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Users get mixed results tiering storage

Some users at SNW said the increased cost of managing tiered storage sucks up the gains in cheaper hardware, while others say they still see savings from avoiding FC.

Some users are finding that there are hidden costs in building out a tiered storage infrastructure that can often amount to more than the savings gained in hardware.

During a session on data classification and information lifecycle management at Storage Networking World (SNW) in San Diego, several users raised their hands to voice their concerns.

"The savings gained in hardware are lost in the management of the different tiers … It's a continuing management activity to prevent misallocation and this is costing us," said a storage administrator for a large U.S. manufacturer who requested anonymity.

He added that his company had to train staff on how to manage the different tiers and it's management costs went up as the products required different tools.

A division of Eastman Kodak Co. (Kodak) faced similar issues and ended up scrapping its tiered storage architecture and reverting back to its older model of a single tier of storage, according to an IT manager at the company who preferred not to be named.

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Other users complained that it was difficult to categorize applications correctly and that you can't easily modify things after the fact. They also said that every department within their company thinks its data belongs on the fastest disk.

Another issue that cropped up several times was the inability to add legacy equipment into a tiered storage model.

This is a big problem in midsized companies, according to Rob Stevenson, director of storage research at InfoPro Inc. "With Fortune 1000 companies, they have so much legacy equipment they have to have the management sorted out, but smaller companies suffer with trying to do it all manually."

Not everyone has bumped into these problems, at least not yet. David Phillips, data management consultant at Alltel Corp., an EMC Corp. shop with 1.1 petabytes of storage under management, saved over $1 million last year not having to buy Tier-1 storage.

Alltel has four tiers of storage, classified as platinum, bronze, silver and gold. Tier-1 is Symmetrix enterprise-class mirrored disk, Tier-2 is enterprise-class RAID-5, Tier-3 is Clariion Fibre Channel (FC) disk and Tier-4 is Clariion SATA disk.

"We've seen great savings on the hardware -- it's been a real success," Phillips said. He noted that a different team at Alltel, the Unix and database assistants, are responsible for moving the data between the tiers. "We haven't had any reports of problems from them."

Similarly, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. reports positive results from building a tiered storage infrastructure. The company was running its Media Archival Retrieval System on a single tier of EMC Symmetrix FC disk. By the end of 2005, it had 18 terabytes on the Symmetrix, triple the amount from a year ago, according to Harold Shapiro, director and technology architect at Warner Bros.

"Our growth was out of control, our end users needed more and more storage on Symmetrix," Shapiro said. His answer was to create three tiers of storage, a FC tier using EMC Clariion, a SATA tier also on Clariion and a third tier of robotic tape using an Advanced Digital Information Corp. (ADIC) Scalar i2000 tape library. Controlling the data movement between tiers is ADIC's StoreNext file system and Storage Manager hierarchical storage management (HSM) software.

Shapiro looked at management software from IBM as Warner Bros. is a Tivoli shop, but he said the "HSM feature didn't meet our needs." He also checked out EMC Legato, Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., CommVault Systems Inc. and Veritas Software Corp. NetBackup HSM to manage the tiered infrastructure, but ADIC met his technical and operational requirements the best. "ADIC lets us do dual writes: when we ingest something, it will write to Tier-1 and tape at the same time, which is great for backup," Shapiro said.

Warner Bros. spent half a million dollars building its tiered storage environment and got a return on its investment in a little over a year. The company recouped most of its costs by avoiding buying FC C disk in favor of ATA. Shapiro said he now spends about $86,000 a year on ATA technology versus $300,000 on FC.

He admitted the project wasn't easy, especially when it came to getting approval from other parts of his company. "You have to be a salesman, not only to your CIO [chief information officer] but to your fellow technologists … Then you have to convince other people [at the company] to help build it," he said.

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