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FAST takes its sweet time

Key to EMC's future, but in no big hurry

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EMC has announced the first deliveries of its FAST (fully-automated storage tiering) technology to move lumps of storage between solid state drives (SSD) and spinning disk in its high-end, mid-range and iSCSI/filer arrays.

FAST moves volumes or LUNs (Logical UNits) of storage between SSD, Fibre Channel and SATA hard disk drives according to policies so that data needing the fastest access is placed in SSD storage, mid-level access data goes to Fibre Channel drives and low-access data gets poured into cheaper and slower SATA drives.

Without FAST data has to be moved manually which is slow and manpower-intensive. FAST brings in the capability for users to set policies, with ot without administrator approval to automate data placement and movement, so that, for example, service-level agreements can be met. The FAST software can monitor, analyse, and respond to changes in the value and access patterns of the data to self-optimise storage resources.

There are management facilities to tell IT staff what FAST has been up to with application data, and what the resulting capacity allocation and free space statistics have been. This provides the metrics, EMC sats, for pay-for-use and charge-back IT service schemes.

Intriguingly, the FAST technology has "file system capabilities that permit integration with internal private clouds and external cloud service providers to seamlessly federate placement and movement of file-based and unstructured data." This suggests that FAST recognises a public cloud as another storage tier.

FAST 1 at the LUN level - which has shipped this week - works on Symmetrix V-Max, CLARiiON CX4 and Celerra NS arrays. It's pretty crude and is really a door-opener to the technology as not all data in a LUN will be hot and need the fastest access. A future release, FAST 2, expected around the middle of next year, will improve data granularity and work at the sub-LUN level.

Compellent has had block-level automated tiering for some time. 3PAR announced its automated tiering capability yesterday. Its Policy Advisor for Dynamic Optimisation works by analysing how the InServ’s virtual volumes use physical disk space and then automatically makes "non-disruptive adjustments to ensure optimal volume distribution and storage tiering across storage server resources". 3PAR already had a Dynamic Optimisation feature for users to adjust storage volume parameters with a single click.

The company says Policy Advisor "is particularly useful for large-scale performance optimisations such as redistributing volumes after capacity is added to an InServ or following the move of a large number of virtual volumes between storage tiers within the array".

3PAR blogger Marc Farley says: "Our Policy Advisor software utility helps [customers] make greater use of Dynamic Optimization by analysing volume data layouts in their 3PAR arrays and generating the commands to move volumes to more appropriate storage resources. Customers can choose to run those commands as a batch process or enter them manually." The software is available now at no charge with 3PAR Dynamic Optimisation.

Pat Gelsinger, EMC's brand new president and chief operating officer in charge of its information infrastructure products, said about FAST: "We are the only one offering this technology across high-end, mid-tier and unified platforms.”

EMC has much more invested in the FAST technology than just data movement between storage tiers in an array, though. It says its vision for FAST, or FAST for the Fullest: "is to combine capabilities including sub-LUN tiering, capacity allocation on demand, block and file level deduplication, data compression, disk drive spin down, built-in archiving, and private and public cloud federation".

This suggests that FAST will work between arrays as well as within them, and that FAST is the Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) idea re-invented. Another possibility is that these various functions will all be possible within a single array with logical boundaries between for example the deduplicating backup storage, ever-spinning online access storage and spin-down archival storage.

Given EMC's reliance on different storage products for different storage applications, it seems more likely we'll see FAST working between arrays rather than one array emerging combining all the types of storage EMC offers. EMC's Rainfinity file virtualisation product gets a fresh lease of life as a file-mover aspect of FAST. Atmos will be/could be treated as a cloud storage tier by FAST, both for private and public clouds.

What is becoming clear is that FAST is becoming an all-embracing and orchestrating data mover within and between storage arrays in data centres, private clouds and public clouds. It is absolutely central to EMC's information infrastructure vision. ®

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