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Separate or combine tiers in SAN?

If you were setting up a tiered storage environment, with tiers one and two being serviced by a SAN would you set up your tier one (highest performance and availability) and your tier two (same availability, but lower performance) in the same fabrics? Or would you create a set of fabrics for tier one, and a second set of fabrics for tier two? Would you keep the tiers separated or combine them?

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First off, let's start by saying that your SAN fabrics are going to be neutral to the tiering environment, since the port performance is the same. You could create QoS for your servers by using a variety of HBA (e.g., 2 gigabit (Gb) vs 4 Gb) but that can be difficult to manage and is usually only see, in the most advanced tiering deployments.

The most important thing to remember is that storage tiers are really only inherently storage specific, so different tiers can coexist in the same fabric. Accordingly, any of the ways you have outlined the tiers would be fine. You can have as many as your business needs demand, based upon combinations of availability, performance and costs.

It is common in larger enterprises to use of three tiers (one -- high performance/high availability/with DR, two -- high performance/high availability/no DR, and three -- low performance/medium availability, no DR).

However, you should understand the risk of have multiple tiers coexisting on the same servers. So, to that end, consider VMware or Virtual Server partitions supporting different applications on different tiers.

This was first published in January 2006

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