Speed excites, but how about cool, tight storage?

In 2011, Fusion-io disrupted the enterprise storage industry with their high-performance PCIe flash memory cards. EMC responded this week announcing its own VFCache product.  Suddenly there is a hotly contested race and  it’s up to the rest of the industry to respond.

I love going fast on bikes and skis, but fast is a relative thing. There are always people who will go a lot faster than me, but I don’t need to keep up with them to be happy. The same is true for driving – I drive a 4-cylinder Ford Fusion because I love Sync and I don’t care if it’s not fast.

Cold will be hot

The “good enough for me” principle works for storage too. Most companies have a lot of data that doesn’t need high performance I/O. Server flash products address the hottest data a company has, but what about all the “cool” or “cold” data that is infrequently or never accessed? It typically occupies storage systems that were built to compete based on performance. Even the lowest-performing tiers of most enterprise storage systems significantly over-serve customers by providing service levels far beyond what is needed.  At some point another industry disruption will occur as new products emerge that significantly reduce the cost of storing cool data.

A difficult problem for storage administrators is that there is no way to separate cool data that will be accessed again in the future from cold data that will never be accessed again. One approach is to archive cool data to tape, but the delays and difficulties in locating and restoring cool data when it reheats are not all that comforting. Another approach is to send cool data to an online cloud storage tier provided by enterprise vendors such as Microsoft, Amazon, Rackspace, AT&T, and HP. Cool data in the cloud that reheats is transparently moved back to a local, warmer tier until it cools off again. Data stored in a cloud tier does not require the power, cooling and footprint overhead of data stored in the corporate data center storage and it also reduces the cost and impact of storage system end-of-life events.

"Tight" storage looks good

But cloud storage tiers are not the whole answer. Customers will want to ensure that cool/cold data doesn’t consume any unnecessary storage capacity.  Cloud storage products that incorporate the various forms of data reduction technologies such as thin provisioning, deduplication and compression will provide the “tightest” fit for this data by running at capacity utilizations that are unheard of with primary enterprise storage today. In addition to saving customers on storage costs, these products will also increase the return on investment by saving customers on bandwidth and transaction costs that some cloud service providers charge.  Keeping a tight grip on storage expenses will become synonymous with using the tightest, most efficient cloud-integrated storage systems.




New storage soap opera gets rave reviews

EMC’s introduction of VFCache this week and the sudden mutual slamming of Fusion-io is classic storage theater. We should all enjoy the moment as an online event featuring technology marketing as entertainment for uber geeks.

The plot is well-worn: A scintillating upstart, (Fusion-io) starts setting the world on fire with its technology and bravado.  The established front runner (EMC) becomes fiendishly jealous of all the attention and dollars the little upstart is amassing.  Actions that are only hinted at publicly but occur invisibly behind closed doors are speculated upon by pundits. Details of these liasons are never released, but some people say they have pictures. Then…. nothing – all is silent.

At some point the front-runner decides to make and not buy after years of market and technology analysis.  The process of birthing the new knock-off begins in earnest and the company starts preparing for the delivery. At the special pre-ordained moment, the front runner announces the birth of its creation with all the pomp and circumstance it can muster, including body punches at the upstart, intended to demostrate its power and might.

At this point, a virtual abyss opens beneath the upstart as storage soap opera fans begin to wonder if this could actually be the death of the fair-haired and wild bad-child upstart. There is a great inhalation of air as the audience anxiously waits for the next morsel of information that the internet can produce.   Thank god a posse of bloggers shows up to set the record straight and defend the honor, if not the longevity of the upstart.

This is as good as it gets in our industry and I’m looking forward to all the installments of this series.  Stay Tuned!