Solid State Disks – Beyond the Sticker Shock!
NOTE: My original article contained embedded calculation errors that significantly distorted the end results. These problems have since been corrected. I apologize to anyone who was accidentally misled by this information, and sincerely thank those diligent readers who brought the issues to my attention.
Some issues seem so obvious they’re hardly worth considering. Everyone knows that Solid State Drives (SSD) are more energy-efficient than spinning disk. They don’t employ rotating platters, electro-mechanical motors and mechanical head movement for data storage, so they must consume less power – right? However, everyone also knows the cost of SSD is so outrageous that they can only be deployed for super-critical high performance applications. But does the reputation of having exorbitant prices still apply?
While these considerations may seem intuitive, they are not entirely accurate. Comparing the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for traditional electro-mechanical disks vs. Solid State Disks provides a clearer picture of the comparative costs of each technology.
- For accuracy, this analysis compares the purchase price (CAPEX) and power consumption (OPEX) of only the disk drives, and does not include the expense of entire storage arrays, rack space, cooling equipment, etc.
- It uses the drive’s current “street price” for comparison. Individual vendor pricing may be significantly different, but the ratio between disk and SSD cost should remain fairly constant.
- The dollar amounts shown on the graph represent a 5-year operational lifecycle, which is fairly typical for production storage equipment.
- Energy consumption for cooling has also been included in the cost estimate, since it requires roughly the amount of energy as the drives consume to maintain them in an operational state.
- 100 TB of storage capacity was arbitrarily selected to illustrate the effect of cost on a typical mid-sized SAN storage array.
The following graph illustrates the combined purchase price, plus energy consumption costs for several popular electro-mechanical and Solid State Devices.
From the above comparison, several conclusions can be drawn:
SSDs are Still Expensive – Solid State Drives remain an expensive alternative storage medium, but the price differential between SSD and electro-mechanical drives is coming down. As of this writing there is only an x5 price difference between the 800GB SSD and the 600GB, 15K RPM drive. While this is still a significant gap, it is far less that the staggering x10 to x20 price differential seen 3-4 years ago.
SSDs are very “Green” – A comparison of the Watts consumed during a drive’s “typical operation” indicate that SSD consumes about 25% less energy than 10K RPM, 2.5-inch drives, and about 75% less power than 15K RPM, 3.5-inch disks. Given that a) each Watt used by the disk requires roughly 1 Watt of power for cooling to remove the heat that is produced, and b) the cost per Kwh continues to rise every year, this significant difference become a factor over a storage array-s 5-year lifecycle.
Extreme IOPS is a Bonus – Although more expensive, SSDs are capable of delivering from 10- to 20-times more I/O’s-per-second, potentially providing a dramatic increase in storage performance.
Electro-Mechanical Disks Cost Differential – There is a surprisingly small cost differential between 3.5 inch, 15K RPM drives and 2.5 inch 10K RPM drives. This may justify eliminating 10K disks altogether and deploying a less complex 2-tiered array using only 15K RPM disks and 7.2K disks.
Legacy 3.5 Inch Disks – Low capacity legacy storage devices (<146GB) in a 3-5-inch drive form-factor consume too much energy to be practical in a modern, energy-efficient data center (this includes server internal disks). Any legacy disk drive smaller than 300 GB should be retired.
SATA/NL-SAS Disks are Inexpensive – This simply re-affirms what’s already known about SATA/NL-SAS disks. They are specifically designed to be inexpensive, modest performance devices capable of storing vast amounts of low-demand content on-line.
The incursion of Solid State Disks into the industry’s storage mainstream will have interesting ramifications not only for the current SAN/NAS arrays, but also may impact a diverse set of technologies that have been designed to tolerate the limitations of an electro-mechanical storage world. As they say, “It’s a brave new world”.
Widespread deployment of SSD will have a dramatic impact on the storage technology itself. If SSDs can be implemented in a cost-effective fashion, why would anyone need an expensive and complex automated tiering system to decrement data across multiple layers of disk? Because of its speed, will our current efforts to reduce RAID rebuild times still be necessary? If I/O bottlenecks are eliminated at the disk drive, what impact will it have on array controllers, data fabric, and HBAs/NICs residing upstream of the arrays?
While it is disappointing to find SSD technology still commands a healthy premium over electro-mechanical drives, don’t expect that to remain the case forever. As the technology matures prices will decline when user acceptance grows and production volumes increase. Don’t be surprised to see SSD technology eventually eliminate the mechanical disk’s 40-year dominance over the computer industry.
