Storage: Can Data Center Managers Have It All?

In the final scene of the classic 1983 film Trading Spaces, Eddie Murphy’s Billy Ray Valentine and Denholm Elliott’s Coleman (the butler) are lounging  in a posh, tropical resort after having made a fortune destroying the evil Duke brothers in the commodities market.

“Hey, Coleman,” says Coleman’s hot new girlfriend.


“What about lunch? The lobster or the cracked crab?”

Coleman turns to Billy Ray: “What do you think?”

Billy Ray says: “Can’t we have both?

To which Coleman replies, with a smile: “Why not?

Now that I have you thinking about equatorial paradise, I hate to have to tell you that this post is about networked storage formats. You see, for years the choice boiled down mainly to the block-level format found in most SANs or the file-level approach available in NAS architectures. Increasingly, though, new systems are eliminating the either/or choice here, leading to the same kind of penultimate question from data center execs: “Can’t we have both?”

Compellent is the latest to answer, “Why not?” with the new zNAS storage system that unifies file and block-level storage on a single platform. The system uses the ZFS file system developed by Sun Microsystems that features 128-bit performance that easily outstrips current 64-bit technology and goes a long way toward accommodating the increasingly mixed virtual environments that are taking shape at most data centers.

The system also features the Fluid Data architecture, which allows admins to manipulate virtual pools of storage regardless of size and across various operating environments like UNIX, Linux or Windows and across SAN and NAS architectures — all from a single user interface and all automatically. The system is powered by Intel Xeon quads, holds 48 GB of RAM and is available with optional 8 Gbps Fibre Channel connectivity.

Unified block/file storage also is likely to play a major role in HP’s Converged Infrastructure strategy. As The Register reports it, HP is looking to devise a unified storage unit consisting of LeftHand and Ibrix technology working jointly on one of its storage blades and under the control of the Command View management system. The magazine is quick to point out, though, that HP is still mum on the subject.

Part of this is a reaction to the increasingly fluid nature of virtual and cloud environments. But new storage media is making its presence known as well. Nimbus Data Systems, for example, recently introduced a new Flash storage system that features unified iSCSI, NFS and CIFS support, providing for both block and file storage with an aim toward eliminating redundant SAN and NAS hardware in the data center.

With consolidation hitting the rest of the data center at such a rapid clip, it’s not hard to see why unifying SAN and NAS architectures is a worthy goal as well. Besides, if you can save enough money from your storage architecture, you just might wind up like Billy Ray and Coleman — and not the guy in the gorilla suit.

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