Flexible storage architecture for the modular world

Flexible storage architecture for the modular world

Mike McNamara

In today’s systems environments, there are only two constants: change and growth. Applications are expanding at a dramatic rate, and systems are evolving to keep pace. Key drivers behind this constant, rapid change are the explosive impact of the World Wide Web and media-intensive applications, as well as the emergence of compliance regulations (Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, etc). The Web is emerging as the source of first resort for information, entertainment and even communications, placing tremendous demands on the systems that store and serve up that data to hundreds, thousands or millions of users. As rich media content–including streaming audio and video–becomes commonplace on the Web, these demands are compounded at an incredible rate.

In the corporate environment, enterprise-wide information access via company intranets and the rise of new “e-business” models is driving a proliferation of media-intensive, server-based applications–from imaging to data warehousing. The deployment of these types of applications is driving companies to increase their demand for storage each year.

The Storage Challenge

While these trends are driving rapid evolution throughout the IT environment, nowhere are they being felt more than in the area of network storage. In some applications, demand for storage capacity is doubling every few months. Once only a “peripheral” concern, storage is today an issue of strategic importance.

To address this critical issue, many companies are turning to network storage topologies, from Storage Area Networks (SANs) to Network Attached Storage (NAS) to IPSAN storage solutions. They are looking to these topologies to help reduce the burden on the server network created by the tremendous increase in data volumes, while facilitating access to data information faster and more reliably. Companies are looking for solutions that enable them to expand as their storage requirements grow without affecting the existing systems or application processes. At the same time, companies are looking to centralize the management of their storage network and reduce the overall cost of managing their storage resources.

A New Approach

Regardless of the storage topology they choose to keep pace with their rapidly changing storage requirements, companies need a new, more flexible storage architecture that addresses scalability in multiple dimensions. They need networked storage solutions that are versatile enough to change rapidly in response to changing business requirements–solutions that drive down the immense cost of managing complex storage infrastructures, while enabling cost-effective growth and expansion. Flexibility is even more critical for OEMs, VARs and distributors. To compete effectively, they need a common storage solution that can be configured to meet a variety of application requirements, minimizing the number of specialized components required to meet the diverse needs of their customers.

To respond to this need, subsystem vendors are focusing on modular, flexible storage frameworks that increase flexibility, while reducing cost and technology risk. Storage solutions are created from flexible, modular “building blocks” based on open standards. This approach is fundamentally different than some existing storage architectures, which are based on application-specific designs that limit their flexibility.

The modular architecture enables network storage solutions that are scalable in all four key dimensions: functionality, interface, capacity and performance. The result is a highly cost-effective “all-in-one” solution that meets the full range of storage needs today–while enabling rapid scaling or reconfiguration to meet the needs of tomorrow.

Functional Flexibility

The modular architecture provides an unprecedented degree of configuration flexibility. Control functionality is provided by hot-swappable modules based on a compact, industry-leading form factor such as 2U. The platforms can be configured for virtually any storage configuration–including JBOD, RAID, SAN, and other network storage topologies such as iSCSI–simply by sliding in the appropriate module(s). This modular design also provides a cost-effective “single card” migration path to the best-of-breed technologies in the future–including emerging intelligent networking technologies that place application intelligence within the storage platform.

This design offers the tremendous advantage of a single, modular platform able to satisfy virtually any network storage need. This dramatically simplifies stocking and sparing for OEMs–reducing their overall costs, while greatly increasing their responsiveness to customers’ needs. For end users, modular functionality enables companies to reconfigure existing storage platforms as their needs change, without costly “forklift” upgrades. For example, a JBOD platform can be transformed into a RAID platform by swapping a single module. The JBOD module can be retained for use in another platform or as a spare, protecting the entire technology investment. This modular approach also enables cost-effective redundancy with hot-swappable components to meet the availability requirements of demanding enterprise, transaction processing, and Web commerce environments.

iSCSI’s Impact

This flexibility extends to connectivity allowing a subsystem to interface with popular network storage topologies, simply by inserting the appropriate interface module for RAID and JBOD, Fibre Channel, SCSI or iSCSI, and copper or optical connectors. These modules support the latest interface technology, such as Ultra 320 SCSI and soon 4 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) Fibre Channel, as well as enabling support for new standards such as iSCSI.

For several years, Fibre Channel dominated the market, but recently iSCSI has begun to achieve mainstream acceptance with end users seeking cost-effective solutions. For companies with specific storage needs, implementing iSCSI technology will result in stronger ROI, while Fibre Channel remains the best bet for IT managers who need premium storage for “transactional” or core-business data.

Scaling Flexibility

A difficult challenge for companies today is that of cost effectively managing storage capacity. They must balance their need to keep pace with growing storage requirements with their need to preserve their budget. A modular design provides the ideal solution, enabling companies to start small and add capacity, as it is required–quickly and inexpensively.

This “pay as you grow” approach not only reduces initial costs, it reduces costs at every stage of the network storage lifecycle–enabling companies to buy only the capacity and functionality they need. Companies can begin with as little as 18GB, adding capacity simply by sliding in additional disk modules. This provides a solution to the problem of scaling that is easy and cost-effective, with exceptional density. Up to 8 subsystems can be daisy-chained to provide 24TB of capacity with 250GB SATA drives–while taking up less than five square feet.

Performance Flexibility

Companies must be able to tailor the performance of each storage platform to meet their needs. Companies can modify the bandwidth and transaction performance to “tune” the platform to its intended application. If more bandwidth is required, such as for streaming media or seismic analysis applications, the ratio of RAID controllers to drives can be easily expanded. If higher transaction performance is required for file serving or OLTP applications, the ratio of drives to controllers can be increased. The grouping and configuration of drives can also be optimized for specific applications via a centralized management facility. As needs change, the platform can be “retuned” accordingly.

Based on open standards and support for a full range of operating systems including major Unix implementations as well as Windows, modular systems support the latest hardware technologies, including high performing 15,000 RPM Fibre Channel and SCSI drives or high capacity SATA drives–enabling storage solutions with leading-edge performance.

Management Flexibility

As storage networks expand in size and complexity, system administrators need effective solutions for storage management. From a single GUI management console, administrators can configure, monitor and tune disk arrays across the storage network. Pools of storage can be virtualized across multiple hosts, and data can be mirrored locally or remotely for disaster tolerance.

Support for popular clustering packages such as Microsoft Cluster Server, multiple operating systems, as well as the emerging Storage Management Initiative standard (SMI-S) is required for investment protection and the utmost flexibility.

The Architecture for Tomorrow

An innovative, modular design enables companies and OEMs to:

* Dramatically reduce their cost for network storage, while increasing performance and availability

* Cost-effectively scale their capacity as their needs grow

* Tailor their network storage devices to meet their specific application needs

* Increase storage capacity, while minimizing the space requirements

* Manage and configure their entire storage network from a single, easy-to-use console

* Leverage new, best-of-breed technologies, while protecting their investment

Modular subsystems provide a versatile alternative to large, monolithic storage solutions and represent a new direction in networked storage technology–a direction pointing to an even more data-intensive, flexible future.


Mike McNamara is product marketing manager, external storage group, for Adaptec, Inc. (Milpitas, CA)

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