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Don't freak out, but your primary storage has become 'aware'

Picking apart the new 'data-aware' storage trend

Robot eye opens. Image via Shutterstock
Data-awareness can penetrate data's black hole.

Comment The term data-aware storage is fairly new to our industry and its definition, as often happens, is not very clear. Of course vendors have their own view of this term.

In my personal opinion, data-aware storage means being able to analyse infrastructure and workloads as well as storing the data involved, giving a complete picture of what is really happening to your data while empowering several business, organisational and security processes.

And I’m convinced that the concept of Data-awareness can also be applied to other infrastructure components.

Summing up the challenges

IT organisations are facing many new challenges at the data and storage infrastructure level, but when it comes to primary storage, two trends are common to everyone:

  • Capacity growth - Not only are we dealing with larger data sets, but data retention policies extend much further out than in the past and many organisations are now adopting never-delete policies for most of their data.
  • Data and workload diversity - The number of applications and access methods has radically changed in the last few years. Now we have many more data types stored in a single storage system, accessed by a larger number of people and devices.

These problems are relatively easy to solve when they are treated individually, but the sum of the two introduces a new level of complexity and it becomes much harder to fully understand and control what is actually stored, as well as to exploit the value of data and hidden insights. Furthermore, primary storage has to continue to deliver consistent performance while crawling through stored data for these insights.

The growing number of applications, different data sources, lifetime-long retention periods, and users creating and accessing data from anywhere and any device are heavily impacting the effectiveness of traditional data management and auditing mechanisms, while increasing infrastructure TCO and all sorts of security risks.

More than just an infrastructure problem

However, infrastructure is only the tip of the iceberg. Some of the most critical problems are usually seen at the business level. In fact, managers are not aware of the real state of security, user behaviours, compliance and so on. And when they do have a clue of what is really happening, it’s because complex and expensive external solutions are in place.

These software methods usually offer a silo’d view of data and limited access to it (through external agents deployed on servers and virtual machines), adding even more complexity, negatively impacting the performance of the production environment, and solving only part of the problem.

Having full access rights to data, without the ability to take advantage of it, is another concern in many organisations. Providing the ability to search across the entire data domain would improve business efficiency and competitiveness while enhancing many other organisational aspects. But if it means building a specialised infrastructure, the cost could outweigh the benefits.

More than just saving data

Next-generation data-aware storage systems can do more than just save data safely. In fact, they can be the answer to analysing infrastructure and workloads as well as the data involved, giving a complete picture of what is really happening to your data while empowering several business, organisational and security processes.

In fact, data security is a big concern for any organisation now, and it has already been proved that traditional security mechanisms are no longer effective against modern attacks and data-leak prevention. Data-aware storage systems can easily help to mitigate this issue by enhancing security policies through automated search and discovery capabilities and by detecting and reporting unusual user behaviours.

In order to be effective, data-aware storage should have some basic characteristics:

  1. The analytics engine should be seamlessly integrated with the infrastructure, easy to use and shouldn’t impact overall performance of the production environment,
  2. Data insights and visualisations should be accessible to anyone in the organisation who needs to analyse and leverage information coming from stored data,
  3. It should be based on a no-compromise modern design with all the software features and integrations we have come to expect in traditional storage systems (like snapshots, remote replication, VMware integration, etc.)

Closing the circle

When well implemented, data-aware storage improves the efficiency of the entire infrastructure by consolidating and offloading data analytics from the application level, while enabling advanced and insightful information discovery that can dramatically improve both TCO and business intelligence.

In the next post I’ll be writing about different “levels of awareness”, talking about their scope and showing practical examples. ®

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