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Are you paying too much for storage?

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Midrange rising
The most immediate storage pricing action is taking place at the boundary between high-end and midrange storage systems. Midrange storage systems, such as EMC's Clariion, Hitachi Data Systems' Thunder, Hewlett-Packard's Enterprise Virtual Array, LSI Logic's E-series (resold as IBM's FAStT and StorageTek's D series), Sun's T3, Xiotech's Magnitude, and others are offering performance, availability and manageability features that meet--and in some cases exceed--what high-end systems deliver. And they do so at a fraction of the cost.

"We have functionality that competes feature to feature with the high-end systems at 80% of the cost," says McCormick.

HP--now the overall leader in storage following the Compaq merger--is looking to modular, midrange storage as the mainstream future. HP's Enterprise Virtual Array--now equipped with broad OS support and services such as snapshot and cloning--fits the bill for most users who don't require mainframe ESCON or FICON connections, according to Mike Feinberg, chief technology officer.

"The midrange is growing up fast," concedes Chuck Hollis, vice president, EMC Corp. The specifications of today's midrange systems "look like a checklist of the feature sheet of a high-end system," he says.

Within the midrange itself, prices continue to drop while features go up, such as the new Clariions. In addition to many features formerly found only on EMC's

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Symmetrix, the CX400 list price starts at $62,000 for 180GB raw capacity and includes installation, services and warranty. At full capacity--4.4TB--the list price is $217,500, which drops the per-gigabyte cost below $50 (5 cents/MB). Although it's still pretty pricey compared to the newest disruptive technologies, it's a bargain compared to what the high end traditionally goes for.

Perhaps even more indicative of the dynamics of today's market is the CX200, a product conceived of by EMC's new partner, Dell. One of the champions of PC economics, Dell's input resulted in this new entry-level Clariion, at a starting price of $28,000.

But some experts still see a broad role for high-end monolithic storage. Steve Jeffreys, general manager for hardware and software qualification at Storage Networks, Waltham, MA, says, "Clariion performs very well for streaming audio and video. Symmetrix still holds an advantage when it comes to broad interoperability and connectivity."

Hu Yoshida, chief technology officer for HDS, sees increasingly important core functions that can still only be found in boxes such as HDS's high-end Lightning series.

"The kind of global cache architecture that we have is the only way to guarantee data integrity with remote replication," he says. Yoshida expects Federal regulations and pressure from insurance companies to make mirroring at a distance mandatory for the financial sector. EMC's Hollis ticks off three more reasons why enterprise storage managers still need to consider high-end subsystems:

  • They can handle more consolidation, meaning they can connect with more hosts, typically hundreds, but thousands in some cases and provide higher storage capacity--up to 20TB normally--sometimes more.
  • They have more processors than midrange systems, enough to ensure that service quality doesn't degrade even under extreme loads or in the event of failure. If one processor fails, the others can pick up the slack without a noticeable drop in performance.
  • They can recover much faster than even the fastest midrange systems, seconds or minutes rather than hours. Like Yoshida, Hollis points to architectural differences between the high end and the midrange that will always result in a performance gap. A high-end architecture includes a different backplane and channel and bus design that substantially increases the amount of host connections and disk array capacity the storage system can support.

For example, midrange systems like Clariion deliver very high I/O rates per channel compared to a Symmetrix channel, but Symmetrix has greater aggregate rate due to far more channels, says Jeffreys. Similarly, a Symmetrix is architected for redundant everything, adds Porter. If any element fails, another can take over immediately. Midrange systems have some redundant components, but not everything.

"If you are a bank, an airline or a phone company, and you can't have a service slowdown, then you need the high end," says Hollis.

Most everyone else, by implication, can probably get away with midrange storage.

This was first published in December 2002

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