Enterprise Computing – Death of Tiering?

Enterprise Computing – Death of Tiering?

Chris EvansStorage

I’m not the first to post on the subject of NetApp’s President and CEO Tom Georgens commenting during their latest earnings call on the apparent death of tiering as we know it today.

In NetApp’s view, there will be no tiering of storage in the future.  Instead we will be using SATA drives for our data and cache cards.  Here’s Tom’s words, taken from the call transcript:

Second of all, frankly I think the concept of tiering is dying. And I probably don’t want to go into a long speech on that, but at the end of the day, the simple fact of the matter is tiering is a way to manage migration of data between fiber-channel based systems and serial ATA-based systems. With the advent of Flash, and we talked about our performance acceleration module, basically these systems are going to large amounts of Flash, which are going to be dynamic with serial ATA behind them, and the whole concept of HSM and tiered storage is going to go away.

So what are NetApp thinking?  I thought the PAM module was a read cache for accelerating random I/O read-intensive environments?  How would that help scenarios where there’s heavy write activity?  This is where FC and SSDs are most suited and NetApp are saying they won’t be needed?

Perhaps Tom’s comments preview a change to the NetApp architecture in which the PAM cards are used to improve write caching.  That’s how Sun’s 7000 Unified Storage Systems work; use SSD for caching writes and serve data from SATA.  Maybe SSDs are too fast for NetApp’s architecture and this is why they need to implemented via the back door.

Tiering today enables customers to match workload to the price of the underlying storage hardware.  EMC and Compellent are most well known for introducing technologies that enable data to be moved at a granular level, making best use of SSD.  No doubt the other major vendors will follow suit as they release the next generation of their products.  Storage arrays that can move small blocks of data onto the most appropriate tier of storage will deliver the next wave of efficiency.  After that we should expect the array to manage the underlying hardware automatically, while we specify policies that dictate the service we expect.  Tiering isn’t going away any time soon.

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