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1/4/2010
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George Crump
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Four Tiers For The New Decade

The storage component is changing, becoming either dramatically faster with Solid State Disk (SSD) technology or fundamentally more cost effective thanks to capacity-efficient disk archiving or overhead-efficient cloud storage. In addition all current storage will still need to be managed. A four-tier storage strategy will allow storage managers to develop a storage environment that is both cost efficient and meets increasing performance demands.

The storage component is changing, becoming either dramatically faster with Solid State Disk (SSD) technology or fundamentally more cost effective thanks to capacity-efficient disk archiving or overhead-efficient cloud storage. In addition all current storage will still need to be managed. A four-tier storage strategy will allow storage managers to develop a storage environment that is both cost efficient and meets increasing performance demands.Ironically the last decade kicked off with the coming of SATA drive technology and the idea of tiered storage and, dare I say it, ILM (Information Lifecycle Management). While the initiatives had merit, part of what doomed them to failure was a lack of need by IT. Now however things have changed. The rapid growth of unstructured data (data not in a database) in most organizations in requiring longer and more managed retention. At the same time database applications as well as applications with incredibly high user counts thanks to web 2.0 are causing performance problems. Finally the unabated rollout of server virtualization is moving operating system data to the SAN or NAS to leverage the flexibility that a virtualized server environment can bring.

As I mentioned earlier there is also a more dramatic difference in the tiers of storage available now. SSD is exponentially faster but also somewhat more expensive. If the investment is made in SSD you want to make sure the right data is on that tier for the right amount of time; while it is immediately active. At the other end of the spectrum is archive storage designed to be cost effective, scalable, capacity optimized and power efficient. Finally cloud storage as an archive has a role to play as possibly the even longer term or permanent resting ground for data. Somewhere in the middle of SSD and Archive are traditional SAS based mechanical drives that will store near-active data or, as we discuss in our Visual SSD Readiness Guide, data from applications that can't benefit from SSD's speed.

With four tiers of storage available to the storage manager that each have their own justifiable differentiations, the missing ingredient is how to decide which set of data should go where? Should this be a manual process or is this something that should be automated? Over the next several entries we will examine some of the options available to storage managers and how they might help them develop a four tier storage strategy that maximizes cost, performance and reliability.

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George Crump is lead analyst of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.

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