Do you know one when you see it? Is there a reasonable way to define it? Or should we just go with our gut when assigning the label of “enterprise” to a disk array?
Its pretty clear what is not an enterprise disk array. Take the Ctera C200 network attached storage device. It does RAID. It does cloud storage, it can migrate shares and it even does snapshots. Pretty cool. But it’s not a block device (or is that a hidden feature?), it only holds two disk drives and you certainly can’t get someone to wait in the driveway to fix the thing should it die.
So, clearly, features matter, bigness matters and a live-in support team has some value for those needing continuous operations.
But is that enough to hang the “enterprise” sign on a disk storage array?
After all, many mid-range disk arrays are loaded with features. Take a look at Promise’s VessRAID products. Lots of features. Or HP’s MSA disk arrays. Again lots of features but only the most shameless marketing person would call those products enterprise ready.
But let’s digress a little, maybe one of the first things to do is define what “enterprise” means. Certainly it implies “big” and “complex”. Or at least one might jump to that conclusion. In fact an enterprise could be a Mom&Pop bicycle shop. Most folks, however, are more likely (at least in the IT business) to think of a large international company when throwing around the word “enterprise”. So for this blog’s purposes, let’s assume that “enterprise” implies a company size that needs one or more dedicated data centers to service its IT needs. A datacenter with many hundreds of Terabytes and thousands of users.
So with that definition for enterprise, we are clearly discussing disk arrays that can service the largest of IT environments. For international companies that means global capabilities, with IT infrastructure to go with it.
Back to features. A globally distributed IT infrastructure requires a way to sync data. So at a minimum, an enterprise disk array (EDA) needs to efficiently move data across the globe. Replication is the answer and efficient usage of bandwidth goes hand in hand to keep costs down. So the feature set grows.
Likewise, as EDA’s multiply across data centers, management becomes a challenge. An operator will become quickly frustrated if the management paradigm for an EDA doesn't aggregate EDA’s and make them work in unison. For example, setting up replication across the globe can be akin to hanging wall paper - lots of moving parts and high criticism when perfection is not achieved. The EDA better have a decent management scheme.
And so the story goes ad nauseum.
Issues such as security, efficiency, operating system support, environmentals, and especially scalability all factor into whether a disk array is an “enterprise” disk array. There is no one-size-fits-all criterion but there are clear measures that can be applied.
Some of this is in the eye of the beholder but in general it boils down to this: more scalability, more specialized features, more reliability, more of everything, characterizes an enterprise ready disk array.
But let’s get specific. To be in the enterprise game, to be at the top of the disk array food chain, a disk array must at least:
· Scale to greater than 500 TByte: In a large datacenter, an EDA must meet current needs as well as expand easily along with the growth of data. What’s magic about 500 TBytes? Nothing specific other than it sets the bar for size and scalability.
· Offer extreme availability: High availability is a cornerstone of many data centers that provide continuous operating environments. The disk array, through redundant design, maintenance procedures, and proactive self-healing should be capable of offering the best available uptime (up to 5 nines) whether as a single unit or as part of a larger disaster recovery and business continuity implementation.
· Integrate with the IT ecosystem: An EDA is not a standalone product. An EDA should support business process implementations by integrating into enterprise management applications and IT operational processes as a key component in an IT infrastructure.
· Provide holistic service and support: The supplying vendor must offer not only maintenance contracts to keep a system running smoothly on a global scale, but also options for onsite operations, training and 24/7 service.
· Offer multipurpose operation: The EDA cannot be a one trick pony. The system must be capable of being the focus of all data services including data protection and archiving within an integrated multi-datacenter ecosystem. An EDA vendor must deliver the highest performance capability for demanding databases and transactional applications as well as less demanding but still vital file serving or server-virtualization data capability.
That’s a start, the above gets a vendor into the game, but we still need some criteria to compare enterprise disk arrays. What would that be? Is a spec sheet comparison interesting or is there a more insightful way to compare products?
Whose to say an EMC VMax is better than a IBM DS 8300?
IT organizations are. With their purchase orders.
And their Burton Group analyst friends stand ready to help them with research into this very subject.
And back to the Ctera C200. Cool product but Ctera: do you think you could juice it up to compete against a HDS USP? Just kidding ;-}
Posted by Gene Ruth