How to break out of the storage hardware zoo
In search of scalability
With enterprise storage now costing significantly more to run than it does to buy according to many estimates, the need to cut those operational costs – or at least to slow their rise – is paramount.
The result is a growing desire to move away from the siloed and application-specific nature of much of today's storage market.
"Most storage vendors have completely different system architectures in different ranges," says Frank Reichart, Fujitsu's senior director product marketing storage.
"It has to do with their histories and the way they operate – often it derives from acquisitions and mergers. But the end result is the same: a hardware zoo."
Of course that can be a pain from the acquisition perspective. Only a few storage developers – Fujitsu and NetApp are probably the best-known ones – manage to have good end-to-end software and hardware compatibility across their product ranges.
If a vendor does not have broad upgradeability, then once your applications grow beyond the capabilities of its current storage platform, that could mean a fork-lift upgrade. And enterprise storage needs will inevitably change over time, especially when applications become successful and win more users.
That in turn means the unwelcome requirement to migrate your data and applications to an entire new storage architecture.
It is also likely to cost you more to start with, claims Reichart. He says that pretty much everything except the controller board is standard across the Fujitsu range, including the management software.
“If you know you can't upgrade, you buy a much bigger storage subsystem than you actually need, just in case your applications grow more than expected,” he says.
Nothing succeeds like excess
Alex D'Anna, the director solutions consulting EMEA at storage performance specialist Virtual Instruments, agrees.
“Customers typically ask their vendor for advice on sizing. The vendor wants the customers to be happy, so they over-provision,” he says.
The hardware zoo is an even bigger pain if each of those platforms must also be independently managed, provisioned and monitored via its own idiosyncratic management interface.
As IDC Europe's storage analysts wrote in a white paper considering storage for the next decade: "Ease of use, including easy deployment, is paramount, as well as policy-driven automation capabilities and a reduction in the number of storage systems management points, either by fewer storage arrays or through multi-systems management.
"Checklist items include an easy to understand and productive unified management interface preferably for all block and file storage protocols, effective caching and automated tiering of data, group policy settings, as well as advanced monitoring and reporting capabilities."
Each of those different storage system architectures was developed for a reason, though. Enterprise storage needs to span a wide range of applications, from small and affordable through mid-range access and capacity to high-end capacity and performance, and each has different priorities and needs.
The various product ranges developed to cater for those different needs are often incompatible with each other
This can lead to all sorts of challenges for buyers, not least because the various product ranges developed to cater for those different needs are often incompatible with each other.
In addition, each product range is carefully packaged and positioned, not only to meet the needs of its target market but also to differentiate it from its siblings – and perhaps also to make it less likely that customers will trade down to save money.
It causes problems too when implementing disaster recovery. Most replication schemes require the same storage hardware at each end of the link, leading many companies to expensively over-provision their disaster recovery sites.
In a similar vein, application-specific storage remains ideal for focused tasks where only the best niche technology will do. When you want absolutely the fastest video server or the deepest archive, point products are likely to be your first port of call.