Small and medium-sized businesses face an ever increasing need for storage consolidation to facilitate document sharing, data backup and cloud-based applications.
Generally, there are two types of network storage solutions available: block-based storage and file-based storage. Applications such as spreadsheets and word processing generally need file-level access. Applications such as email, financial accounting, and databases, on the other hand, benefit from the use of faster, more abstract, block-level access.
While each approach has its advantages and disadvantages, network storage solutions are usually chosen based on their specific purpose, the needs of that particular business, and the overall cost. In the past, the choice was between simple file-based network attached storage (NAS) systems and robust block-based storage area network (SAN) solutions. However, a contemporary option known as unified storage presents an exciting opportunity for resellers to offer growing businesses the best of both worlds.
A Novel Approach
Unified storage is a term used to describe a system capable of supporting both file-based and block-based applications from a single platform. With unified storage, many of the limitations inherent in file-based and block-based storage are eliminated. For example, if separate NAS and SAN systems coexist in a network, two sets of infrastructure and management skills may be required to administer each system in turn, adding substantial costs in the long run. Unifying the two platforms simplifies administration and allows businesses greater flexibility to meet service-level requirements, which subsequently leads to more reliable infrastructure.
Unified storage is most beneficial when both file and block access applications are required and particularly well suited for growing businesses that are adding servers and increasing their IT capabilities. A key driver for unified storage is server virtualisation and storage consolidation. Unified storage allows the provisioning of the highest levels of performance to the most critical applications while consolidating all storage on a single platform, and offers plenty of room to scale upwards as needed.
Another major selling point of unified storage is its reduced hardware requirements. Whereas separate storage platforms would result in multiple RAID disk arrays being needed, unified storage combines both NAS and SAN functions into a single chassis. This minimises the outlay for disk drives and auxiliary hardware, fewer cables are required and power demands are greatly reduced all saving the customer money in the long run.
Administrators' time can also be better allocated due to features like storage snapshots and replication and businesses can also be offered different layers of storage with varying levels of performance. For example, block-based storage can be set to a higher precedence for mission critical data and file-based tiers can be used for less critical data. Unified storage is highly scalable, so businesses can add and arrange as many hard drives as they need for the best possible performance and/or greatest amount of free space. Subsequently, unified storage systems show themselves to be generally more cost-effective than a single platform storage solution such as NAS or SAN, while providing the same level of reliability as dedicated file or block storage systems.
The Ideal Unified Storage System
Individual unified storage systems are well suited to businesses that need a flexible and scalable solution that is easy to manage. Offering the flexibility to allocate storage pools for file servers or application servers without having to buy additional NAS or SAN storage can be a major benefit to customers. It also means they don't need to worry about over buying or under buying storage capacity or managing both block and file based storage at the same time. For those customers looking to double their storage needs within a year or two, and have applications that require file-based access and block-based access, then unified storage may be the ideal choice.
This was first published in November 2011