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Managing tiered storage a pain in the neck

Tiered storage is being adopted en masse, but a recent survey by TheInfoPro highlights the problems users are facing in managing tiered environments.

Tiered storage promises all kinds of goodies, not least of all a way to take advantage of lower cost disk while paving the way to some type of data lifecycle management process. So far, however, it's failing to deliver on this promise.

Based on interviews with 153 storage professionals from North American Fortune 1000 companies, TheInfoPro research firm found that users are dissatisfied with the management of tiered storage.

"The inability to easily move data between tiers is the biggest pain point … More tiers means more complexity," said Ken Male, CEO of TheInfoPro. "When you combine this with the fact that storage management products today struggle to work with heterogeneous tiers and that there is very little chargeback capability based on usage, the move to tiers presents significant challenges."

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Users who took part in TheInfoPro study commented on these issues on condition of anonymity:

"A key question we ponder is: 'Do the tiers need to be from the same vendor?' It seems like Tier-1 and Tier-2 have to be to date when you factor in the management software. So tiers are good from a cost perspective, but I'm not sure if they let you mix the vendors; it is not easy to move data between tiers."

"There is a real dichotomy happening in the market as it relates to tiers. The vendors and users are doing a dance. We, as users, are pushing consolidation and commoditization and there is an inverse effect from vendors who are pushing higher end Fibre Channel as that is where the margin is. Our challenge is the effort to get respective models put together, as ultimately using other tiers helps you reduce your costs overall. Our storage footprint is not shrinking; however, now it is growing at a lower price point. The vendors are trying to make us utilize the higher tiers."

"We're working to implement tiered storage but we need to be able to chargeback based on utilization. We can't yet chargeback. Until we can cost out the different tiers, we can't get anyone to go on anything less than the top tier storage performance -- because we can't tell any user that they'll save money –- because it's allocated today."

Despite the drawbacks, over 90% of the companies interviewed expect to use SATA drives in a tiered storage environment by 2006. And 30% of those currently using Serial ATA drives plan to spend over $500,000 on them this year.

When asked whether they plan to implement tiers within the same frame, 51% of the respondents said "yes" and 49% said "no." There appears to be two different camps forming on how tiers should be implemented. The "no" camp views high-end SAN frames as expensive real estate that should not include low-cost tiers. While the other half sees no value in empty air in a frame and is happy to mix the tiers.

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