Virtual Storage Tiering

NetApp Virtual Storage Tier automates moving data to the appropriate type of storage device.

It's an old saw that organizations are looking for ways to decrease their operational costs while still being able to make their IT infrastructure support an ever-growing workload. This concept has been the hook for supplier presentations focused on systems, database management software, application frameworks, cloud computing and just about everything else. Often, however, I think that the connection is so tenuous that I find the attempt to connect a given product with cost reduction highly amusing.

I had a conversation with the folks at NetApp about their concept of virtual storage tiering and could immediately relate.  After all, storage is one of the larger areas of system cost. While that area of cost is dwarfed by staff-related costs, it is still very important.

What is storage tiering?

Storage tiering is based upon knowing how often particular pieces of information workloads use used. Information that is seldom used could be migrated to lower cost, lower performance storage devices and retrieved as needed. The most sophisticated implementations of this concept may have multiple tiers of storage devices ranging from:

  1. Extremely high performance, extremely high cost, very limited in-memory caching (sometimes called "memory virtualization"
  2. High performance, high cost, limited volume DRAM or SSD-based storage devices
  3. High performance, high cost, large volume rotating media
  4. Low performance, low cost, large volume rotating media
  5. Low performance, low cost, extremely large tape or other archival storage media
  6. Extremely low performance, extremely low cost, ginormous files on microfiche or paper
Traditionally, IT storage gurus needed to survey all of the data, determing where it has been placed, consider the speed of the device versus the data usage patterns, move the data to the most optimal location and then update operating system parameters, database management system schemas, etc.

What is NetApp offering?

NetApp is offering a very intelligent storage virtualization appliance that is designed to keep track of all of the storage in its area of vision and automatically optimize the storage of information based upon its usage patterns. Organizations only need to install this device, turn it on and let it do the magic it knows how to do.

Voila, data being used often is promoted into SSD-based storage. The rest of the data is demoted to slower speed media based upon how often it is being used.

What does this mean for customers?

Without a great deal of pain or expense, organizations are able to optimize the use of their storage and make great use of low cost, low performance media as needed. Applications need not be changed. Database management systems need not be changed. Operating system parameters need not be change.

Snapshot analysis

A tool, such as NetApp Virtual Storage Tier, could help organizations deal with a number of pesky issues including:

  • Make better use of the organization's limited budget by reducing overall storage hardware costs
  • Reduce data center power requirements by making more use of lower power devices
  • Reduce data center cooling requirements by making use of devices that produce less heat
  • Reduce floor space storage devices requirements in the data center by being able to utilize smaller devices.
  • Optimize application and workload performance by being able to move heavily used data to faster storage (and also move lessor used storage to slower devices)
  • Reduce storage management costs by automatically managing information placement
NetApp has a good story.  If you are grappling with storage challenges, you might find NetApp's approach helpful.