Enterprise storage: what does it mean for you?

Yesterday we saw a big tweetstorm about 3Par acquisition from DELL or HP and, of course, the discussion mentioned the possible alternatives for the loser of this fight, but it is clear that Dell and HP are looking for an “enterprise storage” capable to compete with other Tier 1 arrays/vendors in the high end market segment and the only solution seems to be 3Par.

The community, as often happens, breaks up into many parties. In this post I would like to express my point of view and some basic concepts about the meaning of enterprise storage in 2010. Enterprise storage comes in many flavors according to the goals you want to achieve.

Once upon a time was the “Enterpise Storage”

In the last century the concept of enterprise storage was very tightened with the capability to connect to Mainframes and it was very simple to tell enterprise storage from non-enterpise storage. The ES was a monolithic object capable to deliver great performance on proprietary hardware and protocols and connected to a single host at a time.

Things slowly changed with the enterprise adoption of Unix first and Windows later. Moreover, SCSI (small computer system interface) was born and some fades between black and white appeared. In the ’90s the enterprise storage was still a Monolithic storage capable to connect many (for that age) different systems (MF comprised). We saw, for the first time, on unix and windows servers, some interesting features like clones and replicas.

In this age we found the first “non-enterprise” or modular arrays, the first SANs and a first approach to standard hardware (HDDs).

What is “enterprise/T1 array” today?

The capability to connect to MFs is no more important for many companies, they already moved to other platforms  years ago and the enterprise storage array is losing very fast the monolithic form too.

But there is something still of primary importance: the architecture.

The architecture makes the difference: many fast redundant controllers, many connectivity ports and protocols, smart and huge shared caches and switched backplanes are only some of the most important elements in this kind of architectures.

A T1 array is designed to support many different workloads simultaneously, to scale up vertically and linearly, to have no point of failures and a great uptime.

What is T1.5 storage?

The industry has defined the big enterprise arrays T1 but companies have more than primary data to access to, so T2 is what we commonly call mid-size or modular (enterprise) storage. Sometimes little bit of confusion arises because Tiers are often referred to when talking about products and vendors too: EMC/IBM/HDS/NetApp are commonly identified has T1 vendors while 3Par/Compellent/Xiotech/ecc. are often named as T2.

T2 arrays are architected in a simpler way than T1 ones: two controllers, smaller mirrored caches, less scalability and connectivity but (often) easy to use.

T2 arrays are chosen for their lower cost (if compared to the T1s), for specific applications/workloads, for testing or as primary storage in SMBs and many other times when you want to avoid the complexity and costs of T1 arrays.

But there is a new category: 1.5. what is 1.5? sometimes we have 1.5 vendors: we can find here some small but fast growing vendors with T1-arrays comparable features products. (probably it’s a diplomatic way to not diminish too much small vendors with good products).

We can also term 1.5 arrays, the most famous product in this category is XIV: IBM is selling it as a T1 array but the rest of the world consider it as a T2 array… and here you are the the solomonic 1.5!

The evolution of “enterprise” concept: modular, commodity, features, integration and automation.

What IT managers are looking for in 2010? simple: saving money while bringing more to the enterprise in terms of quality and services! (ok, I know, it’s easier to say than to do).

From the infrastructure point of view, virtualization and consolidation are a mainstream way to do this. Enterprises are looking deeper and deeper at features, capabilities and architectures to simplify and automate the management of data stored in their boxes and, on top of all, they need open and integrated solutions to get the best results.

Vendors like Compellent, 3Par, NetApp and others are in the spotlight because they address very well these needs (surely better than T1s) and this is why they are climbing sales charts furiously (also in Fortune 500).

The concept of enterprise storage is evolving quickly because nowdays:

  • virtualization is more important than vertical scalability: you can buy more boxes if you have a simple way to manage them as a whole.
  • automation is more important than big hardware: save and use better resources with automations without spending time to optimize manually.
  • integration is more important than proprietary management tools: a true integration allows big time savings.
  • …and so on.

Here is a few words recap: enterprises are looking more now than in the past at open, easy to use, features rich, virtualized and automated storage!

Bye, bye T1 arrays?

It’s not difficult to preview the next steps: Federation and commoditization.

  • Federation: in a coarse way, the capability of T1.5/T2 arrays to be managed and seen as a whole one to achieve T1 performances, scalability and uptime.
  • Commoditization: the use of standard hardware (and tons of software) to build all the components of the architecture and save a lot of money!

We will have the ability to cluster (federate) a bunch of T2 arrays and use them as a T1 or, in other words, T1 arrays will be clusters of T2 arrays. 🙂

What is enterprise storage for you?

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