For years, centralized storage meant complex Fiber Channel Storage Area Networks (FC SAN) which were very expensive. Large enterprises were prepared to pay big premiums for such centralized storage networks, as storing valuable data scattered over hundreds of servers would cost them a lot more. The risk of losing data was higher, and decentralized storage resulted in a lot more work for the system administrators. As the necessary storage capacity doubled and still doubles every 18 months, scalability not simplicity was the priority. Hence, the expensive but scalable SANs paid for themselves over time by making the datacenter easier to maintain with fewer people and lower data loss risks.

However, for an SME (Small/Medium sized Enterprise), SANs were simply overpriced storage arrays. The SME has fewer servers that need access to shared storage, so complex switching fabrics with routing are usually unnecessary. The need for less storage capacity and more simplicity doesn't mean that centralized storage capacity cannot be a huge advantage for some SMEs. SMEs that offer web services are especially interested in an affordable form of centralized storage.

We have been working with quite a few SMEs the past several years, and making storage more scalable is a bonus for those companies. However, it is not the main reason companies are looking into SANs. If your company depends on a web service, you want your server to be available around the clock. That means that you will almost certainly be looking towards clustering and failover techniques. These High Availability (HA) technologies - whether on a virtual (VMware HA, Xen HA) or a physical server - in many cases require a shared storage device to work well.

HA together with making storage easier to maintain are the two main reasons why affordable shared storage is desirable, even in an environment where only a few servers are necessary. VMware's Vmotion is another reason why the interest for centralized storage is increasing. Vmotion is not really an alternative for the traditional failover and HA technologies, but it allows for hardware maintenance and server migration from one machine to another without any downtime. In order to make this work, you also need shared storage.

The SME's renewed interest for centralized storage has drawn the attention of the big storage vendors. Since 2006, HP, Netapp, Sun, IBM, Fujitsu-Siemens, and EMC have all launched quite a few product lines targeted at the SME. Many of these "SME products" start at a relatively low price, but a complete storage solution can still carry a very hefty price tag. It is not surprising that the SME product lines are in fact somewhat downsized high-end solutions if you consider that the SME market (about $1 billion) is probably only a small fraction of the $17 billion storage market (See IDC's 2006 report).

Anyway, the idea behind this article is not to discuss the technology and business trends in the professional IT market. There are enough articles covering that. As part of a larger project of helping the SMEs with their datacenter choices, we will try to find out which solutions offer good price/performance without omitting any critical features. If you are relatively new to storage, we'll give you a crash course.
Storage Crash Course...
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  • Lifted - Wednesday, November 7, 2007 - link


    We have been working with quite a few SMEs the past several years, and making storage more scalable is a bonus for those companies.

    I'm just wondering this sentence was linked to an article about a Supermicro dual node server. So you considere Supermicro an SME, or are you saying their servers are sold to SME's? I just skimmed the Supermicro article, so perhaps you were working with an SME in testing it? I got the feeling from the sentence that you meant to link to an article where you had worked with SME's in some respect.
  • JohanAnandtech - Wednesday, November 7, 2007 - link

    no, Supermicro is not an SME in our viewpoint :-). Sorry, I should have been more clear, but I was trying to avoid that the article lost it's focus.

    I am head of a serverlab in the local university and our goal is applied research in the fields of virtualisation, HA and Server sizing. One of the things we do is to develop software that helps SME's (with some special niche application) to size their server. That is what the link is going towards, a short explanation of the stresstesting client APUS which has been used to help quite a few SMEs. One of those SMEs is MCS, a software company who develops facility management software. Basically the logs of their software were analyzed and converted by our stresstesting client into a benchmark. Sounds a lot easier than it is.

    Because these applications are used in real world, and are not industry standard benchmarks that the manufacturers can tune to the extreme, we feel that this kind of benchmarking is a welcome addition to the normal benchmarks.
  • hirschma - Wednesday, November 7, 2007 - link

    Is the Promise gear compatible with Cluster File Systems like Polyserve or GFS? Perhaps the author could get some commentary from Promise.
  • JohanAnandtech - Wednesday, November 7, 2007 - link

    We will. What kind of incompatibility do you expect? It seems to me that the filesystem is rather independent from the storage rack.
  • hirschma - Thursday, November 8, 2007 - link


    We will. What kind of incompatibility do you expect? It seems to me that the filesystem is rather independent from the storage rack.

    I only ask because every cluster file vendor suggests that not all SAN systems are capable of handling multiple requests to the same LUN simultaneously.

    I can't imagine that they couldn't, since I think that cluster file systems are the "killer app" of SANs in general.
  • FreshPrince - Wednesday, November 7, 2007 - link

    I think I would like to try the intel solution and compare it to my cx3...
  • Gholam - Wednesday, November 7, 2007 - link

    Any chance of seeing benchmarks for LSI Engenio 1333/IBM DS3000/Dell MD3000 series?
  • JohanAnandtech - Wednesday, November 7, 2007 - link

    I am curious why exactly?

    And yes, we'll do our best to get some of the typical storage devices in the labs. Any reason why you mention these one in particular (besides being the lower end of the SANs)
  • Gholam - Thursday, November 8, 2007 - link

    Both Dell and IBM are aggressively pushing these in the SMB sector around here (Israel). Their main competition is NetApp FAS270 line, which is considerably more expensive.
  • ninjit - Wednesday, November 7, 2007 - link

    It's a good idea to define all your acronyms the first time you use them in an article.
    Sure, a quick google told me what an SME was, but it's helpful to the casual reader, who would otherwise be directed away from your page.

    What's funny, is that you were particular about defining FC, SAN, HA on the first page, just not the title term of your article.

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