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Data deduplication is also moving to the primary storage space. Once only used for backup and archiving applications, NetApp, Nexenta Systems Inc., Nimbus Data Systems Inc., Permabit Technology Corp. and others are applying deduplication technology in arrays and appliances. “NetApp’s deduplication technology [formerly known as A-SIS] is optimized for both primary [performance and availability] as well as secondary [capacity-optimized backup, archive and DR] storage requirements,” said Val Bercovici, NetApp’s cloud czar. NetApp integrated deduplication into its storage software and claims no latency overhead on I/O traffic.

Automated tiered storage

One hot area of innovation for the largest enterprise storage vendors is the transformation of their arrays from fixed RAID systems to granular, automatically tiered storage devices. Smaller companies like 3PAR and Compellent (now part of Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell, respectively) kicked off this trend, but EMC, Hitachi Data Systems and IBM are delivering this technology as well.

A new crop of startups, including Nexenta, are also active in this area. “NexentaStor leverages SSDs for hybrid storage pools, which automatically tier frequently accessed blocks to the SSDs,” noted Evan Powell, Nexenta’s CEO. Powell also said that his firm’s software platform allows users to supply their own SSDs, which he claims reduces the cost of entry for this technology.

EMC has added virtual provisioning

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and automated tiering across its product line. “EMC took a new storage technology [flash] and used it to deliver both greater performance as well as cost savings,” said Chuck Hollis, EMC’s global marketing chief technology officer. “Best of all, it’s far simpler to set up and manage.”

Like caching, automated tiered storage improves data storage system performance as much as it attacks the cost of capacity. By moving “hot” data to faster storage devices (10K or 15K rpm disks or SSD), tiered storage systems can perform faster than similar devices without the expense of widely deploying these faster devices. Conversely, automated tiering can be more energy- and space-efficient because it moves “bulk” data to slower but larger-capacity drives.

Innovation in storage

Enterprise storage vendors must maintain compatibility, stability and performance while advancing the state of the art in technology -- goals that may sometimes seem at odds. Although smaller companies have been a little more nimble at introducing new innovations like capacity optimization and virtualization-aware storage access, the large vendors are also moving quickly. They’ve put into service solid-state caching and automated tiered storage, and are moving forward in other areas. Whether through invention or acquisition, innovation is alive and well in enterprise storage.

BIO: Stephen Foskett is an independent consultant and author specializing in enterprise storage and cloud computing. He is responsible for Gestalt IT, a community of independent IT thought leaders, and organizes their Tech Field Day events. He can be found online at GestaltIT.com, FoskettS.net and on Twitter at @SFoskett.

This was first published in August 2011

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