For those of you interested in examining the comparison calculations, I’ve included the following spreadsheet excerpts contain detailed information used to create the graph.
Enhanced Commodity Storage – Do You Believe in Magic?
With predictable regularity someone surfaces on the Web, claiming they have discovered a way to turn slow SATA arrays into high performance storage. Their method usually involves adding complex and sophisticated software to reallocate and optimize system resources. While there may a few circumstances where this might work, in reality it is usually just the opposite.
The problem with this concept is similar to the kit car world several decades ago. At the time, kit-build sports cars were all the rage. Automobile enthusiasts were intrigued by the idea of building a phenomenal sports car by mounting a sleek fiberglass body on the chassis of a humble Volkswagen Beetle. Done properly, the results were amazing! As long as their workmanship was good, the end results would rival the appearance of a Ferrari, Ford GT-40, or Lamborghini!
However, this grand illusion disappeared the minute its proud owner started the engine. Despite its stunning appearance, the kit car was still built on top of an anemic VW bug chassis, power train, and suspension!
Today we see a similar illusion being promoted by vendors claiming to offer “commodity storage” capable of delivering the same high performance as complex SAN and NAS systems. Overly enthusiastic suppliers push the virtues of cheap “commodity” storage arrays with amazing capabilities as a differentiator in this highly competitive market. The myth is perpetuated within the industry by a general lack of understanding of the underlying disk technology characteristics, and a desperate need to manage shrinking IT budgets, coupled with a growing demand for storage capacity.
According to this technical fantasy, underlying hardware limitations don’t count. In theory, if you simply run a bunch of complex software functions on the storage array controllers, you somehow repeal the laws of physics and get “something for nothing”.
That sounds appealing, but it unfortunately just doesn’t work that way. Like the kit car’s Achilles heel, hardware limitations of underlying disk technology govern the array’s capabilities, throughput, reliability, scalability, and price.
• Drive Latencies – the inherent latency incurred to move read/write heads and rotate disks until the appropriate sector address is available can vary significantly.
For example, comparing performance of a 300GB, 15K RPM SAS disk to a 3TB 7200 RPM SATA disk produces the following results:
• Controller Overhead – Masking SATA performance by adding processor capabilities may not be the answer either. Call it what you will – Controller, SP, NAS head, or something else. A storage controller is simply a dedicated server performing specialized storage operations. This means controllers can become overburdened by loading multiple sophisticated applications on them. More complex processes also means the controller consumes additional internal resources (memory, bandwidth, cache, I/O queues, etc.). As real-time capabilities like thin provisioning, automated tiering, deduplication and data compression applications are added, the array’s throughput will diminish.
• “Magic” Cache – This is another area where lots of smoke-and-mirrors can be found. Regardless of the marketing hype, cache is still governed by the laws of physics and has predictable characteristics. If you put a large amounts of cache in front of slow SATA disk, your systems will run really fast – as long as requested data is already located in cache. When it isn’t you must go out to slow SATA disk and utilize the same data retrieval process as every disk access. The same is true when cache is periodically flushed to disk to protect data integrity. Cache is a great tool that can significantly enhance the performance of a storage array. However, it is expensive, and will never act as a “black box” that somehow makes slow SATA disk perform like 15K RPM SAS disks.
• Other Differences – Additional differentiators between “commodity storage” and high performance storage include available I/Os per second, disk latency, RAID level selected, IOPS per GB capability, MTBF reliability, and the Bit Error Rate.
When citing the benefits of “tricked out” commodity storage, champions of this approach usually point to obscure white papers written by social media providers, universities, and research labs. These may serve as interesting reading, but seldom have much in common with production IT operations and “the real world”. Most Universities and research labs struggle with restricted funding, and must turn to highly creative (and sometimes unusual) methods to achieve specific functions from a less-than-optimal equipment. Large social media providers seldom suffer from budget constraints, but create non-standard solutions to meet highly specialized, stable, and predictable user scenarios. This may illustrate an interesting use of technology, but have little value for mainstream IT operations.
As with most things in life, “you can’t get something for nothing”, and the idea of somehow enhancing commodity storage to meet all enterprise data requirements is no exception.
Rumors of Fibre Channel’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated
If you believed all the media hype and vendor pontifcations three years ago, you would have thought for sure that Fibre Channel was teetering on the edge of oblivion. According to industry hype, 10Gbps Ethernet and the FCoE protocol were certain to be the demise of Fibre Channel. One Analyst even went so far as to state, “IP based storage networking technologies represent the future of storage”. Well as they say, “Don’t believe everything you read”.
