Midrange storage arrays come of age with enterprise features

Consultant Chris Evans talks about what customers want from midrange storage arrays, as well as the enterprise features that they now include.

Midrange storage arrays have changed dramatically in the past few years. Where once the SAN was the preserve of the enterprise, block-level arrays have made major inroads into the midmarket. Coming up to meet them are the SMB storage customers who have moved in the course of a decade from direct-attached storage to shared storage, often now supporting server virtualisation. As midrange storage array products have matured, they have begun to include many of the features of their high-end brethren.

In this interview, SearchStorage.co.UK Bureau Chief Antony Adshead speaks with Chris Evans, independent consultant with Langton Blue, about the things that midrange storage array customers look for and the new features incorporated into midrange SAN products in the past 12 months.

You can read the transcript below or download the podcast on midrange SANs.

What’s unique about shopping for midrange SAN systems?

Chris Evans: The first thing to think about [with midrange SAN arrays] is that these will not be treated in the same way as an enterprise product will. The skill set will be different, you might be [dealing] with people who aren’t used to … SAN storage every day, and you might not need to have such a scalable device in your environment.

So, there’s a good chance that when you’re looking for a midrange device you want something that’s going to be easier to manage because potentially [the people that will work with it won’t] have in-depth storage skills. You certainly nowadays will be looking for the same level of features that you see on enterprise arrays, and that’s a change from where we used to be.

Also, there’s a bigger range of devices on the market so there’s a lot more to choose from and therefore more companies that you can select [products from].

What are the key new features that are emerging in midrange SANs?

Evans: In the last 12 months we’ve seen quite a number of changes occur, and I’ve got quite a list to go through here.

First of all, [there are] solid-state devices. We’ve seen this become common on all storage arrays now. It’s obvious that the vendors have decided that solid-state devices need to be included as part of both enterprise and midrange products, and they’re very much becoming the norm. You wouldn’t expect the whole array to be solid-state but we’re certainly seeing [them] being integrated as part of a tiered strategy from pretty much all the vendors.

As part of that, we’re seeing advanced features come in … such as thin provisioning, data deduplication and automated tiering. The benefit of automated tiering is that you can make much more use of the solid-state devices, and that means that when you’re balancing your workload that the addition of SSD will be much more beneficial for you.

We’re also seeing a different approach towards management tools. Traditionally, [these] would be pretty specific to a device and they were pretty bland. You’d look at … a list of devices on the screen, and you’d click to create LUNs and away you’d go.

What we’re seeing now is more graphical-based management tools, with vendors showing actual images of their products and highlighting individual components that are plugged into it, something like the device that’s on your data centre floor. You can then explore that device and click around and if any errors come up on any particular items, it highlights that for you on the screen.

We’re also seeing within those tools [that] the vendors are trying to make the management processes as simple as possible, so what they’re doing is … trying to simplify the way provisioning happens so that people who aren’t necessarily skilled in storage can administer these.

We’re [also] seeing vendors moving towards virtualisation and stack, or unified, computing, where the entire infrastructure is packaged together -- the storage, the servers and the networking components – and that’s quite a strong message for a lot of the vendors because they want to get these products into the environments with other pieces of technology because they realise that virtualisation and the private cloud story is getting much more interesting.

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