Leverage existing network-attached storage and block storage for better data storage management

Learn data storage management practices to better leverage your existing NAS and block storage and improve access to both types of storage.

Improving your enterprise data storage management – essentially, better leveraging your network-attached storage (NAS) data or block storage data, as well as access to both – is a challenge for many IT organizations.

When considering best practices for improving data storage management, Jeff Boles, senior analyst and director, validation services at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group, explains how to better leverage NAS data storage systems via data classification and tiering tools and techniques. When it comes to block storage, Boles advises users to consider performance management tools and thin provisioning.

He also recommends virtualized I/O and next-generation fabrics to improve access to block storage, as well as wide-area data services and data optimization to improve access to NAS data storage systems. You can listen to our interview with Jeff on improving data storage management or read the transcript below.

Q. How can users better leverage their existing NAS data storage?

A. When it comes to [NAS data storage, or] file storage, there's always been data classification and tiering as a possibility for optimizing your storage. At the heart of the matter is how you understand where you're applying your storage resources -- if you're storing the right types of files in the right places, if you're using your storage for data that's actually important to the business.

Data classification with e-discovery behind it has been driven to a whole new level of maturity, and if you haven't looked in a while, there's a whole new set of tools out there that you can access to classify your data, figure out what's going on, and really move and optimize it. And in fact, even tools like StorNext from Quantum Corp. has been working behind the scenes, and they're getting new capabilities over time because now they're at the heart of data deduplication. But StorNext was originally a data archiving platform. So, there's interesting possibilities.

Without talking specifically about storage technologies, let's talk about something that you might apply to move your data and optimize your storage better today. Those are typically data classification and/or file virtualization tools – things like the F5 Networks Inc.'s Acopia or EMC Corp.'s Rainfinity. Or there's a relatively new company to that field of file virtualization, AutoVirt Inc., with solutions targeted more at the small- and medium-sized business (SMB).

In addition, a lot of the data classification vendors out there have some tools that you can apply alongside of a NetApp filer, for instance, or EMC Celerra, and use things like the file mover API to tier some of your data to other storage systems.

But what you really want to dig into is a tool that can help you understand your data without too much complexity. You don't want to get into "analysis paralysis" when it comes to tagging stuff and getting all kinds of metadata from your existing files. But you want something that understands who's using that file, how often it's accessed and how important it is to the business.

Q. What advice do you have for end users looking to make better use of their block data storage systems?

A. Let's talk about identifying how you're using your existing block storage with an eye toward performance. There are a lot of technologies out there, like thin provisioning; you either have that or you don't today. Certainly if you're acquiring new stuff, you should never overlook thin provisioning and make sure that you're thin provisioning inside of the system is built to deliver the performance capabilities that you expect of it.

But if you're not in that place today, let's talk about using your block storage a little bit longer than normal and with an eye toward performance. Vendors like Akorri are bringing performance management tools to the table that can help you peer into your infrastructure and understand performance requirements in various applications. [Companies] like Virtual Instruments can give you really deep, packet-level insight that they can roll up into big dashboard data to help you understand your environment.

There's even things out there like Performance Pack for EVA from Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. that help you get this kind of visibility as well – these tools can help you understand on a session basis, an application basis, what kind of performance resources you require, and maybe you can start differentiating a little bit better between how you provision storage in your environment and doing things like restricting bandwidth within your fabric if you have that type of intelligence within your switches. Or you can reconfigure your LUNs [logical unit numbers] on the back end so that you're not taking up as many resources and maybe your RAID volume constructions are a little bit different, your virtualized volumes are a little bit different, so you're not sucking down the same performance for every application when not every application needs it.

Q. How can users better their data storage management regarding access to both their NAS and block storage systems?

A. There are big opportunities in block [data storage] – virtualized I/O, for instance, next-generation fabrics for select sets of equipment, things like Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). When it comes to buying new equipment, don't just keep provisioning host bus adapters [HBAs] and networks separately and redundant connectivity all over your enterprise and consuming your Fibre ports if that's a limited resource. [Consider] next-generation fabrics and things like virtualized I/O, where you're doing I/O to your local servers with InfiniBand or with Ethernet and running FCoE over it, where you can take this out over a single wire or two wires from a server to a gateway that only consumes a couple of ports from your fabric.

Then let's turn an eye toward [improving access to NAS data storage]. You shouldn't overlook the opportunity to spread your use of wide-area data services, wide-area data optimization for [NAS data storage]. This can let you consolidate file storage in single locations. Maybe you have some of that in your enterprise today, but you're not making full use of it.

Look at getting more of your data back into a central location where you can apply your time and effort to the management of it better; [make sure] you have the right wide-area data services/wide-area file services in place so that users can still access it like a localized resource but keep it in a central location. So, look for those types of opportunities – compressing bandwidth, moving data back to a central place, not occupying as many resources, when it comes to connecting into your existing fabric.

This was first published in December 2009

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