Beyond data volumes

While data storage is a given, today’s storage solutions are required to be able to address application requirements rather than simply managing humongous amounts of data. By Harshal Kallyanpur

Data growth used to be the kick-off for a conversation on storage technologies. Solutions that were offered included ever larger capacity drives as well as faster or more flexible technologies such as Solid State Drives (SSDs) and Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCoE).

Today, a combination of application-driven needs alongside wider deployment of virtualization is fueling demand for storage solutions that are app-aware.

Some organizations are in the process of rehashing storage infrastructure that may have reached its end of life. Others, whose hands may be tied by budget constraints, are focusing on optimizing existing investments, without having to go through extensive hardware refreshes.

Aman Munglani, Research Director – Gartner, commented that a lot of organizations believed that their older infrastructure was not agile or efficient and that it made sense from a cost perspective to invest in newer economical storage solutions.

“A lot of the storage equipment comes with a three year warranty and unless post-warranty support is a part of the deal, it does not make economic sense for these organizations to hold on to their traditional infrastructure,” informed Munglani.

“Anticipating the increase in storage demands, organizations typically invested in storage infrastructure that would help them meet these demands for the next five to seven years. However, it does not prove to be an economical model and companies are looking at investing in scale out systems, such that the capacity can grow according to the needs of the business,” he added.

Organizations want software solutions that understand and talk to their business applications with a certain degree of automation.

According to Amit Luthra, National Manager, Storage Solutions Marketing, Dell, large enterprises who have been traditionally investing in technology are second or third time buyers of technology nowadays. SMBs too have started moving from storage within servers, to DAS and from DAS to SAN.

 “IT decision makers are not looking at hardware specifications such as number of ports or cache. They are more interested in the software functionalities offered by the storage solution that would help reduce inefficiencies in the data center,” observed Luthra.

First time storage buyers are looking at storage solutions that can be readily deployed and easily accessed. Mature storage buyers, on the other hand, are looking for application-level integration.

Organizations investing in virtualization want to ensure that the storage solution can manage the virtualization layer. When it comes to deploying storage for a messaging or ECM implementation, the underlying storage platform has to be able to seamlessly work with these applications.

Abhijit Potnis, Director Technology Solutions – India and SAARC at EMC, said, “Conversations are no longer about SAN or NAS. Customers are asking about storage solutions that can handle their application requirements. People are saying that they want to deploy SAP or Microsoft Exchange and they want to know if a solution can handle it.”

Potnis added that EMC’s solutions offered up to 80 points of integration with a VMware-based infrastructure.

Monish Darda, CTO, Icertis, felt that most Indian organizations had traditionally stuck to a single vendor for their storage needs and that they had less of heterogenity to deal with.

Enterprise-class SSDs are fast but expensive. Vendors use them sparingly for the topmost tier in their multi-tier architectures or for caching frequently accessed data.

Vivekanand Venugopal, Vice President & General Manager, India for Hitachi Data Systems, said, “Fewer than 10% of enterprise applications can benefit from SSDs and, for this reason, an enterprise needs to look at its application profile and see if SSDs are applicable.”

According to Potnis of EMC, in a VDI deployment, SSDs could be used for caching to handle boot storms and the like by booting images off SSDs. They are also recommended for databases where performance is critical.

Munglani of Gartner was of the view that SSDs were used for indexing as they were especially suited for read intensive applications rather than write intensive ones.

SSDs are largely finding adoption in automated tiered storage systems. They are employed for performance intensive data operations while the rest is on, say, fiber channel storage. Having said that, a lot of organizations still look at SSDs as a cost-intensive effort and, hence, do not rate them higher in terms of adoption priorities.

Munglani commented, “Organizations are investing in tiered storage solutions as they offer an economical solution to storage requirements.”

Darda said, “Organizations are still evaluating the cost of deploying SSDs. SSD adoption will peak by 2014-15.”

FCoE is not finding a huge amount of adoption in the enterprise as most companies have already invested in fiber channel technology, which is proving adequate for their performance requirements.

Potnis of EMC said, “Enterprises have made significant investments in FC technologies from companies such as Brocade and Cisco. Moving from FC to FCoE is not popular among Indian organizations as it also means adopting the conversion technologies and the availability of skilled resources for FCoE is also limited.“

Storage virtualization
Though storage virtualization has been around for a while, it is perceived as something which is complex to implement or manage and expensive to boot.

According to Venugopal of HDS, organizations were looking at solutions that would boost asset utilization. He said that that enterprises that had implemented storage virtualization had earned a ROI within 12 months while 50% of them had seen one in less than six months.  This apparently allowed enterprises to reclaim close to 30 to 40% of equipment that would have ended up as e-waste. Almost all of HDS’ customers have implemented storage virtualization.

Akhil Kamat, Business Manager, STG, IBM India, had an optimistic view on storage virtualization. Most organizations have virtualized their server infrastructure and are seeing the benefits of the same. As storage virtualization can offer similar benefits, the acceptability of this technology has risen.

According to him, storage virtualization used to address the problem of utilization by consolidating various storage boxes under one layer to make them appear as a single storage pool. Earlier solutions didn’t look at the performance aspect. Current storage technologies can provide performance of over 500,000 IOPS and, therefore, organizations today are considering virtualizing their storage.

“Storage virtualization was expensive till a few years back and the industry itself was fragmented in its approach to the technology. However, vendors have worked towards providing storage virtualization solutions and it is available, even with the smaller solutions at a lower cost,” said Kamat.

DR as a driver
According to Luthra of Dell, a lot of organizations in India that got projects from overseas clients had to put a DR system in place in order to convince the client of their ability to execute the project. Then there are the organizations that deployed DR five years back and were looking for faster recovery.

Many companies have a DR site hosted with a service provider. These service providers are large buyers of enterprise storage systems.

Munglani of Gartner commented, “A lot of service providers are offering DR-as-a-service and some organizations have gone ahead and adopted it. Organizations looking at three-way DR are comfortable in having the primary and secondary site being set up and managed in-house with a third site hosted with a service provider.”

Netmagic Solutions recently partnered with Sanovi to offer DR-as-a-Service to enterprises. The company is offering to host an enterprise’s DR infrastructure, monitor it and conduct DR drills  on a regular basis in order to ensure that the service meets the customer’s DR requirement.

According to Nitin Mishra, VP, Product Management and Solution Engineering, Netmagic Solutions, the cost of creating, running and maintaining a parallel infrastructure to the primary data center is turning out to be an expensive proposition. Companies also have to invest in the right tools for replication, monitoring  and DR drills and integrate the same along with deploying the skilled manpower to manage the setup.

“With our DR-as-a-Service offering, we are providing customers with a DR infrastructure on a per server per month basis. They only pay for the number of application or database servers that they want to host with us for DR purposes rather than hosting a copy of all of their servers on our infrastructure and paying for the same,” said Mishra.

He added that the company charged customers only when they used the DR infrastructure. The customers’ servers were hosted as VMs on Netmagic’s infrastructure and they would come on only at the time of replication and DR drills.

Started in July, Netmagic has already signed up two customers for its DR service offering. Mishra felt that DR-as-a-Service had to be seen as a value added service as DR wasn’t a priority for Indian organizations. Having said that, given a few recent instances of data center or connectivity failure, organizations are looking at DR more seriously than in the past. Mishra concluded that DR as a Service was in its early stages of adoption and that it would see greater acceptance in the next two years.

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