Next-gen storage for SMB

Solid-state disk/Flash technology

DEFINITION: Data storage devices that rely on non-volatile memory, such as NAND flash, rather than spinning platters and mechanical magnetic heads found in hard disk drives. Vendors include Adtron, Samsung Electronics and SanDisk. Until recently, solid-state disk found its home in niche markets where the need for speed outweighed cost concerns. But like other storage options, dropping prices and technology advances have increased interest. It looks like a regular disk, but without the characteristic spinning motion. And because there are no moving parts, it's faster, says Mike Karp, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates. It also requires less energy, although Karp says energy savings are a minor part of the cost equation. Because businesses don't have large-scale deployments of this technology, they won't see large-scale energy savings, either, he says. But the use of NAND flash technology with solid-state disk could edge up the number and types of deployments, extending the technology beyond business storage for use in notebooks, for example. "It could be important in ultraportable notebooks, but it's not an advantage in desktop systems," says Gartner analyst, Joseph Unsworth. "It's still a very niche market because of cost. Right now, [businesses] don't know why they should pay a premium for such technology."

High-density disks

DEFINITION: As their name suggests, high-density disks can hold more data than conventional storage options. They do so by packing more bits into the same space, either by storing bits vertically instead of using the traditional horizontal pattern or by storing information using three dimensions, creating a hologram read by laser. Vendors include Seagate Technology and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies. Higher density represents the next step in the evolution of storage, with perpendicular storage and holographic storage giving businesses new options. "They're increasing the density per square inch, which to the end user increases the space and price efficiency of the solutions," says Brian L. Garrett, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. Perpendicular storage takes a real density and increases it by layering the bits vertically, says Karp. "Bits actually do have physical length, so instead of lying down, you stand them up on the disks," he explains. The potential savings with this technology are high, says Dianne McAdam, a consultant at The Clipper Group. Perpendicular storage promises to increase storage in the same physical space by a factor of 10, she says. "That's going to save on space, because we're storing much more information in the same footprint," McAdam says. "It also saves on energy, because we'll need one-tenth the number of disk drives to store the same amount."

Hybrid hard drives

DEFINITION: These use non-volatile flash memory as a large buffer to cache data before storing it on a traditional spinning drive, allowing the platters on the hard drive to rest most of the time. Vendors include Seagate and Samsung. Hybrid hard drives are another evolutionary step in storage that could bring some important savings to businesses. The concept is fairly straightforward: "It's sort of cache memory attached to a hard disk drive," McAdam says. Data will write to a cache memory and, when the cache fills up, move to a hard drive. That concept isn't new. Hard drives already have a buffer, says Garrett. But those buffers are in the 4MB to 8MB range; with hybrid hard drives, the buffer can reach 1GB. "It's just a larger buffer, and it's non-volatile," Garrett explains. Like other advances in storage technology, hybrid hard drives could save energy and space. It takes energy to power up and keep disks spinning, McAdam says. Because all that spinning creates heat, the disks then need to be cooled. In hybrid disk drives, the hard drive is spun down; in other words, the disk stops spinning, so it requires less energy. Analysts aren't ready to quantify how much money this technology may save, however. "It's still too new, and we don't have all the specs on this," McAdam says. "They're just coming to market now."

Storage resource management software

DEFINITION: It provides a centralised view of a company's storage environment. The software enables better control, management and provisioning of, as well as more accurate reporting on, storage resources. Vendors include EMC, Hewlett-Packard and Symantec. For many businesses, stored data is something of a black hole: it keeps expanding, and no one has a complete understanding of what it holds. In fact, the average utilisation rate of storage capacity is 40 to 50 per cent, Russell says. "No one thinks we should run at 100 per cent - you want to have some reserves. But running at 80 per cent to 90 per cent would have enormous savings in utility costs and floor space," he says. Storage resource management software can help businesses reach that target, says Russell. "It's about optimising what you have and delaying future investments. There will be a time when you'll have to add more resources but you'd like to get more out of what you've already deployed," he says. This software looks at all storage in a company and allows it to be managed as one pool, McAdam says. "With this software, because we virtualise how it looks, we can drive up utilisation. If we drive up utilisation, we can get away with less physical storage." Storage resource management software offers a broad range of capabilities, including provisioning, capacity planning and performance management, says Bob Laliberte, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. The software used to just focus on the storage array, he says, "but what you're seeing these days is more of an emphasis on looking at the whole stack." Some analysts have also lobbied to expand the term to include something such as infrastructure resource management or infrastructure services management.

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