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Self-healing systems
There's plenty of noise being made in this arena and it can be tough for users to decide what to focus on with so many vendors shouting so loudly. What can a self-healing system do for you? It can eliminate a potential single point of failure in a RAID array, for one. Self-healing systems reduce the risk of data loss on a disk drive caused by media defects by inspecting adjacent areas around the first defect. The system then reconstructs the data associated with the first defect using parity. All of this can be accomplished in the background to allow the host uninterrupted access to data.

"The whole point of these systems is to reduce maintenance windows and to prolong technology investments," says Brian Babineau, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), Milford, MA.

In April, Atrato Inc. and Xiotech Corp. introduced storage systems with a new pledge that customers could expect years of operation without needing any service. Pitching their products as self-healing systems with sealed components containing multiple disk drives, both vendors say they avoid RAID rebuilds by copying data off a troubled drive and, depending on whether the drive has failed, replacing it and copying data back to the new or repaired drive.

These so-called no-maintenance disk arrays are designed to avoid hard-drive swapping. Self-healing systems have been

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getting their share of press for many years, but as storage budgets tighten, any array that cuts the amount of time storage professionals spend maintaining and fixing troubled disks is time (and money) saved that can be spent on other data protection issues.

Self-healing storage technology isn't a new concept and some storage pros will remember IBM's Shark, its TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Server with self-healing capabilities that was introduced in 2002; yet it wasn't until 2005 that IBM said the "era of self-healing technology" had arrived. And archiving systems like EMC's Centera have been billed as self-healing for years.

We may be going out on a limb with this prediction, but we're betting that a demand for quicker, more efficient rebuilds and increased pressure to provide 24/7 support for business processes will propel self-healing systems into a "must-have" feature for all storage arrays in 2009.

This was first published in December 2008

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