3PAR Inc. is adding support for solid-state drives (SSDs) in its InServ storage arrays, as well as sub-LUN-level automated tiered storage software, a move that customers say they have been waiting for as policy-based storage management becomes a key checklist item for enterprise data storage systems supporting SSDs.
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3PAR will support units of eight 50 GB STEC Inc. Mach8IOPS single-level cell (SLC) SSDs in its T Series high-end disk arrays and F-Class midrange disk arrays next quarter, according to Craig Nunes, 3PAR's vice president of marketing.
Most of the enterprise storage vendors supporting solid-state drives now use 100 GB ZeusIOPS SSDs from STEC, but Nunes said because 3PAR's systems wide stripe data across all drives in the array that makes smaller drives set up to work in parallel more optimal. Pricing for each set of eight SSDs will start at $22,400.
Nunes argued the smaller drives also offer more bang for the buck for customers. "There's not that much difference in price between, say, 146 GB and 300 GB Fibre Channel drives, because the difference is just one drive platter. With Flash, the difference between a 50 GB and a 100 GB drive is much greater because the difference physically is twice as much NAND capacity," he said, pointing out that one of the 100 GB ZeusIOPS drives tends to be priced at approximately $20,000. "You can get twice as many smaller Flash drives for half the cost of one of the larger ones. We felt these were the right balance of cost-effectiveness and performance for our customers."
Even customers who don't intend to use Flash drives can benefit from 3PAR's new sub-LUN automated tiered storage software called Adaptive Optimization. The software builds on the Dynamic Optimization volume-level automated tiered storage 3PAR has offered since 2005, but monitors data storage performance on a more granular level. Nunes said a typical 500 GB volume has approximately 4,000 sub-volumes -- called regions by 3PAR -- below it. Adaptive Optimization can move each of these regions between tiers of disk independently of the rest of the volume according to user-set policies.
One 3PAR customer said he's been waiting for granular automated tiered storage capabilities since he first installed a 3PAR InServ F400 array a year ago, though he admits he isn't running up against performance bottlenecks yet. "Our problem is space and power," said Nicholas Ferguson, senior infrastructure architect at Bahamas-based Nephila Capital Ltd. Right now, Ferguson said the financial services firm has 50 TB of 3PAR capacity, but "we're hoping SSDs will help us cut down on the power consumption and amount of disk spindles we have to use."
Another 3PAR customer, Gregory Thomas, vice president of IT at Florham Park, NJ-based Managed Health Care Associates (MHA) Inc., said sub-volume tiering allows him to set more application-specific policies for moving data. Another recent software update extended 3PAR's support for volume sizes up to 16 TB vs. a 2 TB limit in the past. "We have one volume that's 12 TB," Thomas said. "If you have a volume that large, you can't just move that around. You want the application within the volume to move to a different disk tier."
Adding such increased granularity to storage management also adds overhead to the system to manage more components; however, 3PAR's Nunes said the company's design makes all disks accessible to all controllers and network interfaces on the array so that the full horsepower of the array can be used to move and manage data. At that granular level, it's also easier to move data quickly in the background, meaning contention for disk resources between the data movement engine and application servers is less likely.
Even with automation, users insist on maintaining control
3PAR has included what Nunes calls a "manual override" with the system, just in case. "The first words out of the mouths of customers are: 'Give me control over this,'" he said. Adaptive Optimization allows customers to schedule data movement for specific times of the day and week, limit data movement operations to certain windows of time, or limit the amount of data that can be moved at any time. Users also set thresholds of performance and capacity that trigger the moves by policy.
"You don't spend this amount of money for an array like this, and then just sit back and think 'Oh, it'll take care of itself'," MHA's Thomas said. "You still have to know your data."
Nunes also acknowledged a significant proportion of 3PAR users will stick with wide striping data across a single tier of SATA drives. "A lot of folks are pretty happy with our technology for wide striping SATA drives," he said. "What we're all aiming for is the costs associated with SATA."
Beating EMC to sub-volume tiering
With Adaptive Optimization, 3PAR is beating its largest competitor, EMC Corp., to the punch with the sub-volume tiering — a feature seen as key to using pricey Flash capacity cost-effectively. EMC's Fully Automated Storage Tiering (FAST) software does volume-level automated tiering, but block-level FAST isn't due until the second half of the year.
"3PAR's approach helps to promote it as a true tier 1 player and close the gap with EMC. It can now be more definitive about the performance of certain applications," Wikibon analyst David Vellante wrote in an email. "The flip side is EMC has a better reputation in the areas of rock solid availability, replication and all that other tier 1 stuff that 3PAR covets."
Adaptive Optimization is available today, starting at $1,400 per InServ array, and it requires 3PAR's System Reporter software to monitor performance. A System Reporter license is priced at $3,200 for new customers and is a free upgrade for existing users under software maintenance agreements.