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The hidden world of long-term bit-saving

Benchmarks for storage

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The sheer volume of data that is now collected has brought a fresh focus to the hidden world of long-term bit saving. The eruption of data requirements has led to a corresponding demand for both hardware storage platforms to hold the data and recognition of the fact that there is an even greater need to manage these storage systems effectively.

IT vendors recognise that storage is now big business in its own right and the sector has seen a surge in technology developments. In addition to the expected Moore's Law-esque drop in price of disk and tape systems along with rapid rise in storage capacities of disks themselves, new architectures have evolved to address modern business requirements. Storage Area Networks (SAN), Networked Attached Storage (NAS) provide new approaches to how data is stored.

However, it is still a daunting task to assess the capabilities and cost effectiveness of any particular storage offering and to compare the products of competing suppliers. With this in mind, the Storage Performance Council (SPC) has announced an industry standard storage benchmark for directly attached and network storage systems.

It is claimed that the benchmark, SPC-1, will give customers a vendor-neutral process to compare storage subsystems. But will consumers notice the benchmark at all and if they do will it influence buying habits?

The SPC is a standards organisation dedicated to creating meaningful performance benchmarks which customers can trust to provide useful, realistic metrics representative of the sophisticated applications in use today. The organisation has a member list that includes many of the leading storage vendors such as IBM, Hitachi Data Systems, Sun, Unisys, VERITAS, Adaptec, Compaq and Dell.

The metric SPC-1 is described as random access environment for server class systems and is modelled on some common applications in use today, namely Web servers, database servers and e-mail systems. With the release of a complete performance kit expected next year it is certain that suppliers will be producing benchmark figures in the very near future.

Interestingly, the SPC requires that a result validation process, including audit certification and peer review, be undertaken by vendors in an attempt to ensure that any benchmarks produced be "accurate".

Many buying decisions could be simplified if realistic storage benchmarks would be available that reflect customer's usage patterns and infrastructures. We shall have to wait and see how well the benchmarks are audited and how comprehensive the set of benchmarks become. For SPC to become accepted and trusted a lot of work is going to have to take place, and the world is going to want to see exactly what goes into the benchmarks.

We hope SPC will produce some useful information -after all benchmarking does not have an unblemished record of supplying useful, realistic data. If the SPC does take off, just watch how quickly other storage vendors rush to join the party. ®

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