In spite of a media blitz designed to convince everyone that Fibre Channel was going extinct, industry shipments and FC implementation by IT storage professionals continued to blossom. As 16Gbps Fibre Channel rapidly grew in acceptance, the excitement around 10GbE diminished. In a Dell’Oro Group report for 4Q12, fibre channel Director, switch, and adapter revenues surpassed $650 million, while FCoE champion Cisco suffered through soft quarterly results.
So what makes Fibre Channel network technology so resilient?
• Simplicity – FCP was designed with a singular purpose in mind, and does not have to contend with a complex protocol stack.
• Performance – a native 16Gbps FC port is 40% faster than a 10GbE network, and it too can be trunked to provide aggregate ISL bandwidth up to 128 Gbps.
• Low Latency – FC fabric is not penalized by the additional 2-hop latency imposed by routing data packets through a NAS server before it’s written to disk.
• Parity of Cost – The dramatic reduction in expense promised by FCoE has failed to materialize. The complexity and cost of pushing data at NN_Ghz is fairly consistent, regardless of what protocol it used.
• Efficiency – Having a Fibre Channel back-end network supports such capabilities as LAN-less backup technology, high speed data migration, block-level storage virtualization, and in-fabric encryption.
An excellent indicator that Fibre Channel is not falling from favor is Cisco’s recent announcement of their new 16Gbps MDS 9710 Multilayer Director and MultiService Fabric Switch. Cisco was a major proponent of 10GbE and the FCoE protocol, and failed to update their aging MDS 9500 family of Fibre Channel Directors and FC switches. (http://searchstorage.techtarget.com/news/2240182444/Cisco-FC-director-and-switch-moves-to-16-Gbps-new-chassis) This left Brocade with a lion’s share of a rapidly growing 16 Gbps Fibre Channel market. For Brocade, it produced a record quarter for FC switch revenues, while Cisco struggled with sagging sales.
Another influencing factor in FC longevity of is the average IT department’s need for extremely high-bandwidth storage network capabilities. Prior to 10GbE technology, Ethernet LANs performed quite well at 1GbE (or some trunked variation of 1GbE). The majority of the fibre channel world still depends upon 4Gbps FC, with 8Gbps technology recently starting to make significant inroads in the data center. Given the fairly leisurely pace of migration to higher performance for the SAN and NAS fabric technology. Except for a fairly small percent of IT departments that actually require high performance / high throughput, the lure of a faster interface alone has a limited amount of allure.
So which network technology will win? Who knows (or even cares)? There are usually bigger issues to overcome than what the back-end “plumbing” is made of. It’s far more important to implement the most appropriate technology for the task at hand. That could be Ethernet, Fibre Channel, Infiniband, or some other future network scheme. The key is to select your approach based on functionality and efficiency, not what is being hyped as “the next great thing” in the industry. In spite of all the hyperbole, Fibre Channel isn’t going away any time soon.
As Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) said after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”.
Drive Down Costs with a Storage Refresh
Like most other things, technology suffers from advancing age. That leading-edge wonder of just a few years ago is today’s mainstream system. This aging process creates great headaches for IT departments, who constantly see “the bar” being moved upward. Just when it seems like the computing environment is under control, equipment needs to be updated.
Unless a company is well disciplined in enforcing their technical refresh cycle, the aging process can also lure some organizations into a trap. The thinking goes something like this – “Why not put off a technology update by a year or two? Budgets are tight, the IT staff is overworked, and things seem to be going along just fine.” It makes sense, doesn’t it?
Well, not exactly. If you look beyond the purchase and migration expenses, there are other major cost factors to consider.
Power Reduction: There have been major changes in storage device energy efficiency over the past decade. Five years ago the 300GB, 15K RPM 3.5-inch drive was leading-edge technology. Today, that has disk been superseded by 2.5-inch disks of the same speed and capacity. Other than its physical size, other major changes are the disk’s interface (33% faster than Fibre Channel) and its power consumption (about 70% less than a 3.5-inch drive). For 100TB of raw storage, $3577 per year could be saved by reduced power consumption alone.
Cooling Cost Reduction: A by-product of converting energy to power is heat, and systems used to eliminate heat consume power too. The following chart compares the cost for cooling 100TB of 3.5-inch disks with the same capacity provided by 2.5-disks. Using 2.5-inch disks, cooling costs could be reduced by $3548 per year, per 100TB of storage.
