Storage System Refresh – Making a Case for Mandatory Retirement

It’s hard to retire a perfectly good storage array.    Budgets are tight, there’s a backlog of new projects in the queue, people are on vacation, and migration planning can be difficult.   As long as there is not a compelling reason to take it out of service, it’is far easier to simply leave it alone and focus on more pressing issues.

While this may be the path of least resistance, it can come at a high price.  There are a number of good reasons why upgrading storage arrays to modern technology may yield superior results and possibly save money too!

Capacity – When your aging disk array was installed several years ago, 300 GB, 10K RPM, FC disk drives were mainstream technology.    It was amazing to realize you could squeeze up to 45 TB in a single 42U equipment rack!   Times have changed.   The same 10K RPM DISK drive has tripled in capacity, providing 900 GB in the same 3.5 inch disk drive “footprint”.   It’s now possible to get 135 TB (a 300% capacity increase) into the same equipment rack configuration.    Since data center rack space currently costs around $3000 per month, that upgrade alone will dramatically increase capacity without incurring any increase in floor-space cost.

Density – Previous generation arrays packaged from (12) to (15) 3.5 inch FC or SATA disk drives into a single rack-mountable 4U array.    Modern disk arrays support from (16) 3.5 inch disks per 3U tray, to (25) 2.5 inch disks in a 2U tray.   Special ultra-high density configurations may house up to (60) FC, SAS, or SATA DISK drives in a 4U enclosure.   As above, increasing storage density within an equipment rack significantly increases capacity while requiring no additional data center floor-space.

Energy Efficiency – Since the EPA’s IT energy efficiency study in 2007 (Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency, Public Law 109-431), IT manufacturers have increased efforts to improve the energy efficiency of their products.   This has resulted in disk drives that consume from 25% to 33% less energy, and storage array controllers lowering power consumption by up to 30%.  That has had a significant impact on energy costs, including not only the power to run the equipment, but also power to operate the cooling systems needed to purge residual heat from the environment.

Controller Performance – Storage array controllers are little more than specialized servers designed specifically to manage such functions as I/O ports, disk mapping, RAID and cache operations, and execution of array-centric internal applications (such as thin provisioning and snapshots).   Like any other server, storage controllers have benefited from advances in technology over the past few years.    The current generation of disk arrays contain storage controllers with from 3 to 5 times the processing power of their predecessors.

Driver Compatibility – As newer technologies emerge, they tend to focus on developing software compatibility with the most recently released products and systems on the market.   With the passage of time, it becomes less likely for  storage arrays to be supported by the latest and greatest technology on the market.  This may not impact daily operations, but it creates challenges when a need arises to integrate aging arrays with state-of-the-art systems.

Reliability – Common wisdom used to be that disk failure characteristics could be accurately represented by a ”bathtub graph”.   The theory was the potential for failure was high when a disk was new.  It then flattened out at a low probability throughout the disk’s useful life, then took a sharp turn upswing as it approached end-of-life.   This model implied that extending disk service life had no detrimental effects until it approached end-of-life for the disks.

However over the past decade, detailed studies by Google and other large organizations with massive disk farms have proven the “bathtub graph” model incorrect.   Actual failure rates in the field indicate the probability of a disk failure increases by 10% – 20% for every year the disk is in service.  It clearly shows the probability of failure increases in a linear fashion over the disk’s service life.  Extending disk service-life greatly increases the risk for disk failure.

Service Contracts –Many popular storage arrays are covered by standard three-year warranties.   This creates a dilemma, since the useful service life of most storage equipment is considered to be either four or five years.   When the original warranty expires, companies must decide whether to extend the existing support contract (at a significantly higher cost), or transitioning to a time & materials basis for support (which can result in some very costly repairs).

Budgetary Impact – For equipment like disk arrays, it is far too easy to fixate on replacement costs (CAPEX), and ignore the ongoing cost of operational expenses (OPEX).   This may avoid large upfront expenditures, but it slowly bleeds the IT budget to death by having to maintain increasingly inefficient, fault-prone, and power hungry equipment.

The solution is to establish a program of rolling equipment replenishment on a four- or five-year cycle.   By regularly upgrading 20% to 25% of all systems each year, the IT budget is more manageable, equipment failures are controlled, and technical obsolescence remains in check.

Getting rid of familiar things can be difficult.   But unlike your favorite slippers, the LazyBoy recliner, or your special coffee cup, keeping outdated storage arrays in service well beyond their prime can cost your organization plenty.

About Big Data Challenges

Mr. Randy Cochran is a Senior Storage Architect at Data Center Enhancements Inc.. He has over 42-years of experience as an IT professional, with specific expertise in large and complex SAN/NAS/DAS storage architectures. He is recoginzed as a Subject Matter Expert in the enterprise storage field. For the past five years his primary focus has been on addressing the operational requirements and challenges presented by petabyte-level storage.

Posted on July 16, 2012, in Storage, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. It is difficult to retire aging storage equipment, as long as it isn’t creating problems. However, when you calculate the 5-year cost of operations for the legacy equipment (energy consumption, reduced performance, lower capacity, cost of data center space (per square meter), cost for renewing it’s service and support contract, etc., against the same costs for a refresh to new equipment, the new equipment almost always wins. The problem is that many managers simply look at the purchase price, which is normally only part of the total cost of ownership.

    Thanks for commenting.

    Randy Cochran

  1. Pingback: Storage System Refresh – Making a Case for … – Big Data Challenges

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