Moving beyond the SAN boundary

Emerging storage technologies may prove more efficient than today's models

According to a survey just released by the SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association), less than 40% of respondents found that adopting storage management technologies was cost-justified and showed an acceptable return on investment.

This will certainly give SNIA yet another leverage point to further its SMI-S (Storage Management Initiative Specification). In time that effort should lessen the storage management pain a bit, but it remains to be seen whether SMI-S-compliant products alone can make satisfied storage management customers out of that disappointed 60% of customers.

To really make a difference, we should consider moving away from the traditional SAN model and begin creating storage solutions with embedded, management-friendly features, rather than trying to build them on as an afterthought.

A good example of this comes from Compellent, which recently began offering data progression features with its storage arrays. Data progression is an optional application that automatically moves ageing blocks of storage to a different tier, eliminating the need for a storage administrator dedicated solely to that task and making for a more efficient use of storage.

Speaking of automatically moving blocks of storage, keep an eye on another vendor, YottaYotta. Early in November, YottaYotta released the GSX 3000, a new and lighter version of its NetStorage Control Node. Imagine a versatile 1U box that can simultaneously connect to Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, InfiniBand and fibre channel networks to provide seamless data sharing across multiple locations — that’s the GSX 3000.

For example, at your main office you could have a GSX 3000 connecting a SAN via fibre channel ports and servers’ clusters attached via InfiniBand. A second GSX 3000 at the opposite end of the WAN cloud (at a remote office) could connect a smaller SAN and local servers. Repeat a similar configuration at each branch and you have a system that, according to YottaYotta, will provide fast and simultaneous data access from any server, regardless of its geographic location.

“We are to WANFS what a SAN is to a NAS,” explains YottaYotta CTO Wayne Karpoff. In fact, YottaYotta solutions make it possible to share SAN blocks, not just files.

The upshot of all this is that installing control nodes around your WAN will give you fast and location-transparent data sharing, and will also make other interesting features possible, such as mirroring across multiple locations and automatically redirecting servers’ I/Os to the closest instance of your data.

As a result, if a storage device goes south, the system will re-route servers’ I/Os to the nearest mirror with negligible disruption (if any).

When the error condition is removed, YottaYotta will automatically rebuild a consistent data image and revert servers’ access to the original location. “We don’t do only fail-over, but we also do fail-back,” Karpoff says.

The two solutions mentioned here belong to very distant provinces of the storage realm, but they have at least one thing in common: the ability to lessen your management burden with features that go beyond the traditional SAN boundaries.

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