Floor Space Reduction: Another significant data center cost is for floor space. This expense can vary widely, depending on the type resources provided and level of high availability guaranteed by the Service Level Agreement. For the purpose of cost comparison, we’ll take a fairly conservative $9600 per equipment rack per year. We will also assume fractional amounts are available, although in the real world full rack pricing might be required. Given the higher density provided by 2.5-inch disks, a cost savings of $9,371 would be achieved.
In the example above, simply replacing aging 300GB, 15K RPM 3.5-inch FC disk drives with the latest 300GB, 15K RPM 2.5-inch FC disk drives will yield the following operational costs (OPEX) savings:
Reduced power $ 3,577
Reduced cooling $ 3,548
Less floor space $ 9,371
Total Savings $ 16,496 per 100TB of storage
Over a storage array’s standard 5-year service cycle, OPEX savings could result in as much as $82K dollars or more.
Addition benefits from a storage refresh might also include tiering storage (typically yielding around a 30% savings over non-tiered storage), reduced support contract costs, and less time spent managing older, more labor-intensive storage subsystems. There is also an opportunity for capital expense (CAPEX) savings by cleverly designing cost-optimized equipment, but that’s a story for a future article.
Don’t be misled into thinking that a delay of your storage technical refresh cycle will save money. In the end it could be a very costly decision.
Disaster Recovery Strategy for the 21st Century
Blade servers, virtualization, solid state disks, and 16Gbps fibre channel – it’s challenging to keep up with today’s advanced technology. The complexity and sophistication of emerging products can be dizzying. In most cases we’ve learned how to cope with these changes, but there are a few areas where we still cling to vestiges of the past. One of these relics of past decades is the impenetrable, monolithic data center.
The data center traces its roots back to the mainframe, when all computing resources were housed in a single, highly specialized facility designed specifically to support processing operations. Since there was little or no effort to classify data, these bastions of data processing were over-designed to ensure the most critical requirements were supported. This model was well-suited for mainframes and centralized computing, but it falls well short of meeting the needs of our modern IT environments.
Traditional data center facilities provide a one-size-fits-all solution. At an average $700 to $1500 per square foot, they are expensive to build. They lack the scalability and flexibility to respond to dynamic market changes and shifts in technology. Since these require massive investments of capital, they must be built not only to contain today’s IT equipment, but also satisfy growth requirements for 25-years or more. The end result is a tremendous waste of capacity, corporate funds tied up for decades, making assumptions about the direction and needs of future IT technology, the build-out of a one-size-fits-all facility, and a price tag that makes disaster recovery redundancy well beyond the reach of most companies.
An excellent solution to this problem is already a proven technology – the Portable Modular Data Center. These are typically self-contained data center modules that contain a comprehensive set of power, cooling, security, and internal infrastructure to support a dozen or more equipment racks per module with up to 30kW of power per rack. These units are relatively inexpensive, highly scalable, simple to deploy, energy efficient (Green), and factory constructed to ensure consistent quality and reproducible technology. As modules, they can be deployed incrementally as requirements dictate, avoiding major one-time capital expenditures for facilities.
Their inherent modularity and scalability make them an excellent choice for incrementally building out finely-tuned disaster recovery facilities. Here is an example of how modular data centers can be leveraged to cost-effectively provide Disaster Recovery protection of an organization’s data assets.
- Mission Critical Operations (typically 10% to 15%)
These are applications and data that might severely cripple the organization if they were not available for any significant period of time.
Strategy – Deploy synchronous replication technology to maintain an up-to-date mirror image of the data that could be brought to operational status within a matter of minutes.
Solution – Deploy one or more Portable Module Data Center units within 30-miles (to minimize latency) and run synchronous replication between the primary data center and the modular facility. Since 20-30 miles of separation would protect from a local disaster, but not a region-wide event, it might be worthwhile to replicate asynchronously from the modular data center to some remote (out-of-region) location. A small amount of data might be lost in the event of a disaster (due to asynchronous delay), but processing could still be brought back on-line quickly with minimal loss of data and only a limited interruption to operations.
- Vital Operations (typically 20% to 25%)
These applications and data are very important to the organization, but an outage of several hours would not financially cripple the business.
Strategy – Deploy an asynchronous replication mechanism outside the region to ensure an almost-up-to-date copy of data is available for rapid recovery.
