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Tiers of Joy?

John Greenwood, director of sales for storage & virtualisation solutions at NCE, offers some highly personal thoughts about the concept of auto-tiering, and what it has to do (or not!) with Aston Villa FC.

John Greenwood, director of sales for storage & virtualisation solutions at NCE, offers some highly personal thoughts about the concept of auto-tiering, and what it has to do (or not!) with Aston Villa FC. 

It is very rare to meet anyone in the world of IT that has never had to reactively buy storage at some point in his or her working life. The challenge is that the "unplanned purchase" can often throw all of your tireless effort to adopt a structured and organised storage estate out of the window in a heartbeat.  Sometimes you haven't even had the chance to profile and qualify whether what you are buying is in keeping with your actual requirements; it has simply been a case of it being the right capacity, with the right interface, at the right price.  What's more, it typically becomes an island - sitting remotely and distant from the storage mainland that you have spent so long creating. 

Thankfully there are signs of light in the storage world that suggest this whole concept can become a thing of the past. The idea of Auto-Tiering Storage is becoming a reality. What's more, AutoTiering is bringing far more to the table than the name suggests. By introducing a consolidated platform within which all of the storage can reside, you introduce the ability to monitor and report on storage growth, allocation and trends. Suddenly the reactive purchase becomes a thing of the past as you have full visibility of your storage environment in its entirety. The true value (in my opinion) is that the Tiers can be categorised by performance, disk type, capacity, age of storage, cost, application, department ... the list is endless.   

If we look at the black & white approach to storage and follow the traditional path, it is easy to break storage into performance tiers - with SSD/ Flash at the top (lightning quick), "True" SAS (the l5k & l0k rpm drives, not the Nearline SATA wolf in sheep's clothing!) in the middle tier and SATA (providing high capacity at a low price) at the bottom. As a generalisation you can assume that there is a 5%/20%/ 75% expectation for each of these three layers in a "typical" (if there is such a thing) storage environment.

Those behind the Auto-Tiering concept have also appreciated that there is an extension to the traditional storage estate and (in certain cases) they have introduced support for a Cloud Storage Tier that is off-premise, a potential outlet for data that simply has to be retained but perhaps not managed (or demanded) on a day-to-day basis. Effectively this has become the Fourth Tier, this changes the percentage dynamic previously - but in truth it merely eats into the SATA (third tier) percentage and doesn't affect the top two.

The irony of it all, and no doubt certain storage veterans will have ascertained this already, is that the concept of tiering storage isn't perhaps as "new" as it is portrayed to be. Back in the 'Dark Ages of Storage' there was (in keeping with the IT industry and its obsession with three letter acronyms) something called HSM (Hierarchical Storage Management) Then came something called ILM (Information Lifecycle Management) - a term that another three lettered vendor coined as their own about l0 years ago - and subsequently marketed to death. In some circles I've heard Auto-Tiering called AST (Automated Storage Tiering) but all I can picture for the term AST is a defunct PC manufacturer that used to have their logo on the Aston Villa football shirt in the late l990's, so, personally at least, I can't see that one catching on .

The search for an Auto-Tiering Solution is one that can be a little convoluted. Some vendors are proclaiming to offer it but are delicately avoiding the detail - that they only support specific hardware or tiers, which can be a little smoke and mirrors so be wary of this. A true tiered solution offers the flexibility to embrace and include your existing storage investment and to take away the day-to-day management and responsibility of attempting to match your data, and its associated demands, with the correct storage type .

Nonetheless AutoTiering Storage is here to stay and represents the opportunity to take back ownership of your Storage Infrastructure.

John Greenwood
Director of sales for storage & virtualisation solutions at NCE
Article from Storage Magazine.  July / August Edition 2013

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