At an alumni event recently I spoke with several friends who are also engineers but in different disciplines (power systems, chemical engineering, and geology). They commented about how the price of storage had declined so significantly over time, and talked about storage they had just seen in a local retail outlet.
I explained that what they were referring to was called consumer storage and how it was significantly different than storage systems used in businesses. I went through the different attributes expected from enterprise class storage systems. The features offered by higher-end storage systems such as snapshot and remote replication took a while to explain. It was easier to explain concepts such as testing, support, and service contracts because I could relate those to equipment used in their industries.
I was not convincing because they asked why not just take the consumer storage, add software to the server it was attached to, and provide all those functions and have multiples of them in case there is a failure in one. The important point they were making was by doing that, they could get the consumer prices and either just pay for the added software or use freeware.
That led me to thinking that my friends (unintentionally, I believe) were actually describing some business storage systems that we’re seeing today. These products – examples include the Hewlett-Packard P4000 Virtual SAN Appliance (VSA), Nutanix Complete Cluster, and the VMware vSphere Storage Appliance – include a group of servers with disks running a storage application.
Some of these are more sophisticated than that simple description with the integration of multiple elements and the differentiation of capabilities of the storage application (not to mention the maturity). But, the concept is similar. These products bring new options and require new definitions to describe storage systems. These can be a variation of a Storage Appliance or other, more unique names.
This new definition of storage systems would include be the virtual machines that run a storage application to federate storage attached to physical servers. Consideration of these systems is definitely warranted when evaluating solutions to storage demands. While the new options may make the evaluation more complicated, additional options typically lead to cost advantages. And that’s the point my friends were really making to me — more or less.