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Modular arrays earn new trust

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Application fits
Modular arrays can host essentially any application that sits on a monolithic array including performance intensive ones. Take databases, for example. Relational databases produce random queries for data. The ability to retrieve data in the array from disk drives plays an increased role since it is unlikely the request will result in a cache hit. When the request goes to disk, factors like disk speed, back end architecture and processor speeds come into play more than the front end cache. So although modular arrays tend to contain less front-end cache, the larger cache memory in monolithic arrays does not improve performance since it is not used.

Files such as reference data, log files, and tar files rarely need high performance drives, but do need to remain online. Storage administrators should look at arrays as IBM's FastT line that support serial ATA drives.

Users at the small and midsize business level may even want to deploy ATA arrays in their production environments. Says The Evaluator Group's Kerns: "The performance on ATA arrays is a lot less, reliability is arguably less and I do not consider them midrange arrays but secondary. With that said, they absolutely have fits in the enterprise, especially in the small and midrange businesses since performance is typically not an issue."

More risk-adverse users should consider putting I/O intensive and 24x7 production

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applications on monolithic arrays. Many of the "gotchas" with monolithic arrays are documented with workarounds and patches readily available. This may or may not be true with the latest modular arrays. To avoid those risks but still take advantage of modular arrays, users should start to deploy them in three different ways. First, for important applications that don't require 24x7 availability such as evening batch jobs; second, for staging backup data to disk prior to moving to tape; and third, for storing reference data or infrequently accessed files that don't require expensive disk arrays.

Two software features currently offered by two enterprise class vendors will help to integrate modular arrays into an enterprise storage environment. HDS is the only one of the major storage vendors that uses the same software to manage both their monolithic and modular arrays. This means a user may deploy an HDS 9980 in their production environment and an HDS 9580 in a staging area for backup or offsite as a secondary recovery option. This provides a relatively safe way to introduce modular technology into the environment.

EMC's modular Clariion CX600 array offers a software feature that allows data at the block level to be migrated from any vendor's storage array to the CX600 or pushed from the CX600 to any vendor's storage array. This feature allows real-time data migration of data to and from the CX600 without the need to buy and deploy special software such as Veritas' Volume Replicator or Fujitsu Softek's TDMF Open at the server level .

Modular arrays are powerful new tools in the storage arsenal. High-end users should proceed cautiously and test the functionality of these arrays in their environments; small and midsize businesses should feel confident in deploying these arrays. While users need to keep an eye on vendor lock-in, networking complexity and management issues, they should not view these issues as obstacles to rolling out this latest generation of modular arrays.

This was first published in January 2004

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