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Data storage efficiency tips: Reuse, virtualize, don't overdo flash

Jon Toigo laid out his plan for data storage efficiency at Storage Decisions: Embrace block virtualization, SRM and archiving, but go easy on flash.

To make their data storage systems run efficiently as possible, storage managers need to think carefully about how they can keep from transferring their old problems to newer, more expensive systems, according to Jon Toigo, CEO and managing principal of Toigo Partners International.

During his keynote on cutting storage costs at Storage Decisions in New York City earlier this month, Toigo said storage managers need to enforce storage resource management (SRM) basics to create more efficient data storage. "Select and deploy an SRM package today," he told the hundreds of storage pros who attended his presentation.

According to Toigo, users should choose hardware-agnostic storage services to help address what he described as one of the biggest challenges facing storage pros today. "We have set up an infrastructure characterized by isolated storage islands policed by rogue processes," Toigo said. "Storage is fast becoming the most expensive component of IT hardware spending."

Data growth rates make current storage practices unsustainable, he explained. By now, most IT pros are tired of hearing the numbers associated with data growth, but most are acutely aware of how fast storage capacity is growing at their companies. One of the biggest problems, Toigo said, is that companies are buying too much tier-one storage when their overall tiering strategy should involve more tier-three data and archived data.

"I think archiving is really the untold story," he said. "Archive is what makes tiering purposeful."

Tiering remains a "partial plan," while archiving adds a data-management dimension. Archiving can include tape, Toigo added, who advised storage pros to consider the newest tape technology as part of their overall data storage efficiency and cost-cutting measures.

Toigo also offered several tips on storage efficiency:

Consider used gear and third-party maintenance. In Toigo's words, "previously loved" gear might provide an affordable option to shiny new storage. He recommended the Association of Service and Computer Dealers International and the North American Association of Telecommunications Dealers to users trying to save money on new investments. However, Toigo acknowledged, the "real problem is that these are no longer that [energy] efficient," as they were often built during the pre-green era of IT computing.

Virtualize your existing block storage. Toigo reminded users that most services do not need to be implemented near the disk, and are hosted on array controllers only because that is where the vendors want them to be.

"Storage is a resource delivered through a combination of hardware and plumbing augmented by software services," he said, encouraging users to think about storage outside of traditional arrays. "The hardware is the commodity stuff. The software is typically a mechanism for adding value -- in the form of specialized services to the storage hardware -- and for adding digits to the price sticker," Toigo explained. But virtualizing your existing block storage can be a good first step toward cutting costs.

Stop buying tier-one storage for every new application. "I know that everyone wants their new application to shine," Toigo said. But not every application requires performance storage. "Why are we doing tier one for everything?" he asked. Tier-one storage is a "five-year journey" requiring a commitment to a specific vendor to realize actual value from high-availability and throughput features. Users should be asking whether all the software features available at a tier-one price -- such as clustering, scaling and automated provisioning -- are truly a "simplification … or a justification for delivering fewer platforms [that are] differentiated by support for different workloads," he said.

Augment with flash only where it makes sense. While he's not anti-flash, Toigo cautioned users against getting carried away with it. The technology is still improving, and the conversation is moving away from one narrowly focused on speed to one that includes the important issue of latency.

Instead of a huge numbers of spindles to achieve high IOPS, Toigo said, hybrid arrays that mix solid-state drives (SSDs) and spinning disks are a logical next step. In the future, "sensible ideas will focus on 'What is the latency redirection of flash?'" he said. But in today's flash market, memory wear is still an issue despite what vendors call memory wear leveling.

Understanding the concept of wear leveling is important to today's storage pros, he said. In addition, "non-volatility is not guaranteed," and power failures can corrupt SSD data. Consider flash as a percentage of your overall purchases but not a place to spend all your new budget dollars. Well-designed hybrids make more sense than an all-flash array strategy in most cases, Toigo noted.

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