Improving local storage capacity and flexibility

I said it years ago, but it's even more true today: you can never be too rich, too thin, or have too much data storage. Now that you can buy hard drives holding a terabyte of data (1,000 gigabytes) for a little over US$100, you might think storage isn't a problem anymore. But upgrading storage across various desktops and laptops isn't really data storage, it's just data scattered. Organized storage takes some planning, so let's talk about three new products that will help you intelligently increase local storage capacity.

We'll start by examining an upgraded  network-attached storage (NAS) product from Netgear that small companies can use to add shared storage, then look at how larger companies with a file server can flexibly increase storage with the new DroboPro storage system. Finally, let's hear from Blurb Publishing, a company that just moved to a  storage-area network (SAN) from Pillar Data Systems.

Netgear bought a small NAS vendor named Infrant Technologies a couple of years ago and the company's newest model, the ReadyNAS NVX, hit the streets last month.

The Netgear box holds up to four disk drives in a desktop form factor aimed at small businesses. Many companies buy a NAS in place of a full file server to get shared storage for less money and less hassle. If you have more than a few personal computers and are looking for an organized way to store and backup user data, this is a great next step.

Users access the ReadyNAS NVX like any workgroup drive, from PCs or Macintoshes. Storage areas can be shared with everyone, shared with selected users or completely private. A good NAS does most of what an entry level file server does for less money and minimal management overhead.

Netgear's new box includes some high-end features. It's twice as fast as the previous generation, which won't matter for many jobs but will help those doing audio and video file manipulation. It includes PC backup software and fully supports Apple's Time Machine backup across the network. Yes, that means Apple users no longer have to sneakernet USB drives between systems.

Even better, Netgear made a deal with ElephantDrive to back up files to their hosted data center. It's free for a month, then is offered at a discounted rate. And since Netgear provides both the box and the drives inside, it offers a five year warranty. Pricing starts at $1,499.

If you already have a file server, then you can increase storage by adding more drives inside your server. That's called DAS for direct-attached storage because your disks are directly attached to your server. But adding random disks makes for a tough transition since you have to erase and redo your data storage structure. And, of course, your server's down while you're adding and rebuilding your storage.

DroboPro, from Data Robotics, uses an external drive system attached to your server that makes storage more flexible. The company managed to provide storage redundancy based on saving data across multiple disks while bypassing the management time and restrictions of typical redundant disk storage. It calls this technique "BeyondRAID" (Redundant Array of Independent Disks).

This advance makes it easy to add or upgrade disks in your storage pool. Need more storage? Slide a new disk into one of the eight drive slots. You can use any 3.5 inch SATA disk, and there's no expensive disk carrier needed. If all your slots are full, pull out the smallest disk and replace it with a newer, larger disk, and your storage pool increases. That's a way cool feature.

The DroboPro approach adds cost, but reduces data storage headaches. If your data situation is dynamic, such as regularly adding capacity, this approach will give you enterprise class storage features, such as data protection when two drives fail at once. Pricing starts at $1,299 for the eight drive DroboPro chassis (no disks included).

Once you have several file servers and need coordinated storage, you're ready for a SAN. I spoke to Mike Vincenty, IT manager at Blurb, about his new SAN from Pillar Data Systems.

"We had a seven terabyte RAID array attached to one server and knew we had to expand," said Vincenty. "We started with a 10TB system, and now it's up to 60TB."

Why so much storage growth? Blurb is a print on demand (POD) company specializing in photo books. You send them a file for your picture book, the company stores it and prints one or dozens or hundreds whenever you want. Unlike many POD publishers, Blurb doesn't charge a setup or storage fee. Many photographers use a Blurb book as a calling card, or portfolio.

What was the push to move from server storage to a SAN? "I needed expandability without disruption and easier administration," said Vincenty. "We average about 60GBs of uploaded data per day, but during the holidays that goes up to 200GBs or 250GBs per day." If you want a photo album for Grandma for Christmas, Blurb can help you, starting at $12.95 for a small photo book.

"Customers create a book in the desktop client application we provide, then upload the files. We keep printed book files forever," said Vincenty. "Our two servers are connected via fibre channel. One server takes in files and prepares them for printing, and the other server handles all our other file services."

Vincenty admits Pillar Data wasn't the lowest cost option. All the major hardware vendors, plus dozens more, have SAN systems. But Vincenty's IT department consists of him and one other tech. His goal was high reliability and low maintenance: "I wanted a storage system truck." Since the company coordinates 10 to 15 thousand book orders per week between its systems and printer partners, Blurb needed a file system that keeps on trucking, no matter what.

That's a quick overview of new storage options for adding 1TB of storage. No matter how much storage you have now, you'll need more before you know it.

Actually, maybe you can be too rich or too thin today. If you received huge bonuses while bankrupting your financial services company, that's bad. If you're a supermodel or ultra-marathoner with every rib and hip bone sharply defined, that's bad. But if you have huge amounts of available and organized storage, that's still pretty good.

This story, "Improving local storage capacity and flexibility" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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