How your SAN will evolve


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Storage arrays, disks and controllers
Storage arrays will continue riding Moore's Law. 10Gb/sec Ethernet and 8Gb/sec FC will be standard interfaces for enterprise arrays. "You'll see the expected increases in performance and capacity from all of the major vendors," says Kyle Fitze, director of marketing in the SAN Division of Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co.'s StorageWorks group.

Storage arrays will continue to consist primarily of hard disk drives (HDDs) in 2013, although the size and form factor may vary. "In five years, most of the storage will be ultra-high-density arrays packing large numbers of drives into small footprints," says Schulz. These arrays will become the norm, not just something for firms facing energy or space constraints.

One technology that's not likely to replace HDD in the array is SSD or flash drives. Vendors currently incorporate SSD in arrays and will continue to do so, but SSD will be reserved for critical applications requiring very high IOPS. HP distinguished technologist Jieming Zhu says two main issues deter rapid adoption of SSD: price and SSD's inherent wear-out factor. Zhu adds that work needs to be done on software that prolongs the life of SSDs and better integrates them with RAID and database applications. "It's a work in progress," he says. (See the related Trends story "

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Much of solid state still on the drawing board,".)

HDD capacity will keep getting bigger, delivering price/performance increases of approximately 40% a year. Low-cost 1.5TB SATA drives will be surpassed by even larger disk drives of 4TB or more. For organizations needing performance greater than 15K rpm, "there's no reason why there can't be 20K or even 22K drives," says Ed Grochowski, conference committee chairman of the International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association (IDEMA).

What you're more likely to see are drives supporting 4K (4,096 bytes) sectors for error correction. This is a completed IDEMA standard and compatibility testing will begin in 2009. By 2013, the 4K sector will be in all new SATA drives (iSCSI drives aren't impacted by sector size) and possibly adopted by the SSD industry.

You should also expect to see more file-oriented, NAS-like storage in the data center. "This will simplify provisioning; it's not nearly as complex to manage as block-based storage," says StorageIO Group's Schulz. He expects file-oriented storage to be widely accepted even for database applications.

At about the same time, the data center will begin to see the early implementations of object-based storage, notes Schulz. Object-based storage contains richer meta data than block storage. "It becomes a question of which is the better level of abstraction: the richness of the object-based system or the efficiency of block storage," says Rick Gillett, VP of data systems architecture at F5 Networks Inc. (see "The benefits of object storage," below). By relying on in-depth meta data, object-based systems will know more about the data and enable intelligence in the storage system to better manage the data.

The benefits of object storage
SAN storage in five years will be increasingly object based. Object-based storage resembles file-based storage except it makes greater use of meta data. But object-based storage isn't a total win-win proposition. It trades the efficiency and performance of block-based storage for easier management and more automation.

Object meta data will let you manage the storage more effectively and apply policies based on the data content, regulatory requirements, ownership of the data and so on. The meta data can also be used to dynamically store data at the most appropriate service levels.

Faced with surging volumes of data, more intelligence will be needed in storage systems. Where that intelligence should reside is an open question. "The SAN is taking over much of the intelligence that used to be in the server," says ReiJane Huai, chairman and CEO at FalconStor Software. SAN-based intelligence already provides services like snapshots and replication.

By 2013, storage controllers will have sufficient processing power to run, for example, database apps. "Just think about running Oracle on a controller right next to the storage array. Just imagine what that could do for database performance," notes Huai.

This was first published in December 2008

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