Feature

Midrange rivals top dog

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The real differences
Vendor marketing rhetoric surrounding the numerous midrange array features obfuscate the real differences that exist among storage arrays and which features truly matter. Ease of use, five 9s, redundant hardware, scalability and tiered storage all show up as talking points on product data sheets; unfortunately, vendors rarely provide details as to how their array delivers on these features, how these features will significantly benefit the user or how the product is different from competing arrays.

Ambiguous terms like "ease of use" inspired Deanne Brueggeman, support services manager at St. Louis-based Arch Coal Inc., to list the different vendor's high-end midrange array features as starting points when evaluating them. Once the major categories were listed, Brueggeman created specific sub-points for each feature to ensure the storage array delivers specific functionality in the manner she expects. For instance, when verifying a vendor's claims about the availability of its midrange arrays, she looks at how the vendor defines terms like meantime between failures, as well as how storage array volumes are managed.

Five 9s is used increasingly by vendors to describe the availability of their arrays, but vendor definitions of five 9s vary. When applied to storage arrays, five 9s is almost always understood to mean fewer than six minutes of downtime per year--planned or unplanned--but that's not how all vendors

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see it. EMC Corp., for example, excludes planned downtime from the definition when applying it to its Clariion CX3 model 80 midrange array. Other vendors either refuse to define it or are vague in terms of how they use it or in what context this term applies to their midrange arrays.

High-end midrange arrays
Click here for High-end midrange arrays: Key features and considerations (PDF).

Users also need to quantify what a vendor means when it says its array is "available." Most high-end midrange storage arrays contain only two controllers; but during periods of firmware upgrades or in the event of a failure of one of the controllers, there will be a 50% drop in performance. This, of course, will be an issue with applications that require high performance 24x7x365.

This was first published in May 2007

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