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The best of both worlds: high-end storage functionality meets low-end efficiency at the mid-range. (Storage Networking).

Users and storage companies alike are currently striving to drive efficiencies up from the low-end and value-added features down from the high-end in order to identify and deploy new storage solutions that provide high-availability and real business value to the enterprise. As high-end features filter down to the mid-range and low-end efficiencies bubble up, mid-range systems are in the storage sweet spot reaping rewards of this evolution.

Low End: Economies of Scale

Low-end storage is driving increased efficiencies through volume production and sales such as decreased cost and decreased footprint are beginning to impact the shape of the mid-range storage industry. As a result, modular, stackable storage devices benefiting from these innovations are becoming more prevalent and popular than ever before.

Products that are able to scale modularly or by "stacking" and operating flawlessly as a single, cohesive storage system are growing in popularity as IT dollars are stretched to get the most bang-for-your-buck. For instance, it is much more feasible for an organization to approve the purchase of a storage array that meets its current needs today and then, add another, similar device at the same, if not lower cost as storage needs grow. Additionally it is becoming possible and more efficient for customers to scale modular storage devices into a complete storage system capable of managing security and health of the storage system from a single console.

At the same time, the computer industry is pushing chip performance up and cost down, the low-end storage industry is taking advantage of it by decreasing the cost and increasing the efficiency and performance of the storage devices through new disk drives and switching technologies. These technological and financial advancements are finding their way into the midrange storage industry and also, drastically cutting the cost of the devices.

High End: High-End Technology and Management Meets Mid-Range Storage

There are a multitude of value-added mid-range storage features that have already been pulled out of the high-end play-book. Services and support such as call-home and remote monitoring as well as scalability and serviceability are already widely available for customers who demand them. However, there are technologies, such as point-in-time copy, remote replication auto-migration of data for faster access and services, prioritization of bandwidth allocation and true predictive failure analysis that, as time passes, will become standard components of mid-range storage offerings--if they aren't already beginning to emerge by the time this story is published.

It truly is a race between vendors to see who can add the most value to a customers' infrastructure at the lowest total cost of ownership. Four key trends all geared towards enhancing the manageability, flexibility, reliability, serviceability and compatibility of mid-range storage offerings are emerging from the high-end above and into today's midrange storage offerings.

Lower Cost of Ownership Through Consolidation

There is no doubt that storage consolidation products and services are here today. The focus is how it is done and how companies will exploit the basic benefits of consolidation they are already receiving. Consolidation is about two things; 1) decreasing management costs and increasing storage utilization, and 2) realizing the true value of increased availability, manageability and serviceability once storage is consolidated. Consolidation, which can take several forms, simplifies control and management of these assets and delivers greater efficiency in the way each is utilized.

There are currently two approaches to consolidating storage:

Physical consolidation: Storage is moved from direct-attached devices on geographically dispersed servers to larger, shared devices attached to multiple servers.

Logical consolidation: The configurations take the form of a storage area network (SAN), which achieves better utilization and improved flexibility across multiple devices.

In either approach, a simple equation for understanding the benefits of consolidation would be: fewer devices to manage equals lower cost of management.

Virtualization and Storage Pooling

Virtualization removes the physical constraints from managing specific storage resources. With virtualization and pooling, administrators can efficiently manage large amounts of consolidated storage with fewer resources. So, in essence, once storage is consolidated, the next step is to take advantage of the consolidation and to manage it virtually.

A long-time member of the data center storage infrastructure, virtualization worked well across one monolithic, data-center-class storage system. The challenge with this approach was that, once the customer Outgrew one monolithic storage system, another was required to expand storage capacity--an expensive proposition. Now, with smaller mid-range storage systems all needing to be interconnected and managed as one, this feature is in high-demand for companies looking to reap more benefits from consolidation and efficient storage management.

Through consolidation and virtualization, customers now have easier and more effective storage management and can exploit common or shared disaster recovery and business continuity services to ensure data is never lost and business is performed uninterrupted. Once data is centralized through consolidation and virtualization is deployed, managing service levels of data can be implemented effectively.

All Applications and Data Are Not Created Equal

Building on consolidation and virtualization, a similar, yet improved upon feature of data center class storage systems is moving into the hands of midrange storage. This is the ability to manage and protect specific data, select the data you want to protect, how you want to protect it as well as how that data is used by the customer application. Traditionally, customers had the ability to select specific protection levels for different, data within a storage system, but their cost for doing so would be equal to that of the highest cost of storage. In an effort to decrease the total cost of ownership of IT infrastructures, customers in the mid-range are looking to further weigh the cost for storage against specific data criticality as well as the varied demands of their applications.

Traditionally, email data and general employee files saved on a data center's monolithic device were generally treated with the same amount of criticality as the accounting department's customer contracts, invoicing and revenue data. With the addition of SRM tools which can identify and classify data based on value and virtualization allowing for pooling of disparate data types and applications, customers are able to classify information across multiple storage devices based on cost types, service levels and recovery levels.

Now, as a result of consolidation, SRM and virtualization, mid-range systems can be managed as specific pools of data much more efficiently and effectively. This is enabling streamlined resource allocation and management. For instance, customers can determine and prioritize service levels to ensure that data is backed up and available based on its commensurate business value. This allows customers to focus precious financial and human resources where they are needed most as opposed to treating all things equal.

The Rate of Business: 24X7

Higher levels of availability are not only requirements of data center customers, but all customers--regardless of size, scope or industry. Today's business does not allow for down time due to IT failure, maintenance or any other reason. That is why data availability is one of the most prevalent enterprise requirements. Vendors are offering a wide variety of availability features in today's mid-range solutions that help users have continuous access to data no matter what is happening in the back-end.

Storage companies are baking in their best levels of availability and, many times, VARs are acting as the icing on the cake to ensure that they are delivered and maintained through SLAs, new capabilities and new cost-structures. Therefore, today's mid-range storage systems go beyond meeting the basic levels of availability and can meet the most stringent availability demands.

Tomorrow's Dream Features

The future of mid-range storage is already being set. There are some knowns and unknowns in how the market will look in the future and two key areas that will drive new mid-range features are standards and services.

One key area for mid-range customers to keep an eye on are the emerging storage standards, CIM/WBEM (Bluefin). These standards, which will most likely be adopted throughout all levels of the storage industry simultaneously will help drive increased interoperability as well as lay the foundation for automated storage provisioning and allocation, providing storage customers with long-term purchasing power, heterogeneous storage management capabilities and decreased vendor dependency. Already, companies like Sun Microsystems are delivering standards compliant software solutions and many other vendors have stated their intention of delivering these solutions in 2003.

The Storage Sweet Spot: Mid-Range

Mid-range storage is poised to reap the benefits of technology's natural tendency to push benefits up from low-end, high-volume offerings and benefits down from high-end, data center offerings.

Today's mid-range storage is bringing more value, productivity, flexibility and openness to enhance business operations than ever before. Not only in straight value added feature sets, but total cost of ownership--as many of the mid-range storage solutions are being offered at a much lower cost-point with potentially higher-performance levels than their data center class forefathers.

Bill Groth is senior director of storage systems marketing at Sun Microsystems (Santa Clara, Calif.)

www.sun.com
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Article Details
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Author:Groth, Bill
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Words:1483
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