Storage Speeds and Feeds Continue To Improve

The market is now seeing the results of innovations in storage technology.

Until recent years, the world of storage was really kind of boring. Fortunately, that all changed a few years ago as storage took center stage as the resource requiring the most attention in the data center, particularly as organizations continued to gobble up more and more storage and started to need storage to go faster. Of course, the growing popularity of flash-based storage, it's clear that the performance side of the storage equation is being well satisfied. But, there's a whole lot more that's taken place, even since I wrote about other advancements earlier this year. Storage advancements aren't always just about disk-based storage,either. In fact, a major recent advancement has the potential to dramatically improve tape-based backup for the many companies that continue to rely on this kind of technology for both short-term and archival backup and recovery needs.

Tapes Bigger Than Most SANs

Recently, Sony announced that it has developed a single tape capable of holding up to 185 TB worth of data, completely shattering the previous max tape capacity of 35 TB. Sony achieved this feat by massively increasing the areal density of the tape media through a technique known as sputter deposition. With this advancement, Sony is providing a tape that achieves 148 Gb/in^2 (gigabits per square inch) of recording density. It's this density that enables a tape with such capacity.

For those that think that tape is dead, think again.  Even backup software vendors that formerly embraced only disk-based backup targets have added tape support in recent versions in order to meet continuing customer demand for the technology. Moreover, companies that build tape drives continue to build ever-larger devices in order to meet capacity demands.

6TB Disks -- With and Without Helium
Back in January, I mentioned the fact that hard disk manufacturers were starting to use helium in their drives in order to cram more disk platters into 3.5" and 2.5" enclosures, which would effectively increase the overall capacity of these disks. Today, the market is enjoying the fruits of those efforts with helium-based 6TB drives. Even more interestingly, though, companies have also managed to use traditional hard disk build methods -- without helium -- to break this 6TB barrier. As more of these large disks are built and hit the market, customers will start to be able to upgrade existing storage units to include these disks. Of course, this ability depends on the kind of storage device in question, but for those that use commodity hardware, 6TB disks are certainly a welcome addition.

DIMM-based Storage
A huge benefit of PCI-e-based flash storage is extremely low latency. Since data stored on PCI-e flash cards doesn't need to traverse a network, customers get the benefit of low latency with strong results. What could be better?

Well, how about a new storage design that leverages the fact that many of today's servers have a lot of DIMM slots?  These memory sockets enjoy almost immediate access to the CPU.  There are now companies on the market building DIMMs with hundreds of gigabytes worth of capacity and, thanks to this proximity to the processor, latency is measured in microseconds. The primary drawback to this storage technology is the fact that it requires BIOS-level changes so that the user can indicate whether a DIMM socket is intended for RAM or for storage. Other than that, once the user installs an operating system and an appropriate driver, DIMM-based storage starts to look just like any other local storage.

Between capacity and speed, improvements in storage technology continue to propel further ahead, with the ultimate beneficiaries being customers that will be able to get more from their storage both in terms of cost and performance.

About the Author

Scott D. Lowe is the founder and managing consultant of The 1610 Group, a strategic and tactical IT consulting firm based in the Midwest. Scott has been in the IT field for close to 20 years and spent 10 of those years in filling the CIO role for various organizations. He's also either authored or co-authored four books and is the creator of 10 video training courses for TrainSignal.


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