Unified storage architecture buying choices

Chris Evans outlines the key choices when buying unified storage systems and looks at what’s driving the multiprotocol storage market.

A unified storage architecture (or multiprotocol storage) offers block and file access over a range of protocols in one box, or one box plus an added file head. They are convenient ways of dealing with differing storage needs, especially for SMBs and smaller office use by enterprises. But what is the best form factor for your organisation, and what’s driving the market?

To answer these questions, SearchStorage.co.UK Bureau Chief Antony Adshead speaks with Chris Evans, an independent consultant with Langton Blue, about the pros and cons of the ways you can implement a unified storage architecture.

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Multiprotocol storage buying choices

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SearchStorage.co.UK: What is driving developments in the unified storage architecture market?

Evans: I’d like to start with a definition of unified storage. I think typically in the marketplace unified is seen as meaning unified from a protocol perspective; that is, a box that can provide block storage and file storage. Typically, we see boxes that [can provide] iSCSI, NFS, CIFS. Some of them do Fibre Channel as well.

We also need to look at this from a slightly different angle and think about what we mean by unified in terms of our footprint or [the actual device]. Because, as we’ll discuss in a second, a lot of these devices are unified from the point of view of being a single footprint. It’s good to understand the two.

So, let’s talk about what we think are driving developments. From the customer side, there’s a lot of benefit in having a unified box. You can actually reduce your cost because you’re putting this into a single footprint. That could reduce your power and cooling [and] could make it a lot more efficient from that perspective. And you can get a single pane of glass to manage the infrastructure, which could reduce your training costs.

A lot of SMBs [will] probably go for this sort of box because it gives them those sorts of nice benefits.

Vendors can see this is a great market to get into because they can move to another niche where companies may not have had a storage product before or maybe want to move to using multiple protocols within their environment and are so taking a file box and upgrading it to a unified box.

So, I think a lot of the vendors are looking for market grab here and looking to take market share from other vendors. We know, for instance, NetApp was very strong in file, and I imagine we’ll see other vendors coming in to try and get some of that market share.

I think we’re probably not likely to see this in enterprise environments because for them the economies of scale don’t really work. They tend to be large organisations that can afford to have dedicated equipment. So, this is for smaller environments that can reduce costs and make things a lot simpler in the way they run their operations.

SearchStorage.co.UK: How do I determine which unified storage architecture suits my environment?

Evans: So, we talked about the different types of protocols that people operate and some people might already have file and [block] in their organisations today, and that may be done a certain way; and they may already have some block devices and they’re looking to consolidate.

There are options for how you can move forward. For instance, you could look at getting a dedicated [unified storage] box … that combines both those functions into one. That has the benefits of being a single footprint, as we’ve discussed.

There are other approaches; for instance, you can place a gateway onto an existing [block] storage device. The HP P4000 gateway does that with [HP’s] block-based storage. The gateway sits above that and allows you to have file and [block] out of the same environment. It’s not as unified as some other solutions, but it may be a way forward for customers if they’ve already invested in [block] technology.

There may be other customers who just decide they want to do a wholesale transformation and pick up their environments and move it lock, stock and barrel and move into that shared environment.

If you want to move to a mixed environment -- that is, unified -- you need to take a careful approach to your performance management. Whereas you had previously two platforms to manage and could look at the performance profiles of those differently, moving them into one box could present issues. So, you’ve got to decide if you’re happy with that approach --moving everything into one. Or, whether you might like something like the gateway approach, which gives you the ability to have the two protocols and some flexibility of your configuration.

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