Guest Column | July 7, 2009

Introducing Hybrid Storage


Written by: By Kirk Dunn, CEO of PowerFile

Just as a hybrid automobile combines a gas-powered motor and an electric motor for improved efficiency and resource usage, “hybrid storage” blends two different storage platforms into one intelligent and efficient system. High-performance storage systems can be combined with economical, efficient storage platforms for a better overall approach to some of the most pressing storage concerns. Some of the main challenges faced by your customers today are keeping up with storage growth despite tight budgets, maintaining backup and recovery service levels, controlling energy costs, and providing users with rapid access to critical data when they need it most.

All organizations have two main types of data stored: operational and fixed content. Up to 80% of data stored on high-cost, high-performance production storage systems is fixed content data that has not been accessed or modified in more than a year, yet this data remains intermingled with current operational data. Most of this data will never be modified again, but must be maintained. This fixed content usurps disk space (thus consuming energy), arrests performance, and clogs backup and recovery cycles. Using exclusively hard disk-based solutions for long-term storage of fixed content data has proven to be an unsustainable strategy for enterprises, given their crushing capital and ongoing operational expenses.

Hybrid storage solutions provide an alternative location to store this infrequently accessed data, which frees up capacity on expensive production systems as well as the resources tasked with managing it. The hybrid storage tier maintains online access to data while significantly lowering acquisition cost, energy consumption, ongoing maintenance, and eliminating backup bottlenecks.

The hybrid storage model can also eliminate the manual data recovery process (such as from tapes stored offsite) by keeping fixed content data online and directly accessible to users. Hybrid storage incorporates a storage platform that is more reliable than offline tape, significantly reducing the risk of data loss.

Reliability is just as critical for long-term storage as it is for primary storage. Successful hybrid storage uses disk for performance caching, and industry-standard Blu-ray media with a 50-year life for storing fixed content. This avoids the risk of storing valuable fixed-content for many years on volatile magnetic media, and assures backward compatibility so the media itself is never obsolete. Cartridge-based Blu-ray media can be tracked, bulk loaded, and bulk unloaded just like tape media. A flash-memory chip on the cartridge can internally track data stored on each disc, and the cartridge itself can be bar-coded and tied to a unique serial number. Components are connected via a high-speed, high-availability switched Ethernet backbone with Gigabit or 10 Gigabit options to precisely match the customer’s cost and performance requirements.

Hybrid Storage Requires Hybrid File Systems
Hybrid storage includes highly available virtual file system to determine what data belongs on which platform (performance or economy) and when. It is the intelligence layer that controls operations and creates the synergy between back-end storage platforms. Policy-based discovery, classification, and migration tools automate the archiving of fixed content. Hybrid storage products should incorporate virtualization and data management capabilities that easily evolve along with innovation in storage and changes in the user’s data needs.

Hybrid storage virtualizes high-performance cache and Blu-ray discs into NAS volumes that are accessed via standard network protocols (CIFS, NFS, HTTP). Administration must be simple and straightforward, with browser-based management and nondisruptive scaling. Desirable features include file-level WORM capabilities, thin provisioning, retention management, volume replication, and automated monitoring with integrated SNMP and e-mail notification.

Because hybrid storage is purpose-built for long-term storage, its efficiency benchmarks become especially critical. Hybrid storage will use only 5% of the energy required for spinning disk. Density for efficient use of data center floor space is also critical, since it impacts power and cooling requirements. A combination of density, energy efficiency, and raw-to-usable capacity should be studied. Looking at the energy required for a disk-only product, hybrid storage becomes particularly compelling on a watts-per-terabyte basis.

Hybrid storage combines intelligent power management techniques with inherently low-power storage technologies, but with additional options, such as data reduction/capacity optimization, the data footprint can be reduced further — up to 7x depending on the technology features. Capacity optimization software increases rack density, improves energy efficiency, and reduces network traffic.

The notion of hybrid is simple: Apply performance and economy as they are needed. Today’s hybrid storage offers the performance of disk, the economy of tape, and superior reliability in a purpose-built platform optimized for long-term storage of fixed content. It is a concept that makes good business sense and one that resellers can more easily sell and install at customer sites.

Kirk Dunn is CEO of Santa Clara, Calif.-based PowerFile, a leader in hybrid storage appliances for long-term storage of digital content and assets. During his nearly 20-year career, Kirk has developed storage and networking solutions with and for Fortune 200 companies, successfully built strategic sales and product divisions, and led international expansions.