Q&A: StorageIO’s Greg Schulz on when to implement ultra-dense storage

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By Brian T. Horowitz

As servers achieve a higher density, companies are looking for a smaller footprint to fit more storage in less space. Before, companies used traditional storage arrays such as a two-rack (2U) chassis with 12 to 24 hard drives per platform. Now organizations are considering solutions, such as a 5U (five-rack) chassis with 84 hard drives, which is 37 percent denser, with denser solutions on the horizon.

The “digital universe of global data will double in size every two years between now and 2020, when it will rise to 44 zettabytes,” IDC reported.

To deal with this increase in data in industries such as video surveillance,health care and media, companies should consider options such as ultra-dense storage to fit more storage in less space while saving money. In a dense storage array such as Dell’s PS6610 series, onboard compression for data reduction of snapshots and replicas brings 3.5 times more storage space than in previous models up to 50 percent smaller. Ultra-dense storage, offered by companies such as Dell OEM Solutions, allows organizations to avoid overloading their racks or their customers’ data centers.

“If you’re going down the highway and you’ve got five mini-Coops all bumper to bumper in traffic with maybe one or two people in them, what if I were to replace those five mini-Coops with a van that happens to have 16 people in it,” Greg Schulz (below), senior advisory analyst at StorageIO, told Power More. “Now can you visualize that one big van on the highway as opposed to five mini-Coops bumper to bumper with two people in each one.”

We spoke with Schulz about the future of ultra-dense storage and how it can help manage the explosion of data.

Power More: What does ultra-dense storage mean to you?

GS: Putting as many drives as you can into a standard server packaging. Ultra-dense just simply means taking that up a notch. Whether you have a two-rack unit (2U) or a five-rack unit (5U), it’s how many drives can you fit into that cubic space. Those might be 2.5-inch small form factors; they might be 3.5-inch standard form factors.

Power More: How do shrinking technologies and ultra-dense storage help companies meet their IT requirements?

GS: There are two dimensions to it. For those environments that have relatively stable, slight modest capacity growth needs, it allows those organizations to do more in the same or perhaps smaller cubic footprint. On the other hand, for those organizations in which data demand is growing, it allows them to support more raw effective capacity with less overhead and complexity in the same or perhaps smaller cubic footprint.

Power More: How does ultra-dense storage drives capacity and flexibility for businesses?

GS: Organizations are collecting, assimilating, processing and storing data for longer periods of time. Not only is there more data, the data itself is getting larger.

Power More: How is ultra-dense storage being used in industries such as video surveillance, health care and media?

GS: You’ve got the video surveillance, health care, media, analytics, digital asset management (***), all of these have the same commonality as database and other servers that are data-storage-capacity intensive. That’s your demand. That’s your need. They all need platforms that can support more storage capacity and have that modularity and flexibility to also support fast storage. The ultra-dense storage complements support and enables different applications and workloads.

Video servers need processing power, I/O capabilities and network connectivity, but they generate large amounts of data. It’s the same thing if you’re taking a video from a surveillance camera or you’re taking a CAT scan or an MRI — a digital X-ray in a health care environment — genomic sequencing or pharmaceutical [data], whether you’re doing media and entertainment-type videos, all of those are producing files and objects.

Power More: Dense storage can come in multiple flavors. Sometimes a company may need storage for capacity, a product like the Dell PowerEdge R730xd for compute and sometimes a balance of the two, like in thePowerEdge FX architecture. How should companies go about choosing among these options?

GS: Organizations should understand their options for a compute or storage platform, along with their application performance, availability, capacity and economic (PACE) requirements, along with any dependencies of software that will define the hardware to be a functional data infrastructure resource. Look for solutions that adapt to your needs and environment as well as software that work for and scale with your needs, vs. one that you end up working for. Look at your current and future growth, as well as how you may redefine the physical hardware with different software to perform new functional roles in the future.

Power More: How do products such as the Dell Storage SC Series help companies achieve an ultra-dense storage infrastructure? 

GS: Because these systems support more raw storage capacity in a given cubic footprint, they’re able to do the work to support these higher-capacity devices with less overhead. You might have had two or three separate physical servers in the past handling that same capability. Now you may be able to actually physically reduce the cubic footprint but more importantly, remove the complexity of the overhead you’re having to manage. Instead of having to manage 12 smaller systems, maybe you’re down to four or six larger systems. That’s a cost savings.

Power More: What are the IT challenges that would lead a company to turn to the Dell PowerEdge R730xd?

GS: For performance, being able to have a new server like a PowerEdge that can have multiple current-generation fast sockets that have multiple cores per socket with a large amount of memory that has the PCI bandwidth to support the performance. Not just for the amount of drives but also for the resilience, the redundant power features to have the capacity to support the processing, the memory, all of those physical drives in a given physical footprint to help address economic as well as energy concerns.

Power More: What are the advantages leading companies to adopt a modular platform with extreme density from an OEM partner over a traditional server or storage platform?

GS: If your software lends itself to having storage right inside the server, which is how things used to be done, it allows you to leverage locality of reference. In other words, have the data physically close to the server to where it’s being used to speed things up. Likewise, by having two of these in a cluster, you can create a very resilient system. More storage systems, storage appliances, storage solutions from Dell and others, whether they be all flash, whether they be hybrid, the fast majority of all of those systems are leveraging servers that are high density with storage on the server along with expansion shelves where the only difference is that particular vendor’s software. It’s their flexibility whether they’re running OpenStack or VMware on them. I configure them to be a virtual SAN, I can figure them to be object storage or a private cloud. I can configure them to be a backup or archiving appliance.

Power More: What is the future of ultra-dense storage technology?

GS: Real simple: Increased density with the current generation being able to support the current drive form factors with their current capacities. The 8-terabyte drives are out, but we are going to see higher-density drives. Being able to put in the newer higher-capacity memory, the processors that go into the PowerEdge R730XD. Those newer-generation Intel processors have the ability to support DDR4 memory, which means that when the higher-density memory chips come out, those servers can support it. Those same servers also have the support for nonvolatile memory express (NVMe), new ways to access software as a service (SaaS), flash, solid state. So those platforms have the ability to be upgraded, to put new and other technologies into it.

Here’s what we do know: There will be another round, another generation of platforms down the road that will have even more cores, faster cores, support more and faster memory and denser storage capacity that can be defined with different software.

Power More: How does a converged architecture platform like the PowerEdge FX fit into the future of ultra dense storage?

GS: The PowerEdge FX series provides an alternative with flexible modularity, enabling future proofing for some dense storage and converged infrastructure or hyperconverged software-defined virtual server storage environments.

When to invest in ultra-dense storage

Ultra-dense storage can bring efficiencies such as a smaller footprint and lower costs both today and in the future, allowing companies to remove complexity.

Schulz advises, “Look at how you can invest in a data infrastructure that provides savings and subsequent cost synergies today and tomorrow.”

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