What to Look For in a Modern Storage Network

Legacy storage network architectures can’t keep up with the scale and performance requirements of modern data sets and workloads such as the Internet of Things (IoT) analytics, creating the need for transformation to support new business demands.

Fibre Channel is a mature technology entrenched as the go-to for Tier 1 applications, but a focus on right-sizing infrastructure per application-specific cost and performance requirements is resulting in heterogeneous storage network architectures. For example, increased adoption of hyperconverged infrastructure and object storage creates new use cases for iSCSI technologies. Furthermore, increased utilization of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) creates polarization of bandwidth requirements that is exacerbated as flash storage arrays are deployed alongside slower-performing hard disk drive (HDD)-based storage arrays.

Simplified network management and more proactive, predictive troubleshooting capabilities are becoming table stakes for IT shops pressured to guarantee service levels and always-on availability, while simultaneously freeing up as much time as possible from day-to-day management tasks to contribute more strategically to the business. Automation and orchestration allow a larger network to be managed by a more limited IT staff, allowing network administrators to focus on higher-value initiatives such as future technology planning. Meanwhile, long-standing practices of reactive network troubleshooting are hindering network performance and business continuity.

The need for storage network modernization may be clear, but the path to get there is not. Compounding the complexity of increasing heterogeneity, integrating new switches into next-generation storage network architectures is more challenging due to the speed at which new workloads must come online. This is made even more difficult by the fact that hardware and software must be upgraded simultaneously – software is growing more critical today with the advent of software-based, next-generation feature sets such as automation.

When re-architecting the storage network, it is important to think about harnessing new technologies to achieve new levels of performance – but also about doing so in an intelligent way, as not all applications need maximum bandwidth. Impressive 32 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Fibre Channel speeds are attainable, but IT shops should evaluate the full line rate for consistent performance across ports. Oversubscription can cause performance issues when met with the more limited latency of all-flash arrays. The introduction of all-flash arrays alongside hard disk arrays furthermore creates a use case for network traffic segmentation to ensure quality of service, due to the vast difference in data processing speeds.

StorageSwiss Take

Keeping things simpler (and cheaper) is paramount for IT shops today. With this in mind, network architects should consider self-zoning switches with modular, fixed form factors and the ability to license or “turn on” ports on demand. This helps to guarantee switch availability for business-critical data transfers, to maximize the lifespan of (and, as a result, return on investment in) switch hardware, and to save valuable IT administrative resources. This is especially important as the fabric must grow quickly to accommodate the slew of new workloads coming online.

A centralized GUI for single-pane-of-glass management of licenses, devices and infrastructure topology further streamlines management, and therefore should be considered a key feature. Features such as time-based notification of software license expirations, and a vantage point that extends beyond the network into compute and storage resources to provide more holistic and actionable insights, stands to add substantial value.

Finally, obtaining smarter and deeper visibility into storage network resources will become a hallmark of future advanced architectures. Having a switch that has the internal capability to capture telemetry information can help network administrators to navigate the diversity of modern environments to optimize traffic. Read diagnostic ports that provide insight into not just the switch port but also where they are connected, provide an additional vantage point into the overall health of the environment.

For additional discussion about optimizing the storage network for next-generation workloads, watch Storage Switzerland’s webinar in collaboration with Cisco, “Faster, Smarter, Simpler – The New Requirements in Storage Networking“.

Twelve 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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