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End Users Share Their Criteria as to What Constitutes a Highly Efficient Storage System

“Efficient” is now a term that is used to by storage providers to describe their disk storage systems. But a recent internal survey conducted by Nexsan Technologies among its end users revealed that the way they view “efficient” storage is not necessarily how either providers or industry pundits define it. So to get its arms around how its customers differentiated between “efficient” and “highly efficient” storage systems, Nexsan had further discussions with its customer base to understand the criteria that they used to arrive at their definition.

Nexsan’s motivation for conducting a 3rd party independent survey did not initially start with Nexsan trying to define the term “efficient”. Instead, it was trying to understand what was prompting its customers to first buy Nexsan storage systems and then why they continued to buy them.

But during the course of the interviews with its customers, a trend began to emerge. Customers frequently referred to Nexsan’s storage systems as “efficient” as a reason why they initially bought them and then continued to buy them.

But Nexsan found this description of its storage systems as “efficient” as a nebulous answer since no industry standards or agreed upon definition exists for this term. So Nexsan went back to its customers to document exactly what they meant by the term “highly efficient”. It found that its customers defined a storage system as “highly efficient” when it possessed three principle attributes:

  • Power efficient. A disk storage system has to minimize the amount of energy that it pulls or consumes in two ways for it to be viewed as “power efficient”. First, the storage system needs to automatically spin down disk drives that are infrequently used or unused. Second, the storage system itself must be energy efficient. For instance, it should include lower wattage controllers. It also should include components that maximize efficiency such as properly placed fans and fan controls that increase or decrease fan speeds according to the ambient temperature in the storage unit.
  • Space efficient. Space efficient storage systems have historically been a strength of Nexsan but feedback from its customers helped Nexsan better grasp what their customers meant by “space efficient”. The definition of “space efficient” came down to how many hard disk drives (HDDs) a storage system could fit into 1U (1.75″H x 19″ W x 36.5″ D) of rack space.

The distinction for their customers came when they were looking at 14, 15 or 16 drive systems that in many cases required 3Us of rack space. In their minds, 5 HDDs per 1U were not what they defined as a highly dense or space efficient storage system.

It was only when the storage system supported 10 drives or better in1U of rack space that their customers classified a storage system as “high density” or “space efficient”.

  • Cost efficient. Nexsan’s customers were not necessarily looking for the cheapest or most expensive storage system in the market. Instead, they were looking for a storage system that had a price point that reflected a good balance between its hardware (storage capacity, controllers) and software features (RAID, replication, management software, etc.).

Among Nexsan’s customers, the storage system did not necessarily need to have a lot of software features on it for them to consider it “cost efficient”. In fact, its customers viewed those storage providers that had to add a lot of software to their storage systems to make “efficient” as a negative. Their customers felt that adding a bunch of software onto a box contributed to making the price per TB very expensive and was a cost they passed on down to their customers. This was counter intuitive from the customers’ perspective and did not really meet their definition of “cost efficient”.

Nebulous definitions of widely used industry standard terms plague many industries and it is no different in the storage industry. However, this recent survey and feedback from Nexsan’s customer base gives the storage industry a meaningful and measurable way to define what constitutes a “highly efficient storage system”. As these users clearly communicated, it is disingenuous to simply sell them a storage system that includes more shrink wrapped software which the storage provider then uses to justify calling its storage system “efficient”.

Users are starting to see through these fuzzy definitions of “efficient” and instead are coming up with their own definitions of what constitutes a “highly efficient storage system”. As they do, they are finding that terms like “power”, “space” and “cost” are integral to what they define and view as “highly efficient storage” and are finding that storage systems such as the Nexsan SATABeast are well aligned with these definitions. 

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