Anytime DCIG prepares a Buyer’s Guide – whether a net new Buyer’s Guide or a refresh of an existing Buyer’s Guide – it always uncovers a number of interesting trends and developments about that technology. Therefore it is no surprise (at least to us anyway) that as DCIG prepares to release its DCIG 2014 Enterprise Midrange Array Buyer’s Guide that it observed a number of interesting data points about enterprise midrange arrays. As DCIG looks forward to releasing this Buyer’s Guide, we wanted to share some of these observations and insights that we gained as we prepared this Guide as well as why we reached some of the conclusions that we did.
Value of Included Software
Vendors that sell their midrange arrays with all software features fully licensed as part of the standard array package create extra value for purchasers by reducing the number of decision points in the purchasing process and by smoothing the path to full utilization of the array’s capabilities.
Separate license fees for features can reduce the agility of the IT department in responding to changing business requirements because the purchase approval and ordering process may take several weeks. If implementation services are required, that may add additional weeks to the process.
Separate licensing fees may be minor, or they can have a noticeable impact on the overall cost of ownership for an enterprise midrange array. Therefore, the annual cost of software licenses and associated support contracts should be incorporated into TCO (total cost of ownership) and ROI (return on investment) calculations.
This forthcoming Buyer’s Guide acknowledges the value of included licenses by awarding a significant number of points to those arrays that ship with features already licensed. In particular, DCIG give attention to licensing for snapshots, replication and thin provisioning features.
Data center automation is an area of emphasis for many organizations because it promises to facilitate efficient management of their data center infrastructure and enable a more agile response from IT to changing business requirements. Ultimately, automation means more staff time can be spent addressing business requirements rather than managing the routine tasks of a data center.
Organizations can implement automation in their environment through management interfaces that are scriptable and offer additional enhancements with API and SDK support.
Support for automated provisioning is an area where improvement in the near future is expected. Currently, less than 20% of midrange arrays featured in this forthcoming Buyer’s Guide expose an API for third-party automation tools, while 11% provide an SDK for integration with management platforms. As more organizations place a premium on automating their storage environment, these numbers should go up.
A higher percentage of these arrays support automated storage tiering, which is offered by 45% of arrays. This automated tiering capability can be important for achieving maximum benefits from flash memory when using flash for more than just a larger cache.
Similarly, 40% natively support the reclamation of freed blocks of thinly provisioned storage. These freed blocks are then available for reuse. Native support for this capability eliminates the cost and additional infrastructure complexity associated with licensing a third party product or the inefficiency associated with manual reclamation processes.
Along the same lines, 21% of arrays are recognized by third party software, such as Symantec Storage Foundation, that can simplify storage management by reclaiming freed blocks of thinly provisioned storage automatically.
VMware vSphere Integration
In general, DCIG emphasizes advanced software features in the DCIG 2014 Enterprise Midrange Array Buyer’s Guide. This is especially true of integration with VMware vStorage APIs such as VAAI (vStorage APIs for Array Integration) and VASA (vSphere Storage APIs for Storage Awareness). The VAAI and VASA APIs can dramatically improve overall data center performance.
Given the wide adoption of VMware vSphere by enterprises, it follows that they are seeking hardware that can take advantage of the “force multiplication” these APIs provide for existing and future VMware deployments.
The good news is that 62% of the midrange arrays in this forthcoming Buyer’s Guide support all of the VAAI 4.1 APIs. However, only 10% of the arrays support the full set of VAAI v5 features. Of the VAAI v5 features, Dead Space Reclamation (SCSI UNMAP) fares best with 26% of arrays supporting this feature.
Similar to the currently low support for VAAI v5.0, less than a fourth of the arrays support VASA. These integrations are key to the software defined data center and to minimizing ongoing management overhead for the large number of data centers that utilize VMware.
Robust VMware support is a product differentiator that matters to many potential array purchasers, and is an area where DCIG expects to see further improvement in the coming year. Those organizations embracing VMware as their primary hypervisor will want to pay particular attention to how an array’s VMware support maps to their requirements
Flash Memory Support
Flash memory is clearly of growing importance in data center storage. Within the enterprise midrange array segment of the market, the importance of flash memory is demonstrated by the fact that 77% of the arrays in this forthcoming Buyer’s Guide now support the use of flash memory in addition to traditional disk drives.
Nevertheless, just 45% support automated storage tiering, a technology that helps get the most benefit from the available flash memory. Also, only 15% of arrays implement any of the flash memory optimization techniques–such as write coalescing–that enhance both performance and reliability. So while support for flash memory in midrange arrays has grown dramatically, the depth of integration still varies widely.