Next-Gen Storage

The newest storage technologies save both energy and space.

It’s a simple equation: As data storage needs grow, so do storage costs. In fact, even as prices continue to come down, storage equipment now accounts for 19% of the IT hardware budget, according to a report from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. And that figure doesn’t include costs such as energy and management.

“Disk might be cheap, but storing the increasingly high volumes of data that companies generate isn’t. It’s actually quite expensive,” says Forrester analyst Andrew Reichman.

And as the costs for physical space and energy (for both powering up and cooling down the hardware) continue to rise, storage efficiency will become a higher priority. Here are four next- generation technologies that could help.

Solid-state disk/ Flash technology
Data storage devices that rely on nonvolatile memory, such as NAND flash, rather than spinning platters and mechanical magnetic heads found in hard disk drives. Vendors include Adtron Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and SanDisk Corp.

>>> Until recently, solid-state disk found its home in niche markets where the need for speed outweighed cost concerns. But like other storage options, dropping prices and technology advances have increased interest.

Samsung is testing its 16-gigabit NAND flash memory with customers.

Samsung is testing its 16-gigabit NAND flash memory with customers.

“Cost is always going to be the driver here,” says Dave Russell, an analyst at Gartner Inc. “The cost is coming down, and to the extent that holds true, that is going to help the market really take off.”

That price drop has been steep: Solid-state disk prices fell 66% in 2006 and are expected to drop another 60% this year, according to Gartner analyst Joseph Unsworth. Yet hard drives are still far cheaper, Unsworth notes, and because of that, deployments of solid-state disk have been limited, usually to specialized uses in industrial, military and aerospace organizations.

Solid-state disk has been around for well over a decade, says Mike Karp, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates Inc. in Boulder, Colo. It looks like a regular disk, but without the characteristic spinning motion. And because there are no moving parts, it’s faster, he says. It also requires less energy, although Karp says energy savings are a minor part of the cost equation. Because organizations don’t have large-scale deployments of this technology, they won’t see large-scale energy savings, either, he says.

But the use of NAND flash technology with solid-state disk could edge up the number and types of deployments, extending the technology beyond enterprise storage for use in laptops, for example. Unsworth estimates that solid-state disk with NAND flash technology could mean a 5% to 10% energy savings over a conventional notebook hard drive; it also offers faster performance in a smaller space.

“It could be important in ultraportable notebooks, but it’s not an advantage in desktop systems,” Unsworth says. “It’s still a very niche market because of cost. Right now, consumers and IT managers don’t know why they should pay a premium for such technology.”

High-density disks
As their name suggests, high-density disks can hold more data than conventional storage options. They do so by packing more bits into the same space, either by storing bits vertically instead of using the traditional horizontal pattern or by storing information using three dimensions, creating a hologram read by laser. Vendors include Seagate Technology LLC and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies.

Perpendicular Storage

>>> Higher density represents the next step in the evolution of storage, with perpendicular storage and holographic storage giving IT managers new options.

“They’re increasing the density per square inch, which to the end user increases the space and price efficiency of the solutions,” says Brian L. Garrett, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. in Milford, Mass.

Perpendicular storage takes areal density and increases it by layering the bits vertically, says Karp. “Bits actually do have physical length, so instead of lying down, you stand them up on the disks,” he explains.

The potential savings with this technology are high, says Dianne McAdam, a consultant at The Clipper Group Inc. in Wellesley, Mass. Perpendicular storage promises to increase storage in the same physical space by a factor of 10, she says. “That’s going to save on space, because we’re storing much more information in the same footprint,” McAdam says. “It also saves on energy, because we’ll need one-tenth the number of disk drives to store the same amount.”

Similarly, holographic storage promises to pack more into a smaller space by moving storage from 2-D to 3-D (see diagram below). “You start to look at [them, not as] bits on a surface, but as being a cube. If you look at things in two dimensions, you have an x and y axis. But in three dimensions, you have not only the x and y axis, but a z axis, too,” Karp explains.

