The average enterprise has several classes of storage -- production, back-up, compliance, archive, etc. -- each with a different storage tier. This does not include the evolving Internet-focused storage platforms and their protocols that are becoming increasingly relevant, but that require their own Alert for adequate coverage.
Despite that convenient omission and despite industries attempts to automate transparent data mobility across the traditional storage tiers, these environments remain complex and costly. However unified storage promises a light at the end of the tunnel, at least for some. This concept has emerged as a novel way of reducing IT complexity, improving business flexibility and reducing costs.
A unified storage solution natively supports block based protocols (iSCSI) and file-based protocols (NFS/CIFS) in the same appliance, eliminating the need for physically separate boxes for SAN and NAS storage, creating a very interesting consolidation option.
Notice there was no mention of FC. That is because there are limited solutions that offer iSCSI, FC and NFS/CIFS natively in the same appliance. NetApp being the only significant vendor. Yes there are some gateways and hybrids that provide that capability, but this discussion is restricted to architectures that natively support block and file protocols in the same appliance. Hybrid architectures do deserve a mention, with Pillar Data’s Axiom being the most obvious. The Pillar Axiom supports FC, iSCSI and NFS/CIFS but needs dedicated controllers -- one for FC/iSCSI and one for NFS/CIFS. They do have a single management view and a shared storage pool, key to optimizing storage utilization. It could be legitimately argued that this is a unified storage solution.
The lack of FC is why I mentioned earlier that the current instantiation of the unified storage concept is for some. The pairing of iSCSI with NFS/CIFS natively, in a single physical appliance, targets the small and midsize enterprise and perhaps departmental applications.
So what are the attributes of unified storage that are likely to resonate with storage administrators and their bosses?
- The flexibility enables storage administrators to consolidate multiple workloads onto a single storage platform.
- Hardware consolidation: Elimination of separate SAN and NAS hardware, replacing two physical systems with one.
- Simplicity: With the elimination of siloed storage and unifying storage into one box simplifies day-to-day management significantly.
- Improved economics: Reduced hardware reduces capital and operational expenses.
- Improved storage utilization: A shared storage pool is more efficient – another cost savings.
- Green. Obviously this is an approach with positive green benefits.
Unified storage is a concept that should appeal to all storage users, particularly the small and medium sized organizations. This community has all the same data management challenges as the bigger folks but has less budget dollars, staff, and expertise with which to manage disparate storage systems.
Action Item: The notion of unified storage, with all of its proclaimed benefits, is a potential solution to the perennial SMB resource dilemma and suggests that this increasingly popular concept will be a boon to those with the more modest storage requirements.
However, those in the larger data center who are attracted to the unified concept should look at give NetApp a look or Pillar with the hybrid option.
Over time the unified storage concept will evolve and will have universal application, but as with all evolving technologies, adoption manages its own timetable.