Top storage trends help automate, simplify IT
By Brad Pulford, enterprise solutions group director at Dell
For many IT managers, storage has become too complex, hard to manage and expensive. According to IDC, businesses' storage demands are growing in excess of 50% a year while their total available storage capacity is growing at half that rate.
As a result of this, there are a number of trends that are emerging in the storage space to help avoid unnecessary complexity. "Automation has long been heralded as a way to simplify IT management, and we're seeing that trend progress as technologies like flash storage and convergence make their stake in the market," says Brad Pulford, Dell enterprise solutions group director. So how can IT managers respond to new business demands while balancing performance and budget?
Converged solutions offer simplified management, reduced space and costs
According to Forrester, a total of 95% of IT leaders and storage admins see value in buying storage from the vendor from which they buy server, networking, system management or IT services. Respondents indicated that a deeper relationship with a smaller number of vendors can build trust, provide technology synergies that ease management, and streamline support relationships, making it easier to manage the big picture. CIOs want to see improved responsiveness from their workloads and their applications. Their priority is how to respond more quickly to their business needs. There has been an obvious shift to buying compute resources driven by an accelerated time to deploy to help address that need.
Pulford says: "These desires have led to the birth of converged infrastructures that provide the ability to consolidate servers, storage and networking into an easy-to-manage architecture that can help any company - whether they are a large corporate or SME - reduce the costs of running applications, speed up the deployment of new infrastructures and, most importantly, simplify management."
One example has come with the advent of converged infrastructures, possible with innovations such as blade arrays. By converging compute, switching and storage resources into a dense, self-contained form factor, blade arrays can offer a range of capabilities, from basic disk arrays to highly automated, virtualised systems that can be customised to address specific applications and environments. These systems can help organisations reduce operating costs through more efficient use of switching resources, simplified cabling and consolidated management with chassis backplanes. Benefits also include reduced cost of running applications, faster infrastructure deployments, simplicity and speed of management, and improved time-to-value for application and cloud deployments.
It is important, however, to bear in mind that bundled solutions are not necessarily comprehensive ones. Although convergence and pre-integration can help ensure infrastructure performance, reliability and quality, not all solutions are created or managed equally. Working with a trusted IT partner to deploy a solution that is right for a specific business need or workload is, therefore, important and critical to success.
The flash revolution
Automated tiering has long been a hit with businesses from a storage standpoint. With this in place, customers are able to manage data when and where they need it, and in a cost-effective way. Before automated tiering, businesses would buy storage that was capable of more performance than they could consume, to give them confidence that storage systems would perform as needed. This approach had obvious economic flaws.
As traditional server and storage lines blur, there's an opportunity to apply automated tiering to server-side flash cache as part of a broader storage infrastructure with flash and various spinning disk types. Flash and other solid-state storage have been gathering momentum quickly as demand for faster response times increases and costs decrease. By taking the innovative approach of tiering, businesses are able to add new capabilities without compromising their existing infrastructure. This solution means they can have the performance of flash but the safety of disk.
While flash is growing in adoption, the best value is found in tiering with optimisation of every application and every volume to best meet the combination of price and performance. The ability for a storage array to automatically tier across multiple SSD types is changing the way CIOs and businesses are able to manage how data is stored, and comes with three big advantages.
Firstly, the balance of multi-level cell (MLC) and single-level cell (SLC) offers customers greater overall cost for performance. Secondly, overall flash reliability is increased when an array uses the more vulnerable MLC flash tier for just reads. Lastly, the capacity of the more expensive SLC tier can be kept to a minimum by being just large enough to handle inbound write traffic. Flash storage comes in various formats and is also being deployed in both all-flash and hybrid - a mix of flash and HDD - models and inside servers (ie PCIe cards). As a result, businesses are able to get flash performance when it's needed, and do so at a price that's comparable to an all-disk solution.
As the key barrier to flash adoption has been cost, some customers previously have been unsure how to justify cost for the great performance. Therefore, vendors must provide innovative solutions and proper education to help customers make the most of flash in their storage environments.
Compression and deduplication
Compression and deduplication are perfect examples of automated tools that allow for storage provisioning and data distribution to happen autonomously, reducing the need for additional physical IT resources and also freeing existing technical staff to focus on other tasks.
It's no secret that the amount of data being processed and managed is on the rise, growing at an unprecedented rate for businesses of all sizes. As such, storage capacity can quickly become an issue of concern and an added expense.
Plainly and simply, compression and deduplication are space savers and help to vastly simplify the task of juggling storage resources. Through compression, data shrinks to a state where it can be easily stored for archival purposes, and it "re-hydrates", or returns to its original larger form, on demand. Through deduplication, only the unique, critical data - as opposed to the pieces of data that are repeatedly found in other files - are stored, reducing the amount of storage capacity used. For example, when storing old e-mail files, deduplication can identify identical attachments that might be repeated several times, and only store one of them while pointing or linking to that single stored attachment at repeat occurrences.
As the data deluge continues to create new challenges, the technology that helps businesses to solve problems while increasing efficiency and saving money is evolving. Today's businesses need to look at the big picture and ask themselves if they're taking advantage of offerings that can ease data headaches and save money in the long run. "Better managing and maximising storage is a big first step, and Dell is helping businesses of all sizes by redefining the economics of enterprise storage," concludes Pulford.