As we do periodically here at eWEEK, we offer another snapshot (sorry, couldn’t resist that analogy) of important new and continuing trends in data storage. These are based upon regular conversations with storage vendors, analysts, data center managers, CIOs and CTOs, in addition to our regular coverage here at eWEEK.
New products and services involving PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect express) cards, image cloning, storage pooling, automation, capacity management and a slew of others are coming into the market from established companies and newbies alike.
Storage media, including spinning disk hard drives, solid-state NAND and NOR flash, digital tape, and optical disks, continue to become more capacious-and run cooler-as engineers and manufacturers improve upon improvements. Markedly better networking and processing speeds are also instrumental in these product upgrades.
Here are five of the most important enterprise storage trends at midyear 2011, as seen by eWEEK:
The mainstreaming of PCIe: Analyst Jim Handy of Objective Analysis told eWEEK his firm is forecasting that the NAND flash-powered PCIe interface will become dominant in the enterprise solid-state disk market in 2012, with unit shipments greater than the combined shipments of its SAS and Fibre Channel counterparts.
We agree, especially on the use of NAND flash in general, whether or not it’s found on a PCIe card. Everywhere we look, we’re seeing IT managers and corporate IT decision-makers adding-or planning to add-SSDs into their mixes.
Intel launched PCIe in 2004. It is an expansion-card standard based on point-to-point serial links rather than a shared parallel bus architecture, and it is designed to replace the older PCI, PCI-X and AGP standards.
PCIe-based flash storage has the ability to bypass traditional storage overhead by reducing latencies, increasing throughput and enabling efficient processing of massive quantities of data.
“SAS is the heir apparent to Fibre Channel, and newer servers and storage arrays support multiple SAS HDDs, some or all of which can be replaced by these new SAS SSDs to add performance with little additional effort,” Handy said. “Objective Analysis expects to see strong acceptance of SAS SSDs over the near term as more and more data center managers learn the advantage of adding solid-state storage to their systems.”
Virtual machine image cloning as an alternative to snapshots: Oracle has a leg up on this one. Its new VirtualBox 4.1 includes a new virtual machine cloning facility-one of the first on the market.
“Right now, when you have a virtual machine running, you create a snapshot, which is a child of the current virtual machine,” Wim Coekaerts, who serves as Oracle’s senior vice president of Linux and Virtualization Engineering, told eWEEK. “But that’s not something that can independently grow afterward. With a clone, you have a new entity that can then have its own life and, subsequently, its own snapshots.”
A snapshot is an object and a part of the virtual disk; it’s not able to be copied onto any other servers and used in any way. Users don’t have any visibility into it, Coekaerts said.
Clones are a completely new virtual disk object, independent units that can have new lives of their own. “From then on, you now have a unit that is like a VM created from scratch, so you can treat it as such,” Coekaerts said. This will be good news for IT managers and VDI admins, although it may serve up some new issues when it comes to VM propagation.
Automated Disaster Recovery, Storage Pooling
Automated disaster recovery: Reconnecting data stores with systems and getting those systems back up and running after a power outage is a bear that can take some systems days. Whereas in the past this process was done manually, the software now available is smart enough to get large portions of a virtualized system back online much faster and with less effort, so enterprises are checking this out very closely.
Virtualization is not just about cost reduction. It also helps improve application quality of service by enabling applications to scale up or scale out on demand, increasing application uptime and achieving a level of agility that is impossible in the physical world. In fact, the ability to have automated, fully tested disaster recovery is one of the key drivers for many organizations to virtualize their most important applications.
Dell EqualLogic, EMC Data Domain, Hewlett-Packard and VMware are a few of the large vendors that offer this.
Storage pooling: Pooling is an approach to storage virtualization that delineates specific areas of the storage system to be dedicated to specific data flows to enable more efficient multitenant service deployments, for example.
“Storage pooling can be set up as to disk type, where capacity can be in either 1TB or 2TB drives in separate pools,” Marketing Manager Jay Kramer, formerly of Sepaton, told eWEEK. “Customers might want to implement a pool based on WORM [write once, read many] storage technology, or for encrypted data, for example.”
Virtualized storage systems break files into chunks of data that are dispersed into numerous data center or storage locations, and reassemble them on demand. Keeping data file chunks closer together in pools is said to provide faster reassembly of file chunks.
Two key points turn up time and time again in conversations, especially involving cloud storage services: If you keep the data as close to processors as possible, and keep data chunks as close together as possible, you invariably end up with notable performance gains.
Isilon-which specializes in large, clustered systems-and Sepaton are two of the early vendors shipping smart-pooling storage systems.
Improved manageability of cloud storage: As different vendors clamor to be part of the cloud, unified management of the entire technology stack is critical. Whether public or private, tying together the different infrastructure layers-including applications, VMs, systems, networks and storage-with a comprehensive set of management tools reduces complexity by providing end-to-end service visibility, performance monitoring and automated provisioning.
All the major storage vendors, as well as a spate of newbie firms with fresh perspectives, are coming up with new software packages that are easier to set up and deploy, compared with only a year or so ago.