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Use policy-based automation to maximize your flash investment

Storage automation tools offer a wide range of functionality that can benefit shops using flash storage alongside traditional disk.

Storage automation is often marketed as a tool for decreasing the time and cost associated with the storage provisioning process, but it is capable of much more.their

Storage automation technology can vary widely from one vendor to the next, but core features are generally available across the board. Some can even help an organization to maximize its investment in flash storage.

Flash storage is high cost and high performance, so it is more suitable for some workloads than others. In the past, a data storage administrator had to decide when and where to use flash storage. But with IT departments in large organizations receiving possibly thousands of storage provisioning requests each year, this manual process was deemed inefficient and costly.

Policy-based automation speeds the provisioning process by locating the appropriate storage resources and allocating them to fulfill the request. IT can specify the media type to be used for various workloads via automated provisioning policies.

Policy-driven storage provisioning and private cloud

Policy-driven storage provisioning becomes especially important when users are free to deploy their own virtualized workloads through a self-service portal in a private cloud-type environment. Automation policies can ensure storage is provisioned appropriately based on the kind of virtual machine the user creates.

For instance, such a policy set might use flash storage for a database server, but use rotational media for a domain controller. These policies are important because users may not know which type of storage to use for a particular workload. Or they may be tempted to allocate flash for every workload they create. Automated storage provisioning policies can take the storage medium decision out of the user's hands and ensure high-cost flash resources are used only for appropriate workloads.

Storage reclamation/dynamic workload migration

Given the relatively high cost and low capacity of flash storage, it is important to use flash storage where it will be the most beneficial to the organization's business processes.

Another feature that may be helpful to organizations that use a mix of flash and rotational disk media is storage reclamation. Some storage vendors provide mechanisms for identifying flash storage that is no longer actively used and reclaiming it for future use. This might include old virtual hard disks, volumes that no longer contain any data or storage that has been completely abandoned. By reclaiming unused storage, an organization can maximize its flash investment by reducing wasted capacity.

Some vendors offer a similar feature set that is sometimes referred to as dynamic workload migration and media resizing. While vendors seem to have their own names for these features, there are a couple of key aspects to note:

  • An automated process monitors storage I/O. This allows aging, infrequently accessed or low-impact data to be automatically migrated to lower-cost rotational media. At the same time, high-demand data that can benefit from flash performance can be automatically moved from rotational media to flash storage. Some vendors refer to this process as flash caching.
  • Some vendors allow storage volumes to be automatically resized based on demand. Suppose for a moment that an organization uses a multi-tier volume and the newest data is always the most actively used. If it uses flash-based caching, an automated process will likely move aging data to lower-cost media on a regular basis to free up space on the flash storage for new data. Eventually, the aging data will fill up the available rotational media even though the available flash media might never fill up. In this type of situation, the organization could use policy-based automation to expand the volume's non-flash storage on an as-needed basis, or to move the oldest data from the rotational storage tier to commodity-grade archive storage. This could be disk, tape or cloud.

Given the relatively high cost and low capacity of flash storage, it is important to use the technology where it will be the most beneficial to the organization's business processes. Policy-based automation can help to prevent flash storage from being used inefficiently and may even be able to reclaim previously allocated flash storage that is no longer in use.

About the author: 
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has received Microsoft's MVP award for Exchange Server, Windows Server and Internet Information Server. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and has been responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. Visit Brien's personal website.

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