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.

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By  Administrator Published  December 16, 2007

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.

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