Understanding Storage Technology Series – Part 1

Since human beings have been able to record ideas and information, the technology of storing those records has been evolving.  At no time has that evolution seen such a significant acceleration as over the past few decades.  With the invention of the hard drive and subsequent improvements in digital storage technologies, almost everyone has megabytes, gigabytes, or even terabytes of important data that they want to save and protect.  Data is a mission-critical component of many businesses where the need to store and protect data is all the more critical.  This is where modern storage technologies come into play.

Not long ago, it was typical for a datacenter to be comprised of many server systems.  Each server had its own storage.  This storage was usually in the form of a hard drive, or more likely an array of drives or a RAID; a redundant array of inexpensive disks.  Of course inexpensive is a relative term, and when the price tag of several dozen or even several hundred of these hard drives showed up on budgets, the term was sometimes changed to a redundant array of independent disks.

The problem with this model became obvious.  Inevitably, one server would use only a tiny fraction of the storage it had installed while another might constantly be filling up its storage.  The technology did not allow sharing of storage among servers.  Furthermore, the task of administering, backing up, and replicating the data from each server’s storage became more complex as the number of servers grew.  The breaking point came when virtualization technologies entered the datacenter.  No longer was it practical to have as many silos of storage as there were servers.

The solution was modern storage technologies such as DAS (direct attached storage), NAS (network attached storage), and SAN (storage area network).  These products have radically revolutionized the modern datacenter by creating a single large pool of storage and making it available to multiple servers.

Modern storage offerings like DAS, NAS, and SAN are a little like running water in homes.  Centuries ago, if a person wanted fresh water, they would either have to make trips to the nearby stream or they would have to dig their own well.  If one person’s supply of water was dry, yet a neighbor had too much, it was difficult and impractical to balance out the differences.  As cities grew, the idea of everyone having their own well became impractical; imagine New York City with 8.3 million wells.  Instead, local governments implemented the equivalent of a modern storage solution, but for running water.  A central water utility can provide the water each individual needs without waste or worry of peaks or troughs in demand.  The water utility can also be maintained and protected much more efficiently than doing the same for each citizen’s private well.

DAS, NAS, and SAN technologies do the same thing for data.  They serve up storage space to each server just like a water utility serves up water to each citizen.  Where there used to be storage arrays all over the datacenter (with one or more in each server) now there is a single large storage system that provides the needs for all the servers.

Keep in mind that modern storage technologies are not just intended for huge corporations or businesses with racks and racks of server hardware.  Storage is an important part of any datacenter design, even in environments that have one or two servers (or hosts).  The challenge, however, can be in selecting the right storage solution and making sure that it is configured properly.  Rarely does a small or mid-size business have a dedicated storage administrator on staff.  In fact, such a person is not always on staff at larger corporations.  So, how does the small or mid-size business select the right technology and the right product?

In upcoming blog entries, we will explore storage technologies and how to evaluate what technology and product is right for your environment.  We will explain and unravel the alphabet soup of DAS, NAS, and SAN and their respective components; and figure out how they are the same and how they differ.  We will explore the key sizing parameters that are used in choosing a storage device and explain what is important beyond the terabytes.  We will look at different technologies used in storing, protecting, and optimizing data.  We will look at how a storage device can be a key component in a high availability, fault tolerant, or WAN-replicated datacenter design.  We will look at the myriad of companies offering storage technology products.  And finally we will examine some real-world applications of storage technology that RSM has implemented for our clients.

In the meantime, if you are considering a storage project or if you are making any updates or changes to your datacenter, it is a great time to think about modern storage technologies.  RSM has information technology consultants that specialize in storage evaluation, sizing, design, implementation, administration, and optimization. Please check out our website for more information.  To talk with one of our storage consultants, call 800-274-3978, or send us an email.  We look forward to talking with you.