, easy to use interface. Finally, such multi-function appliances provide effective, consolidated management of the entire storage process.

With such an appliance, organizations are in a position to take maximum advantage of the proliferation of storage technologies. They can, for instance, take advantage of low-cost, "good enough" (meaning cost-effective and reliable) ATA and serial ATA disk capacity in combination with high-performance SCSI storage to establish tiered storage environments where current production transaction data resides in costly SCSI storage while other data is placed on low-cost ATA disk. "Good enough" storage also can be used for archiving or to hold snapshots needed for fast recovery of lost or corrupted files.

Simplify, virtualize, appliance-ize is an effective prescription for controlling the proliferation of storage technology and achieving an effective, flexible, and scalable storage infrastructure. From the control console of a multi-function appliance, which handles the simplification and virtualization, a manager can direct primary and secondary storage, tape backup, local and remote replication and more without having to delve into messy underlying complexity.

Wayne Lam is vice president of FalconStor (Melville, NY)
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Title Annotation:Storage Management
Author:Lam, Wayne
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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