Solution – Deploy one or more Portable Module Data Center units anywhere in the country and run asynchronous replication between the primary data center and the remote modular facility. Since distance is not a limiting factor for asynchronous replication, the modular facility could be installed anywhere. This protects from disasters occurring not only locally, but within the region as well. A small amount of data might be lost in the event of a disaster (due to asynchronous delay), but applications and databases could still be recovered quickly with minimal loss of data and only a limited interruption to operations.
- Sensitive Operations (typically 20% to 30%)
These applications and data are important to the organization, but an outage of several days to one week would have only a negligible financial impact on the business.
Strategy – (same as above) Use the same asynchronous replication mechanism outside the region to ensure an almost-up-to-date copy of data is available for rapid recovery.
Solution – Add one or more Portable Module Data Center units to the above facility (as required) and run asynchronous replication between the primary data center and the remote modular facility.
- Non-Critical Operations (typically 40% or more)These applications and data are incidental to the organization and can be recovered when time is available. An outage of several weeks would have little impact on the business.
Strategy – (same as above) Use the same asynchronous replication mechanism outside the region to ensure an almost-up-to-date copy of data is available for rapid recovery.
Solution – Deploy one or more Portable Module Data Center units anywhere in the country and run asynchronous replication between the primary data center and a remote modular facility.
Note: Since non-critical applications and data tend to be passive, non-critical operations might also be a viable candidate for transitioning to an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider.
Modular Data Centers are the obvious enabler for the above Disaster Recovery strategy. They allow you to deploy only the data center resource you need, when you need it. They are less expensive than either leased or build facilities, and can be scaled as required by the business.
It’s time for the IT industry to abandon their outdated concepts of what a data center should be and focus on what is needed by each class of data. The day of raised-floor mainframe “bunkers” has passed. It’s time to start managing data center resource deployment as carefully as we manage server and storage deployment. Portable Modular Data Centers allow you to implement efficient, cost-effective IT production facilities in a logical sequence, without breaking the bank in the process.
Consultant, Contractor, or Staff Augmentation – Do You Know the Difference?
The world of IT is becoming remarkably complex, and companies grow increasingly reliant on outside knowledge and skills for assistance. But when you enter into really uncharted waters and need someone you can trust, who will you call? Unfortunately there are a lot of companies in the industry claiming to be technical experts for everything from “Big Data” to “Desktop Virtualization”. How do you identify the serious resources from the technical wannabe’s?
That is an interesting question. Every since the industry’s rush to identify and fix Y2K problems over a decade ago, the line between Consultant, Contractor, and Staff Augmentation has blurred. The recession of the past few years further masked the distinction between roles, since many laid-off IT employees simply re-branded themselves as “Independent Consultants” in an attempt to secure short-term project work.
So what are the differences between Staff Augmentation, Contractors, and Consultants? Let’s start with a definition. According to Wikipedia:
“Staff Augmentation is an outsourcing strategy which is used to staff a project and respond to business objectives. The technique consists of evaluating the existing staff and then determining which additional skills are required. One possible advantage of this approach is that it may leverage existing resources as well as utilize outsourced services and contract workers.”
“An Independent Contractor is a natural person, business, or corporation that provides goods or services to another entity under terms specified in a contract or within a verbal agreement. Unlike an employee, an independent contractor does not work regularly for an employer but works as and when required, during which time he or she may be subject to the Law of Agency. Independent contractors are usually paid on a freelance basis.”
“A Consultant (from Latin: consultare “to discuss”) is a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area such as security (electronic or physical), management, accountancy, law (tax law, in particular), human resources, marketing (and public relations), finance, engineering, or any of many other specialized fields. A consultant is usually an expert or a professional in a specific field and has a wide knowledge of the subject matter.”
…Wikipedia Online Dictionary
Staff augmentation is based on the concept of a “faceless, replaceable skill” that is available for an entire category of labor (Administrator, Engineer, Programmer, Database Administrator, Web Designer, etc.). Since IT relies on a large labor pool of technical skills, these are relatively low priced roles. Since participants are required to have only prerequisite skills in their specialty and no other unique capabilities, they can be hired and released pretty much on demand. Rates are dictated by current market prices, and range from $35 – $95 per hour.
IT contractors are further up the scale in capabilities and value. They are typically companies that deliver a complete service or system to solve a clearly defined problem. This may be a particular operation, type of application, virtualized infrastructure, or network operation. In many instances it is delivered as a complete package, including hardware, software, utilities, installation, configuration, and testing. Contractor services may be purchased on a per-project or a time-and-materials basis and are consistent with similar projects. Bundled labor rates within a specified package or service are in the $125 to $185 per hour range.
