Making Storage Consolidation a Reality

INFINIDAT Briefing Note

The concept of a single storage system to serve the entire data center has been with us as long as the data center itself. But now we are seeing an explosion in the number and variety of workloads that data centers support and it seems unlikely that a single storage system is up to the task. Instead, the trend is to have a specific storage system for each workload. INFINIDAT’s InfiniBox storage system just might reverse that trend and prove that a well-architected storage system can meet the needs of the entire enterprise.

Architecture Matters

While there are faster storage mediums, flash is the fastest commonly available media to data centers today. The assumption though is that once a storage system is all-flash, that is as good as performance will get. The reality is that most storage systems actually inhibit flash performance, not allowing it to reach its full potential. The systems also don’t take full advantage of less common, but faster, storage technology like DRAM. While many look at flash as the great performance equalizer between vendors, it actually exposes flaws in a storage system’s architecture. With flash, there is no latency to hide behind.

There is also the assumption that hard disk drives no longer have a role in the data center, that they have reached a performance wall and they are not worth the effort given flash’s performance and continuously declining price point. The flaw in this logic is that the price of hard disk drive capacity on a TB basis is still less than flash. Also many, potentially most, workloads in the data center can’t benefit from the performance that flash provides.

Once again, architecture plays a role; if enough hard disk drives are available to the storage system, it can deliver very respectable performance. More than enough for workloads that don’t need flash performance and also fast enough to serve as a secondary tier to flash.

The INFINIDAT Architecture

Storage Switzerland detailed the InfiniBox system in a recent product analysis, “The Anatomy of a Consolidated Storage System“. But as a refresher, each InfiniBox system is made up of three controller nodes. Each node has up to 1.1 TB of DRAM and Flash directly connected to it. Each of the nodes has access to a shared tier of 480 NL-SAS hard disk drives.

What makes INFINIDAT unique is its low flash to disk ratio (3 percent of capacity) while it claims faster than flash performance. To achieve its “faster than flash” claim, INFINIDAT uses more DRAM (up to 3TBs) and Flash (up to 210TBs) than most enterprise storage systems and considerably more hard disk drives, 480, seen by three controllers. The software automatically and intelligently moves data between these storage types without needing configuration. The combination leads to performance of greater than 1 million IOPS and 12+ GBs bandwidth, while maintaining very low (microseconds) of latency.

INFINIDAT 3.0

Recently, INFINIDAT announced the latest release of the software that drives this architecture, InfiniBox 3.0. The release has many new capabilities filling in some of the holes in the previous InfiniBox offering. For example, it adds iSCSI support, performance analytics, VLAN tagging, writable snapshots and smart snapshot refresh.

The headline feature in the new release is data compression, which works on both SAN and NAS volumes. Because of the way the InfiniBox architecture works, there is no latency when compression is turned on. Data is written to DRAM and then acknowledged to the application, but the data is not compressed until it is written to disk.

Interestingly, the compression platform is data-aware and can take advantage of different compression engines based on data type. This means it can perform data-specific optimization, which will be very valuable to certain industries.

StorageSwiss Take

Enterprises are facing unprecedented storage sprawl and they have to address it. There are competing philosophies. A popular approach is to embrace a software solution that will automatically move data between disparate storage systems and locations. While this approach does provide some flexibility in vendor selection, it does create complexity in managing multiple storage systems.

INFINIDAT is taking another approach, designing a single storage system that it believes can do it all. Its performance results are compelling and should meet the needs of an overwhelming majority of data centers. The total cost of ownership (TCO) is equally compelling and should be less expensive than the combined cost of disparate hardware. INFINIDAT’s architecture has delivered the ability to consolidate performance from the first release. Its ability to consolidate capacity while not impacting that performance is made even more compelling with its implementation of compression.

Eleven years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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