SATA 2.5 Specification Certified for the Enterprise

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In today’s business world, all certified network and IT professionals will encounter the need to meet current storage needs as well as plan for future data consumption. Storage accounts for a significant portion of total IT infrastructure costs. “The total spending by enterprise-level IT departments worldwide on storage and server devices is around $52.98 billion. This represents 32 percent of their annual budgets,” said Krishna Chander, iSuppli Corp.’s senior analyst, storage systems

The sheer size of this expense coupled with increasing demands placed on storage systems by government regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Sarbanes-Oxley has the prudent storage manager implementing an information lifecycle management (ILM) program with a multi-tiered storage infrastructure. The benefits of this approach are numerous, including a more efficient storage strategy with tremendous cost savings. One thing is for certain, consuming expensive real estate on critical enterprise storage area networks (SANs) for second-tier data such as e-mail, multimedia, databases, documents, etc., will bankrupt any IT budget.

There are new options available for scalable, reliable and high-performance storage that will help storage managers meet ever-expanding storage requirements and offload the financial and data pressure from SAN environments.

The SATA 2.5 specification was recently released and with new features, such as native command queuing, 3Gb/s transfer rates, port multiplication and port selection, SATA RAID holds great promise for the enterprise. A SATA RAID implementation costs a fraction of SCSI or FC—$1.05 per GB for SATA versus $5.50 per GB for FC and $5.15 per GB for SCSI. With SATA II products on the horizon, IT managers searching for high-performance, scalable, reliable and redundant technology will undoubtedly turn to SATA solutions.

ILM and Tiered-Storage Architecture

The process of evaluating and prioritizing the company’s data using an ILM strategy leads to the obvious conclusion of a tiered storage architecture where data is stored based on requirements related to performance, availability and economics. For most companies, cost savings can be achieved by implementing a storage architecture that consists of three basic levels:

 

 

  • Tier 1: Online: mission-critical, transaction based, continuous access, high-value data, maximum security and availability, must be redundant.
  • Tier 2: Near-line: application-based, active to infrequent use, medium- to high-value data, reliability and availability are important, redundancy required for recovery purposes.
  • Tier 3: Off-line: archives, infrequent access, low priority in business operations, data organization important for easy access when required, disk-to-disk backup and tape archives.

 

SATA RAID provides the performance and availability required for Tier 2 (near-line) storage at the most attractive cost per MB. SATA is also the best choice for Tier 3 (off-line) given the needs that government regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA have imposed on search and retrieval of company records containing both structured and unstructured data.

But again, is SATA suitable for enterprise applications? Yes. This is not to say that SATA is a storage panacea, ready to take on enterprise storage requirements across the board. SCSI and Fibre Channel SANs remain the preferred technology for transaction processing, but there is much broader application for SATA than ever before.

It’s not news that SATA is considerably less expensive than SCSI and Fibre Channel. What may not be readily known are the manageability, availability, performance and scalability benefits of SATA. With the impending introduction of new products based on the SATA 2.5 specification, this stalwart of the storage industry can now be considered for a range of data center requirements.

Evaluating Data Center Requirements

In order to determine where SATA is best suited in the data center, we must analyze the applications, their role in the enterprise and the data or information they produce. Traditionally, mission-critical applications are defined as those applications where downtime, or faulty execution, may have catastrophic results for the company. Malfunctions with these applications could lead to loss of revenue, an inability to conduct business or operational breakdowns that hinder the company’s ability to manufacture, deliver or support products. Systems such as ERP, CRM and e-commerce typically come to mind when we say “mission-critical.” But mission-critical depends on your business—mission-critical to one company may seem ancillary to another. And many applications that are not truly mission-critical are managed as if they were.

The IT department is judged based on application availability and response time. If any application goes down, it’s a reflection on the IT department’s ability to maintain the company’s applications, including mission-critical systems. In order to maximize performance and availability while maintaining storage costs, IT managers should develop a process for prioritizing applications based on business criticality and the impact of the application and its data on company operations. Many companies today subscribe to the “need more storage, buy more storage” program, even if it’s high-end Fibre Channel or SCSI storage. For a more lucrative return on your storage investment, utilize the results of your application and data analysis to identify where lower-cost SATA RAID can be put to work. For example, two areas to consider when evaluating your applications for storage cost savings are:

 

 

  • Can the application itself be offloaded to SATA RAID? Is it truly a Tier-1 mission-critical transaction-based application?
  • Can the data of a Tier-1 application be moved to SATA RAID for use and analysis? How frequently can this download occur (freeing up space on the existing Tier-1 storage subsystem)?

 

Moving the Application or the Information

SATA has not been considered for enterprise-class applications up to this point because performance, reliability and “ruggedness” of the drives (i.e., drive components specifically designed for rugged mission-critical environments—rotational speed, low noise, low vibration, duty cycle, etc.) could not match that of SCSI and Fibre Channel. Applications such as an ERP system require “five 9s” reliability, 24×7. The mean time between failures (MTBF) of SATA drives did not place them in this class. Additionally, the rotational speed of SATA drives was significantly less than that of SCSI and Fibre Channel drives. The demands of mission-critical, transaction-based applications necessitate the absolute highest performance.

Within the past year, this has changed. MTBF hours of SATA drives are now a minimum of 600,000, with some drives exceeding 1 million hours. Rotational speeds are at 7,200 to 10,000 rpm. As such, there is little question that SATA should be playing a larger role in the data center. The new opportunity for SATA emerges where the line blurs between online Tier 1 storage and near-line Tier 2 storage, and in the management of all data (Tier 1 and Tier 2).

For those applications that need to remain on the Fibre Channel SAN (ERP, e-commerce), SATA still presents a cost-saving opportunity. Link SATA RAID to operational databases for data query, mining and analysis. Conduct FC-to-SATA backup on a regular basis—keeping pricey FC storage for operation of the application (e.g., transaction processing), utilize lower cost SATA RAID for maintaining the data.

An enterprise storage subsystem must supply high levels of manageability, availability, performance and scalability. These are all capabilities that a SATA RAID storage system can provide. Analysis and prioritizat

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