Scale-out storage, the big winner for 2010

Scale-out storage enables rapid, on-the-fly expansion of data storage systems that support fast-growing applications. You can start small and grow as your storage needs change.

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Early adopters pave the way for primary storage use and more efficiencies.

In the very first column I wrote for TechTarget in 2010, I questioned whether 2010 might be the breakout year for scale-out storage. Based on the last 12 months, I'd say the answer is a resounding "Yes."

Featuring "pay-as-you grow" scalable architectures and improved manageability, scale-out storage solutions enable rapid, on-the-fly expansion of data storage systems that support fast-growing applications. And, unlike most technologies that require organizations to "spend money to save money," scale-out storage doesn't require a large up-front capital investment. It allows users to start small and grow as their storage needs expand.

While early adopters of scale-out storage have predominantly been firms with large capacity requirements in specific industry verticals, the technology is gaining traction among enterprise users as a viable, broad-based storage infrastructure option. Accentuating the technology's capabilities and compelling value proposition in tandem will only serve to accelerate a widespread market acceptance of scale-out storage.

Server virtualization is another driver. There's a mismatch between the flexible and mobile capabilities of virtual server environments and the hard-mapped, stovepiped nature of traditional scale-up systems. Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) recently conducted research on why organizations are struggling to deploy virtualization more pervasively. It turns out it's often the surrounding technology that's the problem. For example, when ESG asked what developments would have to occur in storage infrastructure to enable more widespread usage of server virtualization, one of the top three reasons listed was "more scalable storage infrastructure to support rapid virtual machine growth."

The rise of scale out

In late 2010, ESG conducted an in-depth survey of 306 IT professionals concerning their organizations' current data storage environments and plans for scale-out architecture. Participants represented midmarket (100 to 999 employees) and enterprise-class (1,000 employees or more) organizations in North America (United States and Canada).

Here's a snapshot of the ESG survey findings regarding scale-out adoption:

  • Use of scale-out storage technology is on the rise. While 18% say they're using scale-out storage, 40% plan to deploy it in the next 24 months and another 26% are interested in the technology. Current use is largely a function of capacity. Organizations managing at least 1 PB of storage capacity are almost twice as likely as those with less than 1 PB (28% vs. 16%) to be current users of scale-out storage technology.
  • Improved scalability, performance, faster provisioning, and lower infrastructure and management costs drive scale-out adoption in enterprise IT. While applications requiring the additional bandwidth and throughput of scale-out storage have historically been a key adoption driver for these platforms, specific application support came out last on the list of adoption drivers for both early and planned adopters. The results of this survey indicate that scale-out storage is transitioning from a line-of-business play to an IT infrastructure decision and, as a result, the motivating factors behind purchases of the technology are also changing.
  • Scale-out usage expands once the technology is adopted in IT. The majority of respondents plan to use scale-out storage for secondary data (64% plan to use scale-out for backups/copies of primary data) and 55% will use it for primary data. But early adopters reflect a reverse trend: 82% of those respondents say they use scale-out storage to support primary data. This turnabout is likely because early adopters buy scale-out storage for scalability and improved throughput, and then expand its use once it's in the door.
  • The adoption of scale-out storage will impact scale-up purchases over time. Nearly one in six organizations will make a wholesale shift to scale-out storage architectures, while the majority (64%) say scale-out will displace some but not all scale-up systems. Within organizations that have already adopted scale-out architectures, the plan is to increase usage; those surveyed report that 35% of their total networked storage resides on scale-out today and 52% of their networked storage data will reside on scale-out systems two years from now.

The bigger truth

Our findings indicate there's significant momentum behind scale-out storage platforms, driven by the flexibility and cost efficiency they can deliver. That's not to say scale-up platforms will disappear; it's much more likely we will see multidimensional scale emerge that will allow users to configure platforms as required in scale-up, scale-out or linear scale, as required for price/performance considerations. And vendors are responding; we've seen announcements to address this market in one way or another from just about everyone. In just the last 18 months, Dell Inc. has EqualLogic and bought Exanet Ltd.; EMC Corp. announced VPlex and bought Isilon Systems Inc.; Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. bought 3PAR and Ibrix; Hitachi Data Systems announced its Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) and extended the BlueArc-powered HNAS line; IBM launched SONAS and has the DS8000. And there are a lot of emerging players, including Gluster, Panasas Inc., Reldata Inc., Scale Computing and Terascala Inc. These platforms vary widely in functionality and maturity, but the good news is that storage technology is evolving (and quickly) to address virtual environments and efficiency concerns. And you, the end user, can start to realize benefits now.

BIO: Terri McClure is a senior storage analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, Mass.

This was first published in January 2011
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