The case for high-end arrays


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The time to buy another high-end storage array has arrived. A cursory review of arrays reveals that each one offers all of the features your organization wants or needs.

They offer: Fibre Channel (FC) with an iSCSI road map, compatibility with the server operating systems in your environment, 24 x 7 technical support, three-year warranties, excellent performance, five-nines of uptime and redundant internal hardware. Each is certified to work with all major FC switch vendors and is supported by the service and support arms of major storage vendors and provides relatively easy-to-use management software.

But there's this one tiny problem--the price tag. After all, why should you pay extra for a monolithic high-end storage array when an array nominally classified as midrange meets your requirements and cost less?

Every day, the line between high-end and midrange storage arrays gets progressively blurrier. Just a few years ago, upscale features such as high performance, availability, reliability and capacity were generally the domain of the monolithic or high-end storage arrays. Now they are appearing on a rising number of modular or midrange arrays.

What's still generally true is that high-end arrays combine more of these features and necessitate fewer trade-offs than midrange ones. So there are still solid reasons why you should pay a premium for high-end storage arrays. The trick is to be precise about exactly what your needs are and exactly which

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products have the features to meet those needs.

High-end storage arrays
Click here for a look at the differences between various high-end storage arrays.

Defining high-end
Even a leading analyst firm like Gartner Inc. dances around the topic of what defines a high-end storage array. Gartner's Magic Quadrant of players for the first half of 2003 renames the monolithic and modular classes of storage as high-end and midrange storage to reflect the shift that's occurring between these classes of arrays. Even though Gartner's reports continue to break out players in the high-end and midrange storage array market, they now include the word "enterprise" in their description for the storage arrays in both of these spaces.

Looking to the vendors for clarification on what constitutes a high-end array doesn't help much either. Some, like Claus Mikkelsen, Hitachi Data Systems' (HDS) senior director of storage applications, take a limited view, asserting that the enterprise space is defined by EMC Corp.'s Symmetrix, HDS' Lightning and IBM Corp.'s Shark. Others, like Chris Bennett, Network Appliance Inc.'s director of platforms and storage, take a broader view, saying that a company's choice of a high-end storage array sets a tone for the level of features and functionality expected in future purchases and reflects the type of storage infrastructure they want to build their organization around.

This obfuscation of what constitutes a high-end storage array creates a new challenge for users. With the growing number of specialized storage arrays on the market, organizations can no longer look to a default industry definition or point to some vendor's storage array and expect that definition or array to be the standard by which they measure products. You now need to define for yourself which high-end storage arrays will meet the various requirements of your business.

It's crucial to get your company's definition of high-end storage arrays aligned with your business environment. An incorrect or incomplete alignment can mean the wrong selection of an array and in a worst-case scenario, result in unexpected downtime and loss of data.

Coming up with the checklist to align your environment with today's high-end storage arrays may require incorporating features traditionally found in monolithic storage arrays such as performance, availability, reliability, connectivity and capacity. You will likely need to expand this list to include the feature of price point along with new ones such as serviceability and manageability.

This was first published in September 2003

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