Holographic Storage

Holographic storage is an optical technology that allows 1 million bits of data to be written and read in single flashes of light. Thousands of holograms can be stored in the same location throughout the entire depth of the medium. In the recording phase, the intersection of two beams creates an interference pattern of bright and dark regions. A photosensitive medium then records the interference pattern the hologram is the image of the interference pattern stored within the medium. When the data is read, light from one beam shining on the hologram reconstructs the data pattern.

Perpendicular Storage
Perpendicular Storage

Holographic storage might sound like the stuff of science fiction, and to some degree it still is, Karp says. “It’s very interesting in terms of its potential,” he says, but he adds that it’s still a ways away from full commercial deployment.

One of the few holographic storage devices currently on the market is the Tapestry 300R from InPhase Technologies Inc. in Longmont, Colo. The drive costs $18,000, and the 1.5mm-thick platters are $180 apiece.

Hybrid hard drives
These use nonvolatile flash memory as a large buffer to cache data before storing it on a traditional spinning drive, allowing the platters on the hard drive to rest most of the time. Vendors include Seagate and Samsung.

>>> Hybrid hard drives are another evolutionary step in storage that could bring some important savings to IT organizations.

Samsung Harddrive

Samsung Harddrive

The concept is fairly straightforward: “It’s sort of cache memory attached to a hard disk drive,” McAdam says, noting that she sees a future for this technology not only in laptops and desktops, but also in enterprise systems.

Data will write to a cache memory and, when the cache fills up, move to a hard drive. That concept isn’t new. Hard drives already have a buffer, says Garrett. But those buffers are in the 4MB to 8MB range; with hybrid hard drives, the buffer can reach 1GB. “It’s just a larger buffer, and it’s nonvolatile,” Garrett explains.

Like other advances in storage technology, hybrid hard drives could save energy and space. It takes energy to power up and keep disks spinning, McAdam says. Because all that spinning creates heat, the disks then need to be cooled. In hybrid disk drives, the hard drive is spun down; in other words, the disk stops spinning, so it requires less energy.

“If the disks aren’t spinning [all the time], it costs less to power, and you can pack more disks more closely together because they don’t generate as much heat,” says Russell.

Analysts aren’t ready to quantify how much money this technology may save, however. “It’s still too new, and we don’t have all the specs on this,” McAdam says. “They’re just coming to market now.”

Moreover, McAdam sees some circumstances where this technology could require more power than conventional disks do. “If for some reason you have to keep powering this thing up and down and up and down, you may not be able to see some savings,” she says.

Storage resource management software
It provides a centralized view of a company’s storage environment. The software enables better control, management and provisioning of, as well as more accurate reporting on, storage resources. Vendors include EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Symantec Corp.

>>> For many organizations, stored data is something of a black hole: It keeps expanding, and no one has a complete understanding of what it holds.

In fact, the average utilization rate of storage capacity is 40% to 50%, Russell says.

“No one thinks we should run at 100% — you want to have some reserves. But running at 80% to 90% would have enormous savings in utility costs and floor space,” he says.

Storage resource management software can help organizations reach that target, says Russell. “It’s about optimizing what you have and delaying future investments. There will be a time when you’ll have to add more resources but you’d like to get more out of what you’ve already deployed,” he says.

This software looks at all storage in a company and allows it to be managed as one pool, McAdam says. “With this software, because we virtualize how it looks, we can drive up utilization. If we drive up utilization, we can get away with less physical storage.”

“The potential is huge,” adds Reichman. Bumping up utilization just 10% could translate into a 10TB reduction in the storage capacity needed. And at a cost of $70,000 per terabyte for high-class storage, that’s a $700,000 savings.

Storage resource management software offers a broad range of capabilities, including provisioning, capacity planning and performance management, says Bob Laliberte, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. The software used to just focus on the storage array, he says, “but what you’re seeing these days is more of an emphasis on looking at the whole stack.” Some analysts have also lobbied to expand the term to include something such as infrastructure resource management or infrastructure services management.

But Laliberte says IT shops are interested in capacity planning to improve their use of storage they’ve already deployed. “The larger, more complex environments will get more value from this,” he says. “You could be saving millions of dollars a year — especially the larger shops. But really, any size company can benefit from what this has to offer.”

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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