At the top of the pyramid is IT consultant. This is a professional service offering highly developed skills and extensive experience in a specialized field. In addition to being a Subject Matter Expert for a particular technology or service, IT consultants typically have an extensive knowledge of related activities that include business operations, project management, associated technologies, industry best practices, quality assurance, security, and other operations. They are sought out by organizations for their comprehensive understanding of business-critical operations or other activity than can have industry-changing ramifications. Since these are highly specialized skills, they command rates from $225 to $450 per hour or more. Although consultants are expensive, they return value to the company that can far exceed their billable rate.
Clearly it’s in the client’s best interests to understand the differences and capabilities of each category. Unfortunately, these titles are frequently intermixed and tossed around somewhat indiscriminately by organizations. Unless due diligence is performed beforehand, occasionally some hapless company will think they landed a senior Consultant for $85 per hr. (plus expenses), when they actually contracted Staff Augmentation. This can quickly becomes the root cause of poor performance, lack-luster productivity, poor organization, missed objectives, and ultimately a failed project.
Technical personnel do not automatically become senior consultants just because that’s a label they’ve anointed themselves with. Buyer beware! Engaging the proper skill-set can either be a game-changer, or a “boat anchor” for the project.
“Big Data” Challenges our Perspective of Technology
It’s easy to hold onto the concept that IT is all about systems, networks, and software. This has been accepted wisdom for the past 50-years. It’s a comfortable concept, but one that is increasing inaccurate and downright dangerous as we move into an era of “big data”! In today’s world not about systems, networks, applications, or the datacenter – it’s all about the data!
For decades accumulated data was treated as a simply bi-product of information processing activities. However, there is growing awareness that stored information is not just digital “raw material”, but a corporate asset containing vast amounts of innate value. Like any other high-value asset, it can be bought or sold, traded, stolen, enhanced, or destroyed.
A good analogy for today’s large-scale storage array is to that of a gold mine. Data is the nuggets of gold embedded in the mine. The storage arrays containing data are the “mine” that houses and protects resident data. Complex and sophisticated hardware, software, tools, and skill-sets are simply tools used to locate, manipulate, and extract the “gold” (data assets) from its surrounding environment. The presence of high value “nuggets” is the sole reason the mining operation exists. If there was no “gold”, the equipment used to extract and/or manipulate it would be of little value.
This presents a new paradigm. For years storage was considered some secondary peripheral that was considered only when new systems or applications were being deployed. Today storage has an identity of its own that is independent from the other systems and software in the environment.
Data is no longer just a commodity or some type of operational residue left over from the computing process. “Big Data” forces a shift in focus from IT assets deployment and administration to the management of high-value data assets. It dictates that data assets sit at the center of concentric rings, ensuring security, recoverability, accessibility, performance, data manipulation, and other aspects of data retention are addressed as abstract requirements with unique requirements. Now information must be captured, identified, valued, classified, assigned to resources, protected, managed according to policy, and ultimately purged from the system after its value to the organization has been expended.
This requires a fundamental change in corporate culture. As we move into an era of “big data” the entire organization must be aware of information’s value as an asset, and the shift from technology-centric approaches for IT management. Just like gold in the above analogy, users must recognize that all data is not “created equal” and delivers different levels of value to an organization for specific periods of time. For example, financial records typically have a high level of inherent value, and retain a level of value for some defined period of time. (The Sarbanes-Oxley act requires publicly-traded companies to maintain related audit documents for no less than seven years after the completion of an audit. Companies in violation of this can face fines of up to $10 million and prison sentences of 20 years for Executives.)
However, differences in value must be recognized and managed accordingly. Last week’s memo about the cafeteria’s luncheon specials must not be retained and managed in the same fashion as an employee’s personnel record. When entered into the system, information should be classified according to a well-defined set of guidelines. With that information it can be assigned to an appropriate storage tier, backed up on a regular schedule, kept available on active storage as necessary, later written to low-cost archiving media to meet regulatory and litigation compliance needs. Once data no longer delivers value to an organization, it can be expired by policy, freeing up expensive resources for re-use.
This approach moves IT emphasis away from building systems tactically by simply adding more-of-the-same, and replacing it with a focus on sophisticated management tools and utilities that automate the process. Clearly articulated processes and procedures must replace “tribal lore” and anecdotal knowledge for managing the data repositories of tomorrow.
