Feature

Scalable storage solutions for businesses

When determining the storage needs of your business, it is essential to pick a hardware partner with high quality products as well as experience

Doing business around the clock demands non-stop, reliable, always-on data storage. As businesses everywhere go global, they also go non-stop. After all, no matter what time it is in your neighbourhood, it's between 9am and 5pm somewhere.

So who's watching the store when the stock market opens in Singapore, when an office in one part of the world needs to confirm a delivery schedule right now, or when a night owl somewhere else wants to place a catalogue order this minute?

The answer, of course, is information systems. And these days, the emphasis is on information - or, more precisely, data. That's because without data, systems don't have anything to do. An organisation's customers, prices, orders, e-mail - this is all data and without it, your business and your customers' businesses grind to a ruinous halt.

Meanwhile, as we increasingly rely on information systems to keep business humming all the time, we're generating vast quantities of data that must be reliably stored and often quickly accessed by numerous people in far-flung locations.

For several years, experts have pointed to data volumes growing by at least 50 to 60 per cent per annum, thanks to electronic commerce, data warehouses and information-intensive applications focused on enterprise resources management, multimedia applications, e-mail and more.

It all adds up to an enormous appetite for network-centric data storage, an appetite that, according to International Data Corporation, has been doubling annually for several years and will continue to do so for several more. In 1995, network storage needs barely topped 5,000 terabytes. However, by the end of this year, IDC has predicted that demand for network data storage will approach 60,000 terabytes. That's an increase of 1200 per cent!

As volume mushrooms, keeping data both accessible and safe can be tough. It means every organisation needs a comprehensive data storage strategy that includes carefully considered backup solutions to make sure your data survives even when the worst happens.

These days, data storage issues affect network response, availability, budgets and staffing. Data storage raises hardware costs and administrative overheads, and contributes to growing network complexity; businesses find themselves worrying about poor performance, lack of reliability and management hassles. Most businesses with critically important data to store and protect look for products that:

Support a wide range of applications

Enable installation of additional storage without putting further strain on general-purpose servers or requiring network downtime

Offer simple, scalable, multi-protocol, location-independent solutions that support multiple devices,such as RAID, CD-ROM and optical jukeboxes

Deliver cost-effective fault-tolerance by supporting RAID storage devices.

However, selecting the right kinds of data storage products can be difficult - even risky - without expert help.

The value of a data storage partner with best-of-breed products and long experience cannot be underestimated. Just ask any organisation that's suffered loss of data - and loss of revenue - because of a data storage failure.

Companies like IBM, Quantum and Seagate design and manufacture storage products for today's round the clock businesses. The largest global suppliers of hard disk drives, these companies are also widely recognised as the industry's quality leaders and offer a broad range of storage products to OEM and distribution customers worldwide as well as at retail.

What should a business look for in a hardware partner? Simply, a commitment to consistently meeting customers' requirements in three key ways:

Quality. Widely recognised as a leader in consistently delivering top-notch products, the hardware manufacturer builds in quality from the outset, at the product design and development phase. The quality continues in extensive pre-production reliability testing, strategic use of automated manufacturing, long-term partnerships with high-performing suppliers and solid, consistent execution.

Time-to-volume. While introducing new technology to the world matters, ramping a product to volume is even more important for those who will actually use it.

Ease of doing business. The manufacturer delivers products that can be counted on, along with worldwide logistics capabilities, regional service delivery and dedicated customer support teams for major clients.

What kind of data storage is best? Of course, the answer depends on the nature of your business. How important are storage-intensive applications? Do you need exceptionally fast access to them? Are reliability and data integrity of particular concern? Is data management becoming more and more difficult? What about scalability? Do you need hot swapping capability?

Companies like IBM, Quantum and Seagate design, develop and market technologically advanced 3.5-inch hard disk drives for the demanding storage needs of network servers, workstations, storage subsystems, high-end desktop systems and minicomputers. These 4.5Gb to 40Gb high-performance drives are designed for storage-intensive applications such as graphics, disk arrays, desktop publishing systems, multimedia computing systems, and networked databases and file servers.

