If you believe in magic quadrants, then it will come as no surprise that the market for high-end, general-purpose disk arrays is hotly contested, with six closely grouped contenders. EMC sits at the top, but Dell, Hitachi, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and NetApp are breathing down its neck. HP's position in the ranks is heavily influenced by its acquisition of 3PAR a few years back. 3PAR's magic makes HP a strong contender in the block-storage or storage array network (SAN) arena, able to stand up to all comers.
For this review InfoWorld was offered the opportunity to go hands-on with an HP 3PAR StoreServ 7400 in HP's lab. I was allowed to exercise the management software, configure various storage options, and test out the system with both VMware and Microsoft software. HP 3PAR has been a VMware partner for many years, and its integration with vSphere and vCenter Server include plug-ins specifically for provisioning new storage on a 3PAR system.
On the Microsoft side, the HP 3PAR systems support a number of the new Windows Server 2012 features, including Offline Data Transfer (ODX) and the SMI-S storage management standard. The HP 3PAR StoreServ 7400 system I tested was configured with four control nodes, six disk cages containing 46 SAS physical disks and 24 Nearline (NL) disks. List price for the system as tested is $235,000 before discounting. Basic configurations start at $35,000 for a bare-bones system with four control nodes. For network connectivity, there's 10GbE and 8Gb Fibre Channel. FCoE is in the works.
Modular, mesh-based architecture When you examine high-end storage arrays, you typically see either a modular design or a monolithic approach. Monolithic systems typically place all of the components in the same cabinet and use dedicated interconnects to achieve the highest performance. Modular systems break up the system into functional units and use more traditional interconnects at the cost of lower performance. The modular approach provides more flexibility in terms of expanding capacity by simply adding more storage modules.
From a high-availability (HA) perspective, you must add redundancy to protect against a single-point failure. If you've looked at any literature from the different storage vendors, you've no doubt seen terms like "active/active clustering" used to describe how the system handles the connectivity between the controller and the storage. There are also active/passive designs where all input and output (I/O) happens between the primary controller and storage until a failure occurs, at which time control passes to the backup processor. Active/active designs keep both (or all) controllers working all the time and distribute the I/O proportionately.
The HP 3PAR uses a mesh-based architecture that makes it possible for all nodes to directly connect to each other and to the underlying storage. This mesh effectively achieves an active/active arrangement because all nodes process data in parallel and can take over from any other node in the event of a failure. The distribution of data across drives uses an HP 3PAR proprietary technique to portion out the data in small chunks (aka chunklets) to create virtualized storage. Virtual volumes and virtual LUNs are then created from this pool of chunklets. It's basically HP 3PAR's approach to wide striping, which means your data is striped across many disks to improve both resiliency and performance.
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