Data continues its exponential growth, leaving many businesses scrambling to meet their expanding storage requirements. This demand has led to the emergence of many innovative, new storage solutions. Now, in addition to traditional hybrid storage based on disks and SSDs, enterprises can choose from all-flash systems, software-defined and hyper-scale architectures, in addition to hyper-converged solutions. However, this increased choice also adds complexity, particularly as many of the options have overlapping capabilities. This makes it more confusing than ever to select the right technology.
But before you start to define the storage architecture for your business, we recommend taking into account the following considerations:
Starting point: Identify your approach to scalability
A key first question to ask is whether your requirements for computing power are likely to grow in parallel with the data capacity you need, or whether these growth paths are largely unrelated. This is especially important since classic architectures, used to drive the majority of today’s mission-critical business applications, provide a higher level of flexibility in terms of selecting storage, server and networking equipment. In fact, each element of these “three-tier architectures” can largely be scaled separately.
Meanwhile, hyper-converged infrastructures (HCI) combine computing and storage functions into one unit with a single embedded management system. Scalability is achieved by adding more complete units.
Architectures for independent storage scalability
If you need to ensure reliability and performance, then all-flash storage arrays are the best storage strategy. These are non-mechanical and deliver the lowest latency. Scalability is achieved by adding additional shelves, while fast internal high-speed connections avoid bottlenecks. Previously, high prices prevented wide scale adoption, but now, not only is the price of all-flash storage dramatically reducing, but all-flash also presents many operational efficiencies. Notable among these are great reductions in power consumption and requirement of less space and less administrative intervention than traditional disks.
On the other end of the scale, the best architecture for hosting huge volumes of rapidly growing data is scale-out, software-defined storage (SDS). This essentially brings servers together into a storage pool. Software ensures high availability and the system can be easily maintained and scaled.
In larger environments, a combination of all-flash to deliver performance and scale-out, disk-based SDS to deliver capacity may be an ideal combination, provided that the data volume is big enough. However, when you need to host data for performance-hungry applications such as virtualization or databases and to keep these alongside unstructured and “lukewarm” data such as online archives in a single system, then hybrid storage systems, are still the most appropriate solution, using SSDs and large capacity disks. These represent true all-rounders in IT environments and allow you to balance speed, capacity and costs in a single system.
All-Flash or hybrid – which way to go?
If you intend to consolidate all your data into a handful of units or even a single system, then deploying hybrid systems could be the best strategy. They combine fast solid-state drives with cost-effective, low-speed spinning disks allowing you to balance speed, capacity and costs in one system. However, if your current storage systems are primarily based on fast-spinning disks, you should definitely consider an all-flash array for your next storage platform. This is not least because all-flash is now simply unbeatable from an operational cost perspective.
When is Software-defined Storage (SDS) the right way?
The adoption of SDS is gaining momentum. This is thanks to the architecture’s ability to deliver a robust and secure system with easy and efficient capacity and to provide performance scalability for applications which do not require low latency. This approach is also cost effective thanks to the open source SDS solutions available. It offers significant flexibility, extended life cycles, and reduced need for migration. On the other hand, an SDS has multiple different components that will require significant integration work and testing, while ongoing management requires a particularly high level of specific technical expertise. Our recommendation for businesses investigating this option is to look for complete SDS solutions.
When to move into the future with HCI?
Today, a hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) is much more than just a niche solution, with service providers proving to be enthusiastic early adopters. Although HCIs are likely to replace some traditional systems, we expect them to continue to coexist with traditional storage systems. Generally, HCIs are based on x86 servers that serve as both server and storage platform, simultaneously managing storage and acting as an application platform. Everything is virtualized, making HCI systems easy to scale and enabling administrators to draw on existing knowledge of virtualized systems. However, HCIs are less well suited to scenarios that need high data volume scalability but require limited compute power to move the data. They can also present quality of service challenges, since applications, software layers and data management all draw on the same server resources. Additionally, there is the risk that HCIs can lead to storage silos, reducing operational efficiency.
The bottom line is that businesses are now faced with many new ways to handle storage, and all of which have their own advantages and disadvantages. To add to the complexity, not only does every business have unique storage requirements, but also there are countless different ways of solving them. At Fujitsu we provide a broad portfolio of solutions – from storage appliances, servers to complete hyper-converged solutions – which means we are well placed to support you in finding the right storage solution. Before designing your next storage infrastructure, we recommend you begin first, by selecting a storage strategy that is right for your business. Our whitepaper goes into more detail on the pros and cons of what can otherwise look like a dizzying range of options.