6 Server Trends Storage Admins Can't Ignore

by Drew Robb

What happens in the server market, typically doesn't stay in the server market and often has a direct impact on storage. Savvy storage admins will be keeping an eye on these six server trends.

There is a lot going on in the storage world, and plenty happening in the land of servers. And what affects one typically impacts the other. "Several trends are emerging in server-related storage to address performance, integration and ease of use, and provide the agility needed to plan for any type of application deployment," said Jimmy Daley, marketing manager for HP Industry Standard Servers.

1. Convergence of Storage Connectivity for Flexibility and Workload Optimization

Daley said server storage is moving to 6 Gb/sec SAS for performance, which provides a high-speed, low-latency connection for internal storage, as well as external expansion to very large configurations. It is also becoming the standard for the internal drive connection in dedicated storage systems.

"Connectivity to external shared storage is also changing, and many HP servers now ship with converged network adapters capitalizing on the shift over time toward IP-based networks," he said. "These trends are providing more flexibility in designing servers for multiple workloads. It is easy to optimize the number and type of internal drives for direct attached applications or those that require shared storage."

2. Media Flexibility

With SATA, SAS and SSD offerings available, servers can be optimized for more diverse application workloads. At the enterprise end of the market especially, server vendors are adding SSDs internally and to disk arrays.

"Most HP customers deploying solid state storage in their servers need high-read performance or low-latency solutions, or are currently over-provisioning spindles for performance," said Daley. "Most implementations have a solid state tier for acceleration with traditional media for data storage."

3. Convergence

As well as network convergence, there is a convergence of servers and storage occurring as a means of optimizing performance. This is seen in the marketplace under such banners as Cisco UCS and HP BladeSystem Matrix. The HP MDS 600, for example, is a JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks) for server storage expansion for HP BladeSystem or ProLiant servers that provides up to 140TB of Storage in 5U of rack space.

4. Multi-core Processors Demand Faster Storage I/O

Fast servers need fast I/O and storage to remove roadblocks or barriers that could result in inefficient or lost productivity. High-density servers, for example, need fast interconnects, including PCIe Gen2 and recently announced Gen3.

"Servers are increasingly having native SAS ports onboard moving from 3 GB/sec to 6 Gb/sec with 12 Gb/s on the roadmap," said Greg Schulz, an analyst with Server and StorageIO Group.

SSD also plays a part in faster IO. Trucking company Pitt Ohio Express, for example, uses SSD to eliminate slow server response. The company installed flash in its EMC Clariion CX4 disk array to eliminate a bottleneck due to high I/O from a reporting server.

"Over 100 Fibre Channel disks in the array were struggling to cope with the workload," said Jules Thomas, IT manager of Pitt Ohio. "By adding nine SSD drives, we have been able to give that disk array plenty of breathing room. FC Drives get about 180 IOPS per spindle, and the SSDs get around 2400 IOPS per drive."

5. Smaller Drives

SAS 2.5 inch drives are finding their way into servers for both high performance as well as higher capacity. The Seagate Constellation is one example of a small form factor that offers 1 Tb of space.

"Despite declarations that the hard disk drive is dead, what is alive is the industry's evolving movement towards small form factor 2.5 inch fast SAS as well as high-capacity SAS drives complimented by some SSD," said Schulz.

Mini-SATA, or mSATA, too, has arrived on the marketplace. Currently, it supports transfer rates up to 3.0 Gb/s on a platter around the size of a business card. It will not be long before these begin to be used in servers.

6. Hybrid Drives

While the continued adoption of SSD in servers will displace some hard drives, it is also giving rise to hybrids. Seagate, for example is combining hard drives, RAM and Flash in a single sealed integrated drive.

"The ones I have seen contain 500GB hard drive, 4GB of flash as a buffer for the hard drive and 32MB RAM as a general drive buffer -- all in a 2.5 inch package with a SATA interface spinning at 7200 RPM," said Schulz. "It dispenses with the need for special host/server/controllers to move data around."

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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This article was originally published on Thursday Jan 27th 2011
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