“Big Data” ushers in an entirely new way of thinking about information as stored, high-value assets. It forces IT Departments to re-evaluate their approach for management of data resources on a massive scale. At a data growth rate of 35% to 50% per year, business-as-usual is no longer an option. As aptly noted in a Bob Dylan song, “the times they are a-changin”. We must adapt accordingly, or suffer the consequences.
Boot-from-SAN gives Internal Disk the Boot!
It is somewhat surprising just how many skilled IT specialists still shy away from eliminating traditional internal boot disks with a Boot-from-SAN process. I realize old habits die hard and there’s something reassuring about having the O/S find the default boot-block without needing human intervention. However the price organizations pay for this convenience is not justifiable. It simply adds waste, complexity, and unnecessary expense to their computing environment.
Traditionally servers have relied on internal disk for initiating their boot-up processes. At start-up, the system BIOS executes a self-test, starts primitive services like the video output and basic I/O operations, then goes to a pre-defined disk block where the MBR (Master Boot Record) is located. For most systems, the Stage 1 Boot Loader resides on the first block of the default disk drive. The BIOS loads this data into system memory, which then continues to load Stage 2 Boot instructions and ultimately start the Operating System.
Due to the importance of the boot process and the common practice of loading the operating system on the same disk, two disks drives with a RAID1 (disk mirroring) configuration is commonly used to ensure high availability.
Ok, so far so good. Then what’s the problem?
The problem is the disks themselves. Unlike virtually every subsystem in the server, these are electro/mechanical devices with the following undesirable issues:
- Power & Cooling – Unlike other solid-state components, these devices take a disproportionately large amount of power to start and operate. A mirrored pair of 300GB, 15K RPM disks will consume around .25 amps of power and need 95.6 BTUs for cooling. Each system with internal disk has its own miniature “space heater” that aggravates efforts to keep sensitive solid state components cool.
- Physical Space – Each 3.5 inch drive is 1” x 4.0” x 5.76” (or 23.04 cubic inches) in size, so a mirrored pair of disks in a server represents an obstacle of 46.08 cubic inches that requires physical space, provisions for mounting, power connections, air flow routing, and vibration dampening to reduce fatigue on itself and other internal components.
- Under-utilized Capacity – As disk drive technology continues to advance, it becomes more economical to manufacture higher capacity disk drives than maintain an inventory of lower capacity disks. Therefore servers today are commonly shipped with 300GB or 450GB boot drives. The problem is that Windows Server 2008 (or similar) only needs < 100GB of space, so 66% of the disk’s capacity is wasted.
- Backup & Recovery – Initially everyone plans to keep only the O/S, patches and updates, log files, and related utilities on the boot disk. However, the local disk is far too convenient and eventually has other files “temporarily” put on it as well. Unfortunately some companies don’t include boot disks in their backup schedule, and risk losing valuable content if both disks are corrupted. (Note: RAID1 protects data from individual disk failures but not corruption.)
Boot-from-SAN does not involve a PXE or tftp boot over the network. It is an HBA BIOS setting that allows SAN disk to be recognized very early in the boot process as a valid boot device, then points the server to that location for the Stage 1 Boot Loader code. It eliminates any need for internal disk devices and moves the process to shared storage on the SAN. It also facilitates the rapid replacement of failed servers (all data and applications remain on the SAN), and is particularly useful for blade systems (where server “real-estate” is at a premium and optimal airflow is crucial).
The most common argument used against Boot-from-SAN is “what if the SAN is not available”. On the surface it sounds like a valid point, but what is the chance of that occurring with well-designed SAN storage? Why would that be any different than if the internal boot disk array failed to start? Even if the system started internally and the O/S loaded, how much work could a server do if it could not connect to the SAN? The consequences of any system failing to come up to an operational state are the same, regardless if it uses a Boot-from-SAN process or boots up from internal disks.
For a handful servers, this may not be a very big deal. However, when you consider the impact on a datacenter running thousands of servers the problem becomes obvious. For every thousand servers, Boot-from-SAN eliminates the expense of two thousand internal disks, 240 amps of current, the need for 655,300 BTUs of cooling, greatly simplifies equipment rack airflow, eliminates 200TB of inaccessible space, and measurably improves storage manageability and data backup protection.
Boot-from-SAN capability is built into most modern HBA BIOS’s and is supported by almost every operating system and storage array on the market. Implementing this valuable tool should measurably improve the efficiency of your data center operation.
Datacenter Optimization? It’s a Target-Rich Environment!
We’re struggling back from the depths of recession, but IT budgets remain tight. The business community is demanding an ever-increasing amount of functionality from the datacenter. Managing IT today is an exercise in being-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place.
