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Hot storage technologies for 2012

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These six cutting-edge storage technologies are ready for prime time, and can help transform your data center.

By Andrew Burton, Rich Castagna, Todd Erickson, John Hilliard, Rachel Kossman, Sonia Lelii, Ellen O’Brien, Dave Raffo, Francesca Sales, Carol Sliwa, Sue Troy

What makes a storage technology “hot”? In our book, anything new that makes storing your company’s data a faster, better or more efficient process is worthy of the “hot” label. But it must also represent a new approach to dealing with nagging issues. Essentially, it has to be the answer to the question, “If they can send a man to the moon, why can’t they . . .?”

We found six technologies that can store massive amounts of data effortlessly, perform at lightning speeds, turn old assets like tape and server disks into something new, and put the cloud within reach of enterprise data centers.

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As usual, our hot techs mix equal parts of cutting-edge cool and practicality. Object-based storage throws out tradition and replaces file systems with a simplified flat-file approach to managing data. Linear Tape File System goes the other way and adds a file system to tapes to make them look like disks. Both are timely arrivals on a storage scene that’s beginning to buckle under the weight of too much data.

With multi-level cell (MLC) flash storage the medium is the message as rapidly developing technologies have turned this relatively inexpensive type of solid-state storage into an enterprise mainstay. But even as flash hogs the headlines, server-based storage is making a comeback with innovative ways to share directly attached assets.

Last year we predicted that cloud storage services would emerge, but this year we’re putting a finer point on that prediction and singling out two technologies that will make it easy to integrate on-premises systems with cloud-based storage resources that essentially treat the cloud as just another tier.

1. Object-based storage

Network-attached storage (NAS) isn’t the only way to handle file storage. It’s not even always the best way.

Object-based storage systems are gaining a lot of attention and starting to make inroads as an alternative to scale-out NAS. Object storage has unlimited scalability, is less reliant on processing and high-speed networks, and is a fundamental building block of public and private cloud storage.

But it’s not perfect. Object storage generally isn’t a high-performance technology and it lacks the standardization of file systems, making it tougher to move from one vendor’s object storage system to another. It’s also poorly suited to data that frequently changes, and often eats up more storage capacity than traditional data storage. But the technology makes it possible to archive huge datastores cheaper, with less power and within a smaller footprint than high-performance NAS.

Object storage uses unique identifiers to access data instead of physical addresses. The data is accessed based on the name and unique ID; the storage system reads the metadata and object ID. There’s no need for a single global namespace, cache coherency or high-speed networks.

Object storage products are sold by a mix of established vendors and innovative startups. Products from established vendors include EMC Atmos, DataDirect Networks Web Object Scaler (WOS), Dell DX Object Storage, NetApp StorageGrid and Rackspace OpenStack. Products from startups include Amplidata AmpliStor, Basho Riak, Caringo CAStor, Cleversafe Slicestor, Mezeo Cloud Storage and Scality Ring.

“Objects let you have a shared-nothing architecture where every node and controller mechanism doesn’t have to know where every piece of data resides,” said Andrew Reichman, principal analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. “You can scale bigger for cheaper. As we talk more and more about massive multi-petabyte repositories of data, that scalability gets relevant.”

Object storage’s characteristics -- particularly its scalability, location independence and accessibility via HTTP -- make it well suited for storage clouds. The metadata allows administrators to apply rules that can deliver built-in multi-tenancy, encryption and chargeback. Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), Microsoft Azure and Nirvanix Cloud Storage are storage clouds based on object storage.

Other uses for object storage include archiving (particularly medical images) and file storage that scales to multiple petabytes.

The École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland turned to Amplidata to help digitize more than 5,000 hours of video archives from the Montreux Jazz Festival dating to 1967. When the project began two years ago, Alexandre Delidais, EPFL’s director of operations, said he couldn’t find a disk storage system that met his needs and price point. EPFL bought LTO tape and continued to search.

Delidais said he was looking for storage that could scale to petabytes with low energy and power consumption, had faster restore times than tape and fit his budget.

“Nothing was really available with those requirements,” he said. “We couldn’t find a disk-based technology; they were all too costly or used too much energy.”

Delidais discovered Amplidata AmpliStor in late 2010. EPFL bought 1 PB of storage to start, and will split that between two locations and replicate. Delidais said he’s approximately 20% through his digitization project.

Of course, there still aren’t that many multi-petabyte storage implementations, so object storage isn’t yet mainstream.

“Not a lot of buyers really need hundred-petabyte repositories now,” Forrester Research’s Reichman said. “But it seems to me the long-term outlook will be object storage. It’s a better way to do file storage.”

This was first published in December 2011

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