Storage Management 101: Flexibility Matters

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This is the first in a series of articles that will focus on the basics of data storage management. This series of articles will share useful insights and tips to facilitate the data storage management journey for data center administrators and owners.

In this article we’ll specifically talk about flexibility but for the sake of context, we’ll also shed light on what we mean by “storage management.”

What Do We Mean by Storage Management?

Data storage is a much bigger concept now than it used to be. It’s not as simple as putting in your flash drive or your tape drive anymore. Tape has always been around as a general-purpose storage option, of course, and experts don’t expect it to disappear any time soon.

But now there are so many purpose-built options: NAS systems, SAN systems, Unified Storage Platforms (NAS + SAN + Cloud), and Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI). And that’s not the end of the list. There’s serverless storage (cloud object storage), too.

Storage management refers to effectively managing different types of data on any one or all of these types of storage technologies.

To clarify that, when we say “manage” we don’t just mean keep track of the files and folders you’ve stored on a server or a drive or in the cloud. Manage encompasses the tools and features you’re using to store them, ensure availability, and reduce storage space consumption and overall processing of the entire data volume.  

Examples of said storage management components include deduplication, snapshots, replication, automated tiering, thin provisioning, and erasure coding, among several others.

Now that we’ve established a context about storage management, let’s talk about flexibility. Before we discuss why flexibility matters, again for the sake of context, let’s describe what we mean by it first.

What Do We Mean by Flexible Storage Management?

The word flexibility has two implications when it comes to data storage applications.

  1. How flexible, or more relatively, how scalable is the storage solution? Can it start small and grow as large as the business needs? In other words, can it start from a few terabytes and scale to petabytes?
  2. The other interpretation of the word flexibility is in terms of compatibility. An elaboration on this would be that if we say that it’s a highly flexible storage solution, it should be compatible with most mainstream servers, hypervisors, and clouds (if hybrid storage).

When we say flexibility matters, you might ask yourself: “Okay so there are two implications; which one matters?” Actually, both do.  

What’s the Importance of Flexibility in Data Storage Management?

Flexibility, in the context of scalability, is important to accommodate continuously increasing data. There’s only one thing that’s guaranteed about digital data and information in general: It’s going to grow.

This is true for the domestic smart phone user and it’s true for large organizations with in-house data centers. Everyone is generating data on a per-minute basis. Therefore, having a highly scalable storage management solution helps a great deal.

A data storage management solution that’s flexible enough to manage anywhere from a few terabytes to petabytes of data is the best for enterprise use cases. As a business owner, you don’t want your team to get accustomed to one solution and then have to learn another one when your business grows. This is why flexibility matters.

Flexibility, in terms of compatibility, is important because it’s convenient. And we know that convenience goes a long way, especially when it comes to large data centers.

A reliable data storage management solution should be able to facilitate user needs to use the latest tools from a variety of vendors. If users end up in a lock-in and are forced to use the products and technology of a single vendor, they miss out on the capabilities of other more efficient and cost-effective options out in the market.

Features That Make Data Storage Management Software Truly Flexible

Now the question is: What really makes a data storage management solution or software truly flexible?

The features that make storage management software truly flexible are as follows:

  • It has to be software-defined storage software
  • Ideally, it should be hardware-agnostic
  • It should support virtualization. You don’t want to deal with the fixed hardware model, do you?

Each of these attributes or features is critically important for storage management flexibility but do you know what would be really wonderful?  Software that combined all of these features.

Luckily, industry leaders are already on this. There are a couple of software solutions that deserve mentioning: HPE’s software-defined storage, NetApp ONTAP, and StoneFly SCVM, among several others.

Conclusion

When it comes to data storage, it’s important that the storage solution is scalable and compatible with what you already have running on your in-house systems. The same is true for data storage management solutions.

The storage management software has to be flexible so that it can manage from a few terabytes to petabytes of data and it has to be compatible with all mainstream servers and hypervisors so that there are no integration problems.

In conclusion, if you’re thinking about purchasing data storage management software, pay special attention to how flexible it is. Flexibility certainly matters.

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