Storage systems get supersized

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Storage systems are becoming storage computers as vendors push functionality downstream.

On the first full day of VMworld in San Francisco in August, five-year-old storage vendor Scale Computing launched a new storage appliance that eliminates the entire I/O storage network that resides between servers and storage. Instead, the appliance uses powerful processors that are capable of hosting multiple virtual machines in the same storage box. The appliance requires no virtualization software and no external storage, which could cut storage costs by as much as 75% for small and midsize businesses with limited resources and storage expertise.

Some industry watchers call it a breakthrough. Others call it an expected progression in storage architecture. But all agree that the evolution of storage from basic systems to high-powered storage computers is a trend that's taking hold at organizations of all sizes.

"They're the first one I've seen that's done something like that," says Dick Csaplar, an analyst at Boston-based Aberdeen Group, referring to Scale Computing's "collapsed" architecture, which combines servers, storage and virtualization in one appliance. "It seems fairly straightforward. It's one of those 'Why didn't it happen earlier?' types of questions."

Hitachi Data Systems has been steadily moving toward powerful storage computing since 2000, Yoshida says. Today, its Virtual Storage Platform can move data to high-performance storage when an application needs it and move it to lower-class storage when performance is no longer required.

"It's not just a storage computer -- it's a hybrid multiprocessor," Yoshida says. "We also do that in our high-performance NAS product."

The next step will be "unification," he adds. "In our midrange product, we've added an optic file system [so] users can do file as well as block processing. Our file system is built around an object architecture, so I can do a query against the metadata and find things quickly. This is how we combine hardware and CPUs running software to speed up the process." Hitachi included that file system in its Unified Storage System in April.

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