Can data centres reap the benefits of virtualisation or move towards private cloud computing with ageing storage environments? Jason Stamper reports
It's a little-known fact that RAID didn't used to be an acronym for Redundant Array of Independent Disk. It used to stand for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disk. Until, that is, the RAID Advisory Board said it was false advertising for vendors to call these things 'inexpensive'. Today, typical RAID arrays sell for anywhere up to £3m. Enterprise-grade storage is not cheap.
But there's a bit of a problem here, because as most companies are only too aware, total storage volumes in the enterprise are doubling around every 18 months, according to the analyst firm IDC.
Historically, for most organisations the answer has been to continue to throw hardware at the problem - more data, more arrays - but the economics of this approach are beginning to fail. Most companies have downward pressure on IT budgets, while the cost-per-Megabyte of enterprise storage might not keep falling by a factor of two every 12 months (its historical trend).
In other words, IT departments will have to spend even more money keeping up with their burgeoning storage demands than they have had to in the past.
That's not the only problem. Analysts will point out that in the enterprise, unstructured data such as email, Excel documents, PowerPoint and so on is growing twice as fast as structured data.
Unstructured data is more of a challenge to manage, not least because it's more prone to suffering from excessive duplications, and it's far harder to assign an accurate business value to the data.
This is one of the reasons that there is such inefficient use of so much of today's enterprise storage - companies report arrays that are clogged up with unstructured data of indeterminate value to the business.
Of course, data storage should not be thought of in isolation. Data is, after all, the lifeblood of so many businesses. And in the current environment, IT decision-makers need fast access to their data wherever they happen to be - in the office, on the move - and both they and the regulators are increasingly concerned that the data is accurate, appropriate and complete.
These trends taken together have led many to look for better ways of storing and managing their corporate data. Start-ups such as 3PAR, founded in 1999, Pillar Data, founded in 2001, and Compellent, founded in 2002, sought more efficient storage architectures that could not only scale well but would be more flexible, easier to manage and better suited to modern, increasingly virtual data centres.
So vital are these new technologies to the modern enterprise that 3PAR was bought by HP for $2.35bn late last year after a bidding war with Dell. Dell then bought Compellent and in June Oracle bought Pillar Data.
3PAR was clearly the Rolls Royce of the three, attracting a bid price more than twice as high as Dell paid for Compellent. Pillar Data was privately held and the terms of its acquisition by Oracle were not disclosed (the deal was structured as an earn-out from ongoing sales rather than an up-front fee, not least because Pillar was actually owned by Oracle boss Larry Ellison!).
CBR has been running a series of Dining Clubs in association with HP 3PAR (see below) and has also recently recorded a series of video interviews with Tim Pitcher, formerly 3PAR director Europe and now, of course, HP 3PAR European director, which is on CBRTV at www.cbronline.tv.
The key to understanding why HP valued 3PAR at more than $2bn is what it calls its Utility Storage. It claims it makes its storage more suited to today's modern data centres - increasingly virtual, but with requirements for greater scalability and flexibility than ever - than older storage architectures.
When asked by us to explain why HP says the 3PAR technology has a multi-tenancy architecture, Pitcher said: "This really relates to a key pillar of our strategy, which is the journey to the cloud, and the next-generation architectures that will allow customers to really derive benefits from virtual data centres and cloud computing architectures.
"Simplicity is fundamental," Pitcher continued, "as you move more and more businesses or business units into one environment, it's critical that you've got a nice, simple, agile, easy-to-use architecture. It reduces the number of people involved in it, it allows you to scale seamlessly. Secondly, it has to be tremendously efficient, so thin technologies, which reduce the requirement to simply add capacity every time you add more data, customers or applications, is very important."
Pitcher said taken together, as well as providing flexibility and scalability, the thin provisioning capabilities of the 3PAR technology have a dramatic effect on the amount of power and real estate that is required. "Multi-tenancy has a big impact on sustainable IT," he said, "and on delivering on cloud services. Secure multi-tenancy allows you to bring lots of different enterprise departments and put them into one environment. By doing so it enables you not just to house those applications but to do so in a highly performant way.
"It also lets you set the service level back to your lines of business, or if you are a service provider offering IT as a service to the consumer or business market, it allows you to set the service level at the business requirement, at the application level, as opposed to setting the service level at the performance of the storage platform," Pitcher concluded.
Ultimately, modern storage architectures such as 3PAR's are designed to help companies handle their burgeoning storage demands in a more intelligent, manageable fashion.
Which, as more and more companies turn to virtualisation and private cloud architectures, might just be the only way to ensure that valuable data gets the security and performance that is demanded of it by all stakeholders. RAID may no longer have 'inexpensive' in its acronym, but with the very latest arrays you could make the case for inserting the word 'intelligent' instead.
CBR Utility Storage Dining Club Series Review
24 March, Quo Vadis, London; 31 March, Michael Caines at Abode, Manchester; 6 July, Chistopher's Grill, London
CBR has hosted a series of Dining Clubs in association with HP 3PAR in recent months. More than 50 delegates have attended the three events to hear first hand why HP was willing to pay over $2bn for 3PAR after winning a bidding war with Dell, and also better understand the potential benefits of HP 3PAR Utility Storage technology. Here's at least a flavour of the events for readers who were unable to attend them.
CBR editor Jason Stamper kicked off proceedings with a talk about the "digital explosion" and the fact that, as in our personal lives, so the enterprise is also seeing dramatic changes in the amount of data being created, stored, processed and managed. He also talked about why he believes cloud computing slid down into what Gartner calls the 'Trough of disillusionment' on its Hype Cycle of Emerging Technologies chart, and why private cloud computing is near what Gartner terms the 'Peak of inflated expectations'.
Stamper then introduced Tim Pitcher, HP 3PAR European director, who explained why there was so much competition to become the new owner of the 3PAR Utility Storage technology. Describing how the technology was originally designed for service providers and Web 2.0 firms, Pitcher said: "Early service providers needed a storage infrastructure that would scale non-disruptively, with no downtime for customers. Very often in storage environments you'd find that the more you scaled it out the more the performance would drop. You can't have that, or afford any outages."
Pitcher went on to argue that as enterprises increasingly look to build out their own shared services and private clouds, or simply grapple with their burgeoning storage volumes and a desire for scalability and simplicity, Utility Storage was also ideally suited to the enterprise. "Shared service environments are becoming increasingly important, and that's where HP 3PAR fits," Pitcher said. "IT departments are operating in a more unpredictable world, and agility is critical."
Stamper then introduced Dan Sutherland, CEO of hosted enterprise utility computing platform provider Carrenza, an HP 3PAR customer whose technology is used to underpin the web and donations platform for among others, Comic Relief's Red Nose Day.
Explaining how the Red Nose Day website handles several hundred thousand concurrent users, Sutherland talked about why Carrenza built its own infrastructure as a service or cloud offering, using HP blades, Cisco networking and HP 3PAR storage. "One of the key things to the HP 3PAR technology is that it's really, really easy to do things with it, and fast. We've had some rival storage offerings take eight weeks to install and the HP 3PAR technology took a morning, and fundamentally if you looked at the specifications those systems were broadly the same," Sutherland said.
Register your interest in the forthcoming free CBR Dining Club events at www.business-review-diningclub.com.