RAID-ready. Today's high-capacity disk drives meet the toughest requirements of RAID subsystems, delivering the capacity, performance, and data integrity needed by the most demanding array applications and offering features that minimise an array's overall cost per megabyte.

Hot-swappable. Many hard drives are designed for use in "hot swap" applications, so users can remove potentially defective drives or upgrade capacity without the inconvenience and expense of taking down the entire system.

Many drive manufacturers also design, develop, manufacture, and market half-inch cartridge tape systems for protecting data stored on mid-range and high-end servers. These half-inch cartridge tape systems protect data stored on mid-range and high-end servers, rendering the highest capacity and performance, the broadest compatible scalability and backward scalability and impressive reliability and data integrity.

DLT tape systems have become the industry-standard platform for data protection for mid-range servers and are incorporated into products by every major computer systems vendor as well as nearly every major tape-automation vendor.

Ensuring lightning-fast access to the most important business data, solid state disk drives deploy the high execution speeds required for such applications as online transaction processing, material requirements planning, scientific modelling, imaging, multimedia and video-on-demand.

As with many sectors of the electronics industry, the mass storage business is evolving continuously, as are its technologies and products. Each new development spurs another competitive thrust among manufacturers to develop products that are smaller, faster, and smarter at a reduced cost. An example is the hard disk drive; in barely a decade, form factors have shrunk from eight inches to today's standard 3.5- and 2.5-inch drives, with 1.8- and 1.3-inch drives now beginning to appear. Average access speeds have dropped from 40ms to below 10ms. Moreover, hard disk drives have evolved from being "dumb" devices - that only received instructions from external controllers and had no built-in intelligence of their own - to today's intelligent subsystems complete with their own resident controller comprising a CPU, ASICs and microcode. Today's intelligent mass storage devices free the host CPU from most data management tasks - a crucial factor in emerging multitasking, networked computing environments.

Finally, in their increasingly miniaturised forms, mass storage products - especially PC cards - are beginning to expand beyond mainstream computer applications into a new electronic frontier of intelligent devices. As the information era advances, mass storage devices might become a standard feature in a vast range of popular technologies - cellular telephones, scanners, printers and fax machines, to name just a few.

Shrinking the physical size of mass storage products traditionally has been one of the motivating forces in the small form factor mass storage marketplace. But in today's complex and highly segmented market, size is only one of the variables that comes into play when manufacturers consider their next generation of products or when product developers evaluate mass storage options.

For example, today's PC and workstation markets are best served by 3.5-inch hard disk drives, although smaller form factor hard drives are available. The 3.5-inch hard drives are appropriately sized for PCs and workstations - even for the slimmest, pizza box-size CPUs. In fact, a smaller form factor hard drive would offer no significant added value to a desktop system, given the size constraints imposed by other system components. More importantly, 3.5-inch drives still are considerably less expensive per Mb than 2.5-inch and other smaller drives. Given the increasing demand for storage space and the more complex applications, capacity and performance are more critical issues on the desktop than size.

The task of designing and building mass storage products that are physically smaller, denser, smarter, and faster than their predecessors never has been a trivial feat. By developing more highly integrated chips, manufacturers can reduce the real estate requirements for electronic components. But physically reducing the size of components is only the most obvious of techniques applied to create smaller form factor drives. Of equal importance to size, capacity and cost is increasing capacity and data density. The more data packed in any given area - that is, the higher the areal density - the greater the capacity and throughput of the drive, the smaller the form factor, and, usually, the lower the cost. Hard drives are a good example; manufacturers have made great strides on the areal density front over the past several decades.

Regardless of how compact, swift or powerful, no mass storage product could ever achieve status as a mainstream technology without a sound reputation for quality and reliability. As the primary medium for storing computer users' information assets, no component plays a more critical role in the perceived quality of a computer system than its mass storage device(s). Quality is an elusive characteristic - often difficult to quantify and measure.

In the mass storage industry, however, there are a number of useful metrics for evaluating quality and reliability. Three key statistics reflect how well the products integrate through the customers' manufacturing process - system integration acceptance rates, manufacturing defects-per-million [DPM]) and average field return [AFR] rates. So, when you choose a hardware storage partner for your business, make sure you take all these factors into account.

Compiled by Ajith Ram


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This was first published in April 2000

 

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