What started as a whisper has now become a roar. All of a sudden every storage vendor you talk to has Unified Storage and all of a sudden you MUST have it. All of which begs the question, what is unified storage and do you need it?It seems like most of the storage suppliers have some sort of unified storage strategy but they all seem very different from each other. Unified in storage terms most often means that the storage system can often do more than one thing, in most cases this means it can be a SAN (Storage Area Network) i.e. block storage and a NAS (Network Attached Storage) i.e. File Services.
For many vendors this means that the storage system can support multiple storage protocols, most often iSCSI and the two NAS protocols (NFS and CIFS), somehow many, not all leave out fibre, which seems odd since it is still the dominant protocol in larger enterprises. Unified storage should include support of fibre, especially if the target market is the larger data center.
In some cases a supplier will claim unification if they add a gateway type of device to a existing storage infrastructure, typically a NAS head that attaches to the SAN. This is more an amortization of storage resources more so than unification. It does not mean that it is a flawed strategy, just that its a bit of a stretch to equate a gateway to a unified storage system.
The goal of unification is to try to reduce the number of interfaces and devices you have in your storage environment and only a few of the suppliers accomplish this. Basically one box or system that does NAS and SAN all managed and controlled by a single storage software interface. In theory this should simplify storage management.
Do you need unified storage? As we discuss in our recent article "Doing More in Less Time" you need storage systems and more importantly storage management tools that can help reduce the amount of time you spend managing storage. The right unified storage system may help do that. However if you have a specific use case that demands high performance or long term data retention, some unified solutions may be too middle of the road for your needs.
In our next entry we will weigh the pros and cons of unified storage platforms and provide some ideas as to when unified systems might make sense for your data center or when it might make sense to select one of the job specific storage systems.
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George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on the virtualization and storage marketplaces. It provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Crump has held engineering and sales positions at various IT industry manufacturers and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.