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Sun 16 Dec 2007 05:22 PM

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Reducing storage complexity

Digital data is outstripping storage capacity and complex systems are failing to adapt under the strain as storage demands grow faster than IT budgets. The good news is that easy-to-use IP-based networked storage with built-in data protection and management capabilities promises to bridge the budget gap.

While data growth has exploded at the rate of terabytes, budgets have not.

As high-resolution data capture increases relentlessly and enterprise applications spawn ever more sophisticated trans­actions, cost-efficient storage and unified management for diverse data types have become pressing concerns.

Storage requirements continue to grow faster than IT budgets.

In an attempt to keep up with government regulations and privacy standards, many organisations have hurriedly pieced together data management and security tools with expanded storage platforms.

However, the additional burden of complex, heterogeneous storage systems that have evolved through acquisition and merger or in the absence of a centralised IT strategy only complicates matters further. The ramifications of this burgeoning complexity are reaching far beyond the data centre to threaten business growth and innovation.

Many executives are already feeling the pinch as storage requirements continue to grow faster than typical IT budgets. To help avoid shortfalls in funding that might jeopardise support for ongoing service-level agreements, IT organisations must find ways to reduce storage complexity and plug the drain on valuable time and resources. By increasing operational efficiency, manageability, and flexibility, enterprises can help bridge the budget gap and free IT resources to focus on strategic business initiatives.

An effective storage simplification strategy begins at the moment data is created and enables seamless data protection and management through all stages of the information life cycle, from backup and restore to archiving and ultimately deletion. In the past, such a comprehensive scope was difficult for many organisations to achieve because sophisticated storage management tools and capabilities were almost exclusively the realm of high-end UNIX and mainframe systems - and cost-prohibitive for many small and medium businesses (SMBs), remote offices, and enterprise departments and workgroups. Today, Internet SCSI (iSCSI)-based storage area network (SAN) technology, plug-and-play Ethernet infrastructure components, and integrated, out-of-the-box data protection and management capabilities put storage consolidation and networked storage environments within reach of enterprises of all sizes.

IP-based networked storage convergence

At the forefront of this major advance is iSCSI technology, which routes data packets through standard Ethernet networks. This advanced protocol is enabling iSCSI-based SANs to extend the benefits of storage consolidation and a shared storage environment to organisations challenged by the same IT pressures as large enterprises, but with smaller budgets and fewer IT administrators.

Taking advantage of broad-based support for the open Ethernet protocol and many common operating systems, applications, and platforms - including the Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems as well as Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle Database 11g, and VMware virtualisation software - iSCSI technology enables a significant reduction in the cost of entry for a networked storage environment compared with Fibre Channel-based SANs. Moreover, iSCSI helps simplify storage in virtualised data centre environments by allowing storage resources to be mapped directly to virtual machines (VMs).

Because Ethernet is ubiquitous in today's IT infrastructure, iSCSI enables organisations to capitalise on existing expertise to deploy networked storage without the additional cost or special equipment and training that Fibre Channel can require. Solutions such as some industry-standard modular disk storage array are designed to perform as a full-fledged enterprise SAN.

In addition, converging networked storage technologies allow iSCSI to be incorporated into existing SAN and network attached storage (NAS) environments. For example, some arrays support both iSCSI and Fibre Channel, while other unified NAS systems may include iSCSI functionality. And, as 10 Gigabit Ethernet technology becomes available, iSCSI technology is expected to enable unification of the data centre storage fabric.

In the meantime, a complementary mix of iSCSI and Fibre Channel provides a powerful and cost-effective approach, particularly for environments running a mix of applications.

For example, iSCSI is well suited for applications with random I/O such as databases and virtualised servers, whereas Fibre Channel works well for high-throughput, low-latency applications with sequential I/O, such as streaming media and decision support software.
In high-bandwidth applications - especially those involving heavy transaction processing or high-speed, large-block data transfers - Fibre Channel can enable significant performance advantages, including functionality that can help increase utilisation and simplify expansion for data-intensive applications. By combining iSCSI and Fibre Channel connectivity, organisations can capitalise on the benefits of both while moving toward network convergence on a simplified Ethernet infrastructure.

