Grid Storage Emerges as a New Deployment Model

A series of technologies entered the storage market in the past year. These products are part of a new deployment model the Yankee Group refers to as grid storage.
Written by Jamie Gruener, Contributor

A series of technologies entered the storage market in the past year. These products are part of a new deployment model the Yankee Group refers to as grid storage. Unlike grid computing, which has taken longer to evolve due to the complexity of connecting multiple computers across multiple locations, grid storage marks the continued march to industry-standard building blocks for deploying and managing storage.

To be considered grid storage, a product must include most of the following ingredients (exemplified by a number of vendors that have begun to deliver initial products):

  • Modular Storage Arrays: These are a new generation of modular storage systems connected across a storage network¾either block-focused storage arrays or network attached storage (NAS) gateways and servers, all using serial ATA disks.
  • Common Management: Common management across all nodes addresses a number of areas, including data protection, data mobility and migration, and capacity on demand and provisioning.
  • A Common Virtualization Layer: This is a logical pool of resources¾either files or volumes¾that supports user access as a service.
  • Data availability: This establishes redundancy in data access and availability by providing multiple copies of data across multiple nodes in the grid.
  • Simplified Platform and Management Architecture: This takes a building-blocks approach to managing the environment, including auto-discovery of new nodes within the grid and automated volume and file management.
Trend Impact
A number of vendors have designated new products as grid storage in marketing initiatives. In the next 12 to 18 months, we anticipate the grid storage concept will be over-hyped by vendors (much like virtualization).

Nonetheless, grid storage will affect how customers deploy storage in a number of areas.

First, vendors will deliver new generation storage arrays with the ability to increase capacity and performance by adding additional storage nodes to a shared network storage environment. Startups such as Compellent (which offers new modular storage) and 3PAR (which offers utility storage) use the modular storage model to deliver different kinds of network storage.

The network attached storage (NAS) market will be a second area of impact for grid storage. In the last 5 years, customers have begun to deploy distributed file systems to support complex requirements, many times focused on the high-performance technical computing market. Many enterprise customers saw management costs increase as they added new NAS systems, in effect creating islands of storage. However, distributed file systems that provide a common view of files across multiple NAS nodes (which can be modular storage arrays or gateways) help solve the management problems found in traditional NAS environments. We consider these emerging platforms grid storage because of their design and deployment models. Network Appliance (Spinnaker), Isilon Systems, IBM, Exanet and Panasas have products in this segment.

The growing content storage market, driven by a mix of growing digital content and regulatory compliance requirements, is a third area grid storage will impact. Although there is some overlap with traditional and distributed file system-based NAS environments, a growing number of storage environments use an object-based, multi-node storage environments in which files are tracked based on unique identifiers. A number of vendors already offer products in this segment, including Hewlett-Packard, EMC and Permabit.

Growing regulatory requirements mandate the protection, ease of access, data integrity and security of various kinds of corporate information that must be stored for electronic discovery and data retention programs. One could consider the architectures of systems grid storage because they are based on redundancy between nodes that spread access and management of content across multiple nodes. Additionally, from a management perspective, we could classify products that enable the migration and mobility of data across multiple nodes within the storage environment (data mobility, data protection or file management) as grid storage (products from ExaGrid and Rainfinity fit into this category).

Finally, we believe grid storage will have a significant impact on the migration to a storage utility model, which requires the delivery of storage as a service. Grid storage will also complement a number of broader data center trends, such as the emergence of IP-based storage, blade servers, and server virtualization and policy-based management strategies.

Vendor Recommendations

  • Be careful about claiming to be a provider of grid storage. Customers expect vendors to meet clear thresholds for deployment and management of these new storage environments.
  • Learn from the mistakes and overselling of storage virtualization. The danger grid storage faces is being over-hyped by vendors trying to aggressively differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive storage market, much like storage virtualization went through the last several years.
Enterprise Recommendations
  • Consider how grid storage can be leveraged for a number of pending storage projects. Grid storage will be ideal for dealing with regulatory compliance, information management and storage consolidation projects. In addition, it will help shift data center storage and application services to a storage utility model.
  • Create your own thresholds and benchmarks that must be met to deploy these systems. The danger of any new technology is over marketing of product features. Customers need to ask vendors to show proof of deployment ease, management and performance promises.
  • Evaluate pilot deployments of grid storage in the second half of 2004. Much like grid computing, the promise of grid storage includes sharing resources across multiple nodes. From a business operations and services perspective, the flexible deployment of storage capacity for changing application requirements will reap a number of benefits for enterprise customers, including the ability reallocate storage on the fly and charging back for storage as a service.
The Yankee Group originally published this article on 17 March 2004.

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