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4 tech innovations that improve data centre scalability

John Brandon | Dec. 11, 2013
In today's business environment, companies are expected to grow quickly. This means their data centers must grow quickly, too. These four technological advances will help firms scale up -- and down, when necessary -- so growth doesn't turn into a bad thing.

3. Object Storage: No More Playing With Blocks
When it comes to data centre scale, traditional file storage systems can be limiting. Think of an upstart social network. When there are a few hundred users, the storage system can keep up with the number of images and video posted online. Scaling to a few million users suddenly becomes a management chore - data center managers have to manage multiple volumes.

"File systems are designed for people to collaborate on the same data without modifying it at the same time," says Tom Leyden, a spokesman for DataDirect Networks. "If two people access a Word document at the same time, they will lock the file. Those locking mechanisms make it complex to scale the file system. A file system is slow when it's locked."

The answer, says Leyden, is object storage. The idea is to use a simplified ID system for files. The ID crosses multiple storage volumes and refers to where that object is stored. Metadata is also attached to the file to make it more searchable across volumes. There's no hierarchy and no locking mechanism, says Leyden. This helps with scaling because object storage can create "clusters" of data that scale as a company grows. Object storage creates a single storage management system - one that's easier to manage.

4. Auto-tiering: Scale Up, Scale Down
Data centre managers need to automatically adjust storage as application needs change. The goal is to accommodate high-performance apps, but the challenge is knowing when to scale up for demand and then when to scale down.

Auto-tiering analyzes actual app data frequency of use. In an infrastructure that uses Dell EqualLogic arrays, for example, 80 percent of data becomes inactive after a month. Auto-tiering matches this legacy data for the lowest-cost storage option, rather than keeping it on faster drives too long.

One of the most recent changes is how auto-tiering uses storage to take advantage of flash speed boosts. "Rather than using spinning disk drives as the latest greatest drive technology, which are mechanical and cause heat and vibration, we use the latest class of solid-state drives," says Bob Fine, director of storage product management at Dell. "The new technology leverages solid state drives - data coming in that's performance oriented, we place on solid state."

The innovation: The auto-tiering uses only a small amount of flash for the high-performance apps. Dell auto-tiering can also distinguish between higher cost single-level cell (SLC) flash and slower, higher capacity multiple-level cell (MLC). These kinds of smart adjustments occur automatically and reduce the cost of using flash.


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