However in the midst of this seemingly impossible situation, there are bright spots. Most datacenters are a veritable treasure-trove of opportunity for efficiency improvements. Some examples include:
- Typically over 90% of all data sitting on active disk has not been accessed in over 6-months.
- An average physical server (non-virtualized) is less than 30% utilized.
- Floor-space for a 42U equipment rack costs around $3000 per month (or $36,000 per year, per rack). That equate to over $850 per U (1.75 inches), per year!
- Replacing rack servers with blade servers can reduce the amount of rack space by at least 36% (typically much more).
- According to Intel, upgrading servers to newer, more powerful systems can yield a consolidation ratio of between 4:1 and 7:1.
- Standardizing on 45U high equipment racks, rather than 42U racks will reduce your datacenter foot print by (1) rack for every (14) equipment racks installed.
- The purchase price for multi-tiered storage equipment is normally 25% – 35% less than traditional storage arrays.
- Replacing boot disks with boot-from-SAN technology may eliminate literally hundreds of underutilized disks, along with the power and cooling they require.
- 2.5 inch disk drives need 40% less energy (and cooling) than a 3.5 inch disk drive equivalent of the same capacity.
- In a properly managed environment, LTO tape media will store seldom-used data for up to 30-years with a 99.999% recovery rate – at under $.03 per GB!
- A well-designed SAN topology can lower the fibre channel port cost from $1800-per-port to around $300-per-port (an 80%+ reduction in cost)!
- Well-designed and properly delivered IT training can increase productivity by 17% – 21% per FTE.
So where to start? The quickest way is to perform a high-level assessment of the datacenter to identify the most promising opportunities. This can be done by internal personnel, but it is a task most effectively done by an outside IT consulting firm that specializes in datacenter optimization. They can devote the time necessary to promptly complete the task, and are not biased by day-to-day familiarity with the equipment that may mask issues. Additionally, an professional datacenter consultant can deliver an industry-wide perspective, suggest best practices, and offer out-of-the-box thinking that is not influenced by an organization’s current culture.
Once all areas for improvement have been exposed and documented, the data should be transitioned into the architectural development and planning cycle to ensure any changes will not adversely impact other areas of operation, and are executed on a manageable and sustainable timeline.
Unfortunately there is no “magic cure” for a difficult economy or anemic IT budgets. However, most datacenters offer more than enough opportunity to enable you to shave 20% to 30% off the operating budget.
Storage Tiers – Putting Data in It’s Place
I’m frequently surprised by the number of companies who haven’t transitioned to a tiered storage structure. All data is not created equal. While a powerful database may place extreme demand on storage, word processing documents do not.
As we move into a new world of “big data”, more emphasis needs to be focused on making good decisions about what class of disk this data should reside on. Although there are no universally accepted standards for storage tier designations, frequently the breakdown goes as follows:
Tier 0 – Solid state devices
Tier 1 – 15K RPM SAS or FC Disks
Tier 2 – 10K RPM SAS or FC Disks
Tier 3 – 7200 or 5400 RPM SATA (a.k.a. – NL-SAS) Disks
So why is a tiering strategy important for large quantities of storage? Let’s take a look at similar storage models for 1 petabyte of data:
The difference in disk drive expense alone is over $225,000 or around 30% of the equipment purchase price. In addition there other issues to consider.
- Reduces the Initial purchase price by 25% or more
- Improving energy efficiency by 25% – 35% lowers operational cost and cooling requirements
- Substantial savings from reduced data center floorspace requirements
- Increased overall performance for all applications and databases
- Greater scalability and flexibility for matching storage requirements to business growth patterns
- Provides additional resources for performance improvements (an increased number of ports, cache, controller power, etc.)
- A high degree of modularity facilitates better avoidance of technical obsolescence
- May moderate the demand for technical staff necessary to manage continual storage growth
- Requires automated, policy-based data migration software to operate efficiently.
- Should employ enterprise-class frames for Tiers 0/1 and midrange arrays for Tiers 2/3
- Incurs approximately a 15% cost premium for enterprise-class storage to support Tier 0/1 disks
- Implements a more complex storage architecture that requires good planning and design
- Needs at least a rudimentary data classification effort for maximum effectiveness
So does the end justify the effort? That is for each company to decide. If data storage growth is fairly stagnant, then it may be questionable whether the additional effort and expense is worth it. However if you are staggering under a 30% – 50% CAGR storage growth rate like most companies, the cost reduction, increased scalability, and performance improvements achieved may well justify the effort.