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Flash + Tape – Did this odd couple just get more stylish?

Have we all just been following the latest fashion?

We’ve all seen and experienced the metrics in data growth over the years, and now are in the wonderful era of making sense of it all and trying to “get the wardrobe in order”. Not only do we have structured and unstructured data, 4K and 8K video, mobile, social, on-site, cloud, transactional, and stale – but we also have a plethora of modern and traditional storage ranging from tape to spinning disk to flash, block, file, object, cloud. It’s quite a lot to take in, and has created some reasonable “couplings” and some that, on the surface, leave you scratching your head.

If you were to solely listen to marketers and analysts, all businesses should run from trend to trend as they come out and suffer through the hype-cycle and life cycle until we figure out what to do with our new-found toys. If you speak to an architect, you will find that each bit of technology has a place and a role to play for different types of datasets and value propositions of that data. It is widely reported that the number one reason why companies are hesitant to invest in the right types of technology is due to the up front cost, rather than the long-term value. While this makes sense, the big challenge is to adjust IT expenditures to “right-size” and “right-invest” in technology. As with the couple outlined in the intro, a balance must be struck that may not comply with marketing or trends, but makes perfect sense for your business.

We often speak about the amazing things that technology has done to enable business – from security to mobility and availability. But technology choices can also bring restrictions in equal measure. For example, technology like tape was cheap and scalable, but lacked the speed of recall to effectively handle massive data sets.

SANs allowed unprecedented sharing, performance, and risk mitigation, but were not designed to “share’ data with other SANs. Additionally, performance and capacity did not necessarily scale correctly with cost. NAS replaced file servers well, but lacked scale, performance and often required ‘forklift’ upgrades. Object is great for scale, but in my opinion until recently has lacked the application support for anything but purpose-built applications. Flash (whether it is used for block, file or object), gives massive performance but still at a premium price.

Adopting a style will mean you are always on trend

The key to this overview is that each technology plays a role and a part in daily operations of an IT infrastructure, but doesn’t necessarily “work” together as a whole without help. Until very recently, a company would be almost forced to adopt one strategy or use case after another to solve various problems – creating operational and technology silos and wildly disparate price points (Think: data warehouse, data lake, Hadoop scale out, memory-resident analytics, traditional OLTP farms, File archive, cloud archive, object, block, tape!) Due to lack of value assessment and governance of these silos, IT teams have been hobbled by poor judgment, often due to lack of enough insight into a business data strategy, data placement, and application connectivity.

Two ways in which IT team have been attempting to deal with this exact situation are 1.) moving to the cloud and 2.) Consolidation. Interestingly, neither strategy solves the problem, each only adds additional silos and replaces one issue for another. The real trick to bringing IT back into a value-driven partnership with business is through software that understands the different value of different storage tiers and helps to shift data and applications to the appropriate destination as needed. Today we call this Software-Defined Storage – perhaps best exemplified in the IBM Spectrum suite and more particularly Spectrum Scale and Archive.

How can we help?

For a concrete example of architecture across tiers, let’s look at the ability to use IBM Spectrum Scale to combine flash and tape into a single filesystem. IBM Spectrum Scale is software defined storage system with the ability to present protocols including file and object and store data across flash, disk and even tape when combined with IBM Spectrum Archive. All these separate ‘pools’ of storage can be managed using policies to allowing you to align data with a tier appropriate to its value and performance requirements. The policies could range from simple “all files in this folder go to flash” to the specific “all videos in this folder stub out to tape with 10-second cache and thumbnails.” The combination of Spectrum Scale + Archive allows end-to-end lifecycle management of data and handles a physical storage service level based on your unique business requirements.

Under this umbrella, a business isn’t hobbled by one technology choice over another, but can actually leverage one technology to fund another. Take tape and flash – two opposite ends of the performance spectrum: tape is comparably slow, but safe and cheap. Flash is fantastically fast, but can also be expensive! While it’s easy to architect for your highest performance requirements (5-10% of total workload), tape is the perfect home for the vast majority of static data: compliance and archival. This is especially true when you consider the recent advancements in speed and capacity recently introduced in the IBM TS4300 library. And Flash? If you could transparently move 80-90% of your static data from disk (or flash) to tape, you’ll have plenty of budget left to pay for that all-flash platform that will actually enable your business to derive value from IT again.

 Want to get in touch?

Optimising your business and making the best use of your technology often requires specialty skills. OCF has the experience and expertise in architecting data lifecycle projects using best-in-breed technology at the right price and at the right time for your organisation.  You can read more on our dedicated IBM website  or email me with any questions,


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