Tiered storage refers to an infrastructure capable of aligning storage service levels with application requirements and charging application owners accordingly. This simple concept of 'pay only for what you need' is touted by all the major storage vendors (EMC, Hitachi, HP, IBM, and NetApp) and most of the emerging new entrants.
Today's storage technologies span a spectrum from high density, low cost, low performance storage at one end to increasingly sophisticated data management functionality at the other. Future technologies will increase the cost distance between different solutions. Creating storage tiers with more granularity and a single management approach begins to address the problems that one size does not fit all and multiple storage pools are hard to manage. Achieving a single storage management approach with multiple storage management software vendors is challenging.
The business case for implementing tiered storage is good, with an expected ROI of more than 150%. However, tiered storage implementations need hardware and storage management software to work together. To be exploited effectively, tiered storage also needs good processes and storage management software that will allow IT to demonstrate the contribution of storage to service levels being delivered to applications and clearly justify charge-backs. Application owners need this service level information and experience to make informed storage decisions and feel like they're getting a 'good deal.'
For the past seven years, organizations have consolidated data with storage area networks (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS). Many vendors were capable of delivering consolidated solutions, and the choice of vendor was less important than it will be with tiered storage. Tiered storage is the next evolutionary step beyond consolidation, and to work effectively, standards must be in place. The reality is the best way to ensure standards is to choose storage management software from a single vendor and pay the penalty of sole sourcing.
State of the Market
The state of today's tiered storage marketplace is that pieces only work together effectively if they come from one vendor. Tiered storage is too difficult to implement and manage without storage standardization. In addition, tiered storage is much simpler to implement if the storage volumes have been virtualized.
For data centers with a mix, match, and manage strategy with multiple storage pools, tiered storage is not recommended as a first step. Before implementing tiered storage, you need to map out an overall storage strategy, pick a primary vendor to provide the storage infrastructure, and design a strategy for getting greater standardization within the data center. Tiered storage should be part of the strategy, but come later.
If your data center strategy is one size fits all, tiered storage will make sense. The recommended steps would be to design the overall storage infrastructure to include tiered storage, pick a primary storage infrastructure vendor, put in place the key storage management software, implement virtualization and tiered storage, and put in the necessary management structure to be able to communicate and exploit the new infrastructure.
Most organizations will feel more comfortable if the tiered storage infrastructure allows the management and virtualization of storage from multiple vendors. This will avoid storage hardware lock-in and allow better prices to be negotiated. However, the reality is that most of the storage and storage management software will still come from one vendor. The trade off will be greater efficiency and improved user satisfaction.
Here's a quick rundown of the leaders.
EMC is the clear leader with great service and rich function from the many acquisitions and aggressive in-house move to software over the past ten years. EMC was late to market with both virtualization and tiered storage and are still playing catch-up. As a result, the pieces don't all quite fit together. However and integrating the piece parts is a real challenge.
Hitachi is the only leader to offer in-controller virtualization and the attachment of other vendors' hardware to its controller managed under what the company refers to as a 'single pane of glass. This is a powerful model of storage management and unique in the marketplace. Hitachi's service capabilities have a long way to go however before it can challenge EMC in more accounts.
HP has a solid mid-range lineup with excellent storage management software. HP covers the high end effectively by reselling Hitachi's disk arrays. HP's channels support its leadership position, but its presence in large accounts is not as substantial as one would expect from the world's largest IT vendor.
IBM is the only leading company with a truly broad product line for the data center throughout the disk and tape spectrum, including services. IBM's virtualization story is not as strong, but services are IBM's strength, and leveraging its historical server expertise is fundamental to its product strategy. Breadth, services and steadiness is what you get with IBM. Indeed it's hard to envision truly tiered storage without tape as part of the equation.
Network Appliance is the leader in NAS. The company's strategy is built on it's excellent NAS lineup and despite introducing SAN products and even talk of SAN leadership (unthinkable just a few years ago!), low cost consolidated file storage is the heart and sole of this company. If your shop is predominantly NAS, NetApp is going to be on your short list.
Action Item: When it comes to tiered storage, pick that vendor wisely; you will be with them for a long time.