Automating the Data Store

Smart software can automatically allocate data to the most cost-effective form of storage. But will it work for you?

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What's Next

As it matures, automated data tiering could help drive adoption of SSD, because it will help administrators tune their tiering enough to make sure they're getting the maximum benefit for the highest-performing but most expensive storage medium. But for now, according to storage administrators, vendors and analysts, SSD is too expensive for most mainstream users.

Forrester analyst Andrew Reichman says, however, that in most cases today, SSD is more cost-effective and delivers better performance in a smaller footprint than "short-stroking" disk drives, or intentionally using only part of their capacity to improve their performance. Pricing for tiering capabilities ranges from free (for software that's already included in products that are available now) to more than $50,000 for systems such as Avere's 2300 FCN. Users must, of course, also factor in the cost of classifying data and creating tiering policies.

Major vendors such as EMC are also working to make automated data tiering more "application-aware," meaning that the software will understand the I/O demands and other usage patterns of popular applications and automatically retier to meet those needs. Such interoperability will require standards for the information about the data being retiered. One such metadata standard is being developed by the Storage Networking Industry Association.

Those standards could pave the way for easier tiering across devices or file systems made by different vendors. They could also make it possible to tier data between an in-house data center and storage in the cloud.

Until then, the early wave of automated data-tiering products is already taking some of the work out of putting the right data on the right storage medium at the right time.

Scheier is a veteran technology writer. He can be reached at

Editor's note: Forrester analyst Andrew Reichman was misquoted in an earlier version of this story. His comment was corrected to read that SSD is more cost-effective and delivers better performance in a smaller footprint than "short-stroking" disk drives.

Next: Are storage administrators getting automated right out of their jobs?

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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