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Understanding the many, varied storage efficiency technologies

There are many paths to higher data storage efficiency and various data reduction techniques. VARs need to understand how they work and how different vendors’ implementations vary.

In a tip on, “Unshackling disaster recovery with WAN optimization products,” Jeff Boles gives a great explanation of WAN optimization and what it can do to make operations such as DR more successful. Indeed, it can be the technology that enables disk-based disaster recovery—and all the benefits it has over other methods—to really work in a lot of environments. Boles also does a great job of listing the players in the WAN optimization space and how to go about choosing a solution.

For a VAR, this is good information if you have clients in the market for a standalone WAN optimization solution. There are certainly a lot of projects that an integrator can get involved with that include this technology, and some of them can get pretty big. But I’m seeing WAN optimization in a broader perspective as one of many storage efficiency and data reduction techniques that have crept into storage-related products. From a VAR’s perspective, I think it’s important to understand how these technologies work because they can play into a lot more deals than just the projects that include a dedicated WAN optimization appliance.

The primary approach to making storage-related systems more efficient is to reduce the amount of data they have to store, handle, transmit, etc. Data reduction and storage efficiency are built into most of the products that VARs sell, in the form of compression, deduplication, thin provisioning and WAN optimization. In fact, WAN optimization actually uses these other technologies.

The pioneer in this area was probably Data Domain with its implementation of deduplication. It used dedupe to make disk backup a reality and also to make off-site DR feasible for a lot of companies. Now, most storage and backup solutions for the midmarket and enterprise include some form of replication technology that supports off-site transfer, using dedupe as part of their WAN optimization functionality.

Deduplication is also moving into primary storage, as companies realize that data reduction at the storage system level can pay dividends by shrinking the amount of data that every other process down the line must handle, from application servers to networking to backup, etc. Permabit’s Albireo is an example of a primary storage dedupe technology that’s being embedded into storage systems from other companies, such as BlueArc (acquired by Hitachi Data Systems) and XIO (formerly Xiotech).

We’re also seeing this move toward data efficiency in what are being called “application aware” products, which essentially have tuned themselves to optimize the handling of specific data objects and processes that common applications such as Exchange and SharePoint use. By leveraging this awareness, these products can reduce the amount of data that applications create and re-create, which in turn reduces the amount of data the rest of the infrastructure has to handle, store, transmit, etc. A good example of this approach is StorSimple, a hybrid cloud solution that is tuned to Exchange and SharePoint and can support these applications in the cloud with minimal impact on performance, storage consumption and bandwidth.

I think the point for VARs is to understand the extent to which data reduction techniques and these other storage efficiency technologies are included in the products they currently sell and the ones they may compete with in deals. Sometimes the impact of dedupe or thin provisioning can make a big difference in the performance or cost of a system. Sometimes they make almost no difference. Or, they can be the enabling technology that makes a system work for a specific use case, like WAN optimization can do for disk-based DR.

Features abound in the products that VARs are showing their IT clients. It’s easy for customers to fall into a “checkbox mentality” and assume that every product that includes deduplication or thin provisioning will experience the same results. This is absolutely false. It’s essential for VARs to know when these technologies are present and how they’ll affect the systems they’re proposing so they don’t get dismissed as equal to the competition, if they’re not.

Eric Slack is a senior analyst with Storage Switzerland.

This was last published in September 2011

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