Introduction to Tiered Storage and 3 Pillars of Success

Introduction to Tiered Storage and 3 Pillars of Success

June 20

In today’s information age, a company’s success is hinged heavily on its ability to efficiently store and access data. With the volume, variety, and velocity of data growing at an unbelievable rate, you can’t afford to be without a reliable storage system and storage management strategy. Every organization has their own preferred method of madness, but this post is all about an emerging enterprise trend called tiered storage.

What is Tiered Storage?

Tiered storage takes a highly targeted approach to storage. For example, a medical office may keep the records for new patients on an internal hard drive that offers quick and easy access. On the other hand, a mortgage processing firm may keep historical data on an external medium that doesn’t necessarily offer the same speedy access, but makes up for it in a low-cost storage format. Instead of treating every bit of data the same, you assign different values based on retention, compliance requirements, and storage preferences.

Done right, tiered storage can help organizations optimize crucial resources, improve access to data, and trim storage costs. Let’s take a look at the fundamentals behind this increasingly popular method.

1. Data Classification

For many organizations, data classification is the first step in tiered storage planning. It also tends to be among the most challenging. Enterprise data generally falls in three categories. You’ve got your archived data, your backup data, and the data you need for immediate use. However, you could end up with many more segments depending on your infrastructure and requirements. The best way to approach this aspect is to build your classification efforts around business value, existing policies, and data management tools. Here are some best practices to follow:

  • Evaluate current data. Not all data is created equal. Before moving or archiving anything, take the time to understand where your data is coming from, how it’s used, and the role it plays in your organization.
  • Set custom criteria. Have press releases, marketing materials, and other information you share with your audience? If so, this type of data would go nicely in a category with publicly accessible data. How about social security numbers, credit card numbers, and other sensitive customer information? Then it’s probably best grouped in the confidential section of your storage architecture.  Establishing some criteria will make classifying your data much easier.
  • Gather user feedback. Data classification should be approached as a team effort. The people who use this data can prove invaluable when it comes to determining how fast it needs to be accessed, retained, moved from one tier to the next, and so forth.

2. Capacity Planning

Creating a plan for the amount of capacity you need is vital to the ongoing performance and efficiency of a tiered storage infrastructure. Of course there are no golden rules for capacity planning, but it helps to follow a few general guidelines:

  • Measure existing data. Sizing up your current data infrastructure will help you figure out how much capacity is needed in your tiered storage initiative. Do you already have information spread across multiple desktops and servers, or is everything kept in one location? Are there any opportunities for consolidation? Management and IT should work closely to figure out where the company stands, and needs to be on the capacity front.
  • Prepare to scale. By analyzing the growth rates of historical data and planning for future projects, you can better predict how much capacity is needed now and later down the road as well. And while you certainly want to make sure you have more than enough, rest assured that there is nothing wrong with expanding in the future. History has shown that like other computing resources, storage components tend to lower in price significantly over the years, meaning it’s possible to save some moolah with a little patience.
  • Think longevity. Whether it’s an email server or content management system, every system has a life cycle. A beginning, middle, and end. This is something you’ll want to keep in mind when hammering out a tiered storage system. The system you have in place today may be outdated five years from now, so be realistic in regard to the viability of the technology you plan to use.

3. Tiered Technology

network attached storage

Photo Credit: Blake Patterson via Flickr

As for the technology up for grabs, there’s plenty at your disposal. Below is a quick look at some of the tiered storage models available on the enterprise market.

  • DST. Dynamic storage tiering or DST, is especially useful for organizations using SSDs in their storage strategy. DST is a cool piece of tech that analyzes data patterns such as existing policies, usage activity, and I/O, then automatically moves data based on the results of the analysis. These products offer a number of benefits, including seamless integration with the cloud, easier compliance management, and lower overall storage costs.
  • Automatic tiering. Tiered storage presents some unique challenges for the organization handling complex data sets that need to be relocated fairly routinely. Automatic tiering allows you to move large amounts of data to the right tiers, at just the right time. Some automatic tiering products transport entire volumes of information. Others take a more granular approach by moving the most sensitive or mission-critical sets of data to the designated storage medium.
  • Virtualized tiering. Virtualization can do some pretty awesome things when paired up with a tiered storage strategy. In addition to automatic tiering functionality, virtual solutions connect with SAN and NAS environments while aiming to reduce storage costs and improve efficiency. These products, particular the tier-friendly offerings, generally aim to eliminate the often severe performance issues that result from creating multiple virtual storage environments within a single physical machine.

The Future of Tiered Storage

While tiered storage works with fine with hard disk hardware, the future appears to lie in SSD. According to survey by TechTarget, 53 percent of responding organizations have a tiered storage system in place, with 60 percent using an SSD-based system. Faster transfer rates, improved performance, and greater variety are behind the push to SSD systems. What’s cool about the tiered concept in general is that with the right tools, it can effectively enable movement between both, while balancing the load across multiple environments and maximizing the return on storage environments.

Photo Credit: ChrisDag via Flickr