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Automated tiering: Enabler for storage consolidation

Storage tiering, where data is automatically placed and migrated between different storage media, improves the performance of a system by exploiting the access characteristics of data. However, the net effect of tiering sometimes gets overlooked in discussions about maximizing storage system performance.

Storage consolidation is one of the major benefits from automated tiering. The Evaluator Group survey of IT professionals illustrates the benefits of storage consolidation, including:

• Increased utilization by reducing the number of storage systems with reserved or unused capacity.
• Reduced requirements for management and administration of storage systems. Along with bringing more advanced management software with newer storage systems, reducing the number of storage systems reduces the amount of time required for administration.
• Reduction in power, cooling, and physical space is a common result of implementing new technology. Consolidating systems where a new storage system can support larger workloads typically has a greater impact on the environmental reductions.
• Reduced maintenance costs/support contracts from fewer storage systems.

What role does storage tiering play in consolidation? Tiering can maximize the performance of a storage system and may be the most important enabler for consolidation from an economic standpoint.

Implementing storage tiering on solid state drives (SSDs) and high capacity disks requires capabilities built into the embedded storage system software to intelligently and automatically move data for optimal performance.

Results from deployments in customer environments verify the effectiveness of storage tiering, even when SSDs make up only four percent or less of the total capacity. This brings a new economic calculation to bear for storage tiering and the return on investment for a storage consolidation project.

Vendors are increasingly focusing on the automation and effectiveness of the tiering implementation, especially with the emergence of SSD as a storage tier. These are not esoteric elements in a storage system but critical, high value functions with the potential for storage efficiency improvements and relatively quick economic payback. This means the understanding of how the tiering works, how effective it is, and the differences in product costs with the amount of SSDs required for optimization requires evaluation and independent information for making a decision. Tiering has huge payback and needs to be included in the strategy for IT operations.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).

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