Evolving Nature of Unstructured Data Creates New Bond Between Block and File Platforms

Block and file storage platforms are many times viewed by enterprises as mutually exclusive designed to solve very specific application workloads. But the lines between what data should reside on block and file-based storage platforms have begun to blur. To alleviate this uncertainty a new bond between these two storage platforms has emerged with providers delivering them as a single solution, the latest evidence of this being HP’s qualification of its X9000  Network Storage System (IBRIX) for use with 3PAR Storage Systems via its X9300 Network Storage Gateway

Historically block and file storage solutions have been designed and deployed within organizations to address very different workloads. At a high level, block-based storage platforms were almost always targeted to host “structured” data which is most commonly associated with databases such as Oracle, SQL Server and Sybase. Conversely, file-based storage platforms were primarily intended to host “unstructured” data such as files and emails.

Files and emails still constitute the bulk of what is classified as unstructured data but in recent years that has begun to shift. The continuing drop in the cost of disk has led to enterprises storing an increasing amount of archival, backup and multimedia (audio, pictures, video) data on NAS. What makes this problematic is that these new forms of unstructured data take on some characteristics of structured data and create the following conflicting demands:

  • High performance. High performance computing (HPC) and post-production film editing to date has been conducted by companies specializing in these tasks. But as “Big Data” in the form of analytics and multimedia find their way into enterprise organizations the high performance demands remain. On top of that, enterprises expect that these new forms of data can be managed in the same manner as their broader data center.
  • Scalable. Enterprises ideally want to place these HPC and multimedia files alongside their growing archive, backup, email and file data stores. This creates the need for solutions that can independently scale either performance or capacity.
  • Cost-effective. Enterprises always think about the bottom line so they want solutions that meet the respective needs of their different applications, optimize the resources they already own, manage them as a single logical entity and accomplish this without breaking the bank.

It is for these reasons and others that this new bond between file and block storage platforms has been forged so they can be offered as a single solution. By doing this, enterprises get the simplicity of deployment and scale-out architectures that are typically associated with file-based storage platforms, the access to the broader availability of performance and capacity that block-based storage platforms deliver and they minimize the stranded capacity that can occur when these two solutions are deployed independently.

HP’s recent announcement that it has qualified its HP X9000 Systems (IBRIX) for use with the HP 3PAR Storage Systems is a prime example of this.   The X9000 architecture can flexibly incorporate traditional and scale-out storage arrays within the single namespace by using the X9300 Gateway.
This model was already previously qualified with other HP storage platforms (the HP P4000 and HPEVA) and now have expanded to support 3PAR and bring the performance and storage optimization features that 3PAR offers. So by now adding HP 3PAR, enterprises can expand the number of applications they can host on the X9000 System while still getting the range of performance and capacity optimization features that they want.

A good illustration of this is the X9000’s ability to leverage the HP 3PAR thin provisioning and adaptive optimization features. When the X9000 hosts a high performance, multi-threaded, multi-file application, it can more intelligently and cost-effectively place the files on different block-based storage tiers.

The X9000 is able to incorporate multiple arrays via the X9300 gateways and define them as different tiers.   In this case, it may place reference files on slower, lower cost tiers of disk such as the P2000 while placing frequently changing and accessed data like the file system journal and metadata attributes on the 3PAR storage system.

Once this data is on the 3PAR storage system, it can leverage 3PAR’s adaptive optimization feature to dial performance up or down as needed which can dynamically place data on faster tiers of disk such as solid state disk (SSD) when needed or dialing it back down to FC or even SATA when it is not.

There may also be occasions when the X9000 needs to place all of the data associated with an application on 3PAR as all of the data initially has very performance intensive attributes. At this stage of the game, 3PAR’s thin provisioning feature takes over to initially ensure that only the storage that the application needs is allocated.

But after a period of time, the performance needs for this application data may decline such that the X9000 can justifiably move some or all of it to a more economical, lower performing tier of storage such as the HP P4000 or a P2000.  It is at this point 3PAR’s thin persistence software features kicks in. As the data is migrated by X9300 off of the 3PAR Storage System, 3PAR identifies those blocks as no longer in use and returns them to 3PAR’s free storage pool so other applications (block or file-based) can access that freed storage capacity.

The nature of unstructured data has fundamentally changed in the last few years with this change only forecast to accelerate in the years to come. This evolution is prompting storage providers to create new bonds between their storage platforms so enterprises get the single repository of storage that they want with the performance, storage optimization and flexibility that they need to respond to these new infrastructure demands.

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