Leveraging DAS for growth

Serial Attached SCSI (SAS), the successor to parallel SCSI, is designed to increase data transfer speeds and provide performance and reliability comparable to high-end systems. With broader reach and the ability to connect more devices per port than parallel SCSI, SAS offers a cost-effective way to optimise storage architectures. In addition to enabling tiered direct attach storage (DAS), SAS is compatible with Serial ATA (SATA) and can run server drives as well as external and networked storage at exceptional speeds. As SAS and SATA drive options break through previous DAS scalability barriers with enhanced capacity and performance, many organisations are reconsidering DAS as a way to build out storage in cost-effective increments - particularly for burgeoning e-mail data.

Because e-mail is pervasive and protecting data generally costs more than simply storing it, the DAS model allows organisations to offer higher service levels and higher capacity with lower complexity and cost than a shared e-mail storage design. DAS helps simplify provisioning and data protection compared with shared networked storage because the rack of external hard drives in a DAS configuration is a logical extension of the host server's internal storage - and is managed the same way.

In comparison, shared networked storage connected to multiple servers must be provisioned with security at the array level, which adds to deployment costs and management complexity. Moreover, a number of critical enterprise applications - including Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, Microsoft SQL Server, and Oracle software - are being designed to facilitate storage-related tasks that enhance data availability, backup functionality, access management, and fault tolerance.

Notably, applications with built-in replication capabilities are increasing the relevance of DAS deployments. Understanding how to take advantage of storage-related features in enterprise applications can also help businesses reduce storage complexity and bridge the budget gap, especially when DAS may be a viable alternative or complement to networked storage arrays.

From desktop to data centre

Many organisations are challenged to provide comprehensive data sharing, protection, and management. A sound enterprise strategy should enable a holistic environment of data protection and management, capturing data at the point of creation; protecting it immediately, whether locally or remotely; ensuring integrity as diverse data types traverse multiple connections and travel through multiple systems; archiving, classifying, and searching; and ultimately deleting data at the end of the information life cycle.

A key cost-containment consideration is to match the expense of the storage platform to the value of the data. For example, bulk e-mail messages can be stored on inexpensive drives or even offline on tape, but sensitive materials that may be required for litigation or audits must be stored in a safe, secure way that allows quick and easy access.

Open systems with intuitive, out-of-the-box storage and server management can allow organisations to back up, restore, and archive valuable intellectual property and transaction data in a cost-efficient, standards-based plug-and-play network environment.

Aligning IT with strategic business objectives

As new voice and video technologies generate data by the terabyte, organisations have to change the economics of storage - not just to keep up with burgeoning capacity demands and regulatory requirements, but to free vital resources for business innovation and growth. Implementing a comprehensive storage strategy based on simple, cost-effective, and capable plug-and-play technologies can help reduce costs, increase efficiency, and ensure business continuity and compliance. A modular, open systems storage architecture based on custom pre-configured hardware and unified storage management enables organisations to streamline deployment and support, reduce complexity, and avoid the pitfalls of proprietary technologies that can impede business agility - all potential competitive differentiators in today's information-centric digital marketplace.

Unlocking the power of virtual serversiSCSI-based SAN technology allows applications to move around a virtualised data centre environment while remaining attached to their storage. As a result, iSCSI is poised to take the business benefits of virtualisation to the next level by helping simplify management and increase flexibility while increasing cost efficiency for the overall IT infrastructure.

For example, as a physical protocol that maps to a physical server, Fibre Channel requires administrators to manually rezone switches and change permissions when storage relationships change. iSCSI, in contrast, is an IP-based protocol that helps reduce the cost and complexity of deploying virtual servers compared with Fibre Channel by allowing administrators to map VMs directly to shared storage - in the same familiar way they manage the relationship between physical servers and shared storage. This seamless VM mobility without complex reconfiguration allows unprecedented response to dynamic workload fluctuations and evolving business conditions.

In addition, when an iSCSI network is configured with the proper logical or physical separations, iSCSI enables comparable security to Fibre Channel.

To create virtual servers with shared storage, organisations can deploy iSCSI alone or together with Fibre Channel in a tiered configuration. By taking advantage of products that support both iSCSI and a combination of iSCSI and Fibre Channel, organisations can optimise storage connectivity based on server workload.

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