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Content, Cost Savings And Convergence Drive Network Storage

Jan 16, 2008
Over the past decade, organizations of all stripes have experienced phenomenal growth in the data volumes they must manage in order to compete and win in a challenging and dynamic marketplace. Traditionally, organizations employed corporate messaging and business applications in order to foster employee productivity and manage critical corporate information. These had relatively modest information requirements.

The arrival of the Internet as a mainstream technology created a revolution in application design and content development tools, and thereby in the types and quantity of the content created and manipulated by both business and consumer end-users. Today, most information being created is digital in nature, and must be made widely available immediately across a broad audience of users to achieve full value.

Hence organizations are challenged to manage exploding information volumes efficiently (to hold down costs), and to effectively distribute that information on-demand across different applications and out to employees, customers, and partners.

Network Storage Arrives :

Network Storage solutions such as Storage Area Networks (SANs) and Network Attached Storage (NAS) emerged in response to the twin needs to manage ever-growing volumes of information, and to make that information available on-demand to applications and end-users. Confronted with rapidly expanding storage requirements and reduced budgets, these two approaches help Enterprises and Service Providers meet the increasing demands to deliver information in all forms efficiently and cost-effectively.

SANs are dedicated, high-performance storage networks that connect one or more servers to a centralised pool of shared storage resources including arrays, tape drives and libraries. Traditionally, SANs were optimised for high performance applications such as relational databases and enterprise applications (ERP, CRM, etc.). For this reason, they use optimised transport media and protocols, including Fibre Channel and SCSI, and transfer storage processing overhead from servers to intelligent networked storage devices.

NAS, on the other hand, uses industry standard Ethernet networking and IP protocols to provide network storage access from one or more hosts to either centralised or distributed file servers. NAS is employed for file sharing and collaboration needs like web hosting, collaborative product design and knowledge management.

Benefits of Network Storage :

Initially, network storage was intended to help organizations lower costs by leveraging the power of networks to optimize the use of expensive storage resources. In the past, the majority of costs were in the storage hardware itself. The cost per megabyte of storage was measured in dollars per megabyte. Today, the cost of these hardware resources has dropped dramatically, and continues to do so. The cost of the storage hardware itself is measured in cents per megabyte, comprising less and less of the overall total-cost-of-ownership (TCO).

Even so, it is not unusual to see storage costs alone taking up between 20 and 50% of overall new capital purchases. Thus buyers are still interested in the ability of network storage to improve the efficiency of their storage hardware usage.

Network storage helps increase this efficiency by replacing "islands" of storage that are directly attached to servers (Direct-Attached Storage, or DAS) with a shared "pool" of storage available to all servers (either SAN or NAS). In a typical enterprise, the efficiency of DAS storage under UNIX may be less than 50%, and under Windows even worse - less than 40%. In contrast, by networking this storage, organizations can regularly achieve utilization levels of over 80%. Network storage also eliminates the need to "over-purchase" extra storage capacity by making a single pool of spare capacity available to all servers.

Beyond this, network storage helps organizations reduce IT costs in other ways. For example, another focus of today's storage buyers is lowering overall TCO by reducing the amount of administrative overhead dedicated to managing storage resources. The approach is to centralize and consolidate the tools used to manage enterprise storage, replacing them with a single, automated storage management toolset that can effectively manage all storage assets. Powerful, centralized tools allow a much smaller group of administrators to manage the growing storage resource, freeing staff to focus on other, higher-value added activities.

Finally, network storage helps organizations to improve operational service levels, and reduce risks. Network storage typically delivers higher levels of reliability and availability, through the use of techniques such as RAID, mirroring, hot spare disks, and multi-pathing. These techniques also significantly improve performance for certain applications. Also, once enterprise information has been centralized and consolidated into a single storage pool, then advanced techniques such as remote replication can be employed to implement disaster recovery and business continuity solutions. Finally, it is possible to construct computing infrastructure, which can withstand even the failure of an entire data centre!

Present & Future Developments :

One of the main drivers of Network Storage today is also the move to re-architect and rationalize corporate datacenters and departmental computing infrastructure. Organizations are increasingly migrating to open standards and using standardized, repeatable componentry to build and deliver corporate computing infrastructure. Network storage assists in this effort by separating the server and storage infrastructure, thereby de-coupling server and storage buying cycles, and allowing IT purchasers to select best-of-breed components at each level.

Network storage technology itself continues to develop, as standardization efforts bear fruit, and previously incompatible hardware and software implementations are brought into line with industry-recognized standards. For example, it is now possible to construct SANs using equipment from multiple vendors, with greater confidence in the compatibility of products purchased from different vendors.

In another significant trend, the steady progression of Ethernet and IP-based technology development is leading to a new scenario where they will increasingly be used to construct not only NAS infrastructure, but also SANs themselves. The recent ratification of the iSCSI (IP-SCSI) standard will lead to the adoption of Ethernet and IP to construct departmental and remote-office SANs, and link them back to the SAN in the corporate data- centre. These and other low-cost network technologies are driving SAN and NAS into mainstream adoption, and even blurring the traditional lines between the two.
About the Author
Datacraft is the leading independent IT services and solutions company in Asia Pacific. Datacraft combines an expertise in networking, security, Microsoft solutions, storage and contact centre technologies, with advanced skills in consulting, integration and managed services, to craft IT solutions for businesses.
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