Implementing a unified storage system in a small business environment

Greg Schulz discusses the pros and cons of unified storage systems and whether or not server virtualization is driving the adoption among SMBs in this Q&A.

Greg Schulz

Unified storage and multiprotocol storage are becoming more popular in small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). These unified storage systems offer more flexibility to a small business.

Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at The StorageIO Group, discusses unified storage in this Q&A. Learn whether server virtualization is driving the adoption of unified storage in SMBs, the pros and cons of multiprotocol storage and what to consider to determine if a unified storage system is right for your environment. Listen to the podcast or read his answers below.

Listen to the unified storage systems for SMBs Q&A

>> Is virtualization driving unified storage adoption at the SMB level?
>> Does multiprotocol storage offer any specific benefits or drawbacks for virtual server environments that other forms of shared storage doesn't?
>> What other circumstances would push SMBs to use multiprotocol or unified storage systems in their environment?
>> When is it a bad idea to implement multiprotocol storage? 

Have you seen an increase in use of unified storage at the SMB level over the past year? If so, do you think server virtualization is driving this adoption?

Absolutely. There is an increase in multiprotocol and unified storage at the SMB level. Is virtualization driving it? That's a little bit trickier. In some scenarios you could say yes, but in other scenarios it's more like virtualization is benefiting from it. If you think of it this way, one of the value propositions of having multiprotocol, whether it's with block, iSCSI, FC, SAS attachment, or if it's unified with storage area network (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) block and file, is to be able to have that storage in different things to support your different applications and your different workloads that have the different characteristics. This means that in that smaller environment you can take some of the storage, allocate it to your Microsoft Hyper-V or to your Citrix, your vSphere, part of it to Exchange and part of it to your SQL Server.

In some ways, I would say virtualization is benefitting from multiprotocol. At the same time, there are absolutely some environments where virtualization could be seen as driving unified storage, but I guess it's one of those things where if you're a virtualization fan, then yes, virtualization drives everything. But then on the other side of it, virtualization benefits from it -- they're both just tools.

Does multiprotocol storage offer any specific benefits or drawbacks for virtual server environments that other forms of shared storage doesn't?

You hit a key word there, shared storage, which is the key requirement for virtual storage. Whether you're working with VMware, vSphere, Hyper-V, Citrix or Xen, the key requirement is shared storage, which could be either shared SAS, shared iSCSI, shared FC, shared Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) or shared NAS. In all cases, shared is the common key component.

A unified-type approach to storage offers you flexibility and the option to choose, and more and more people are discovering the benefits to multiprotocol storage. For example, with a unified storage system, you can choose from one or 10 Gb iSCSI, 4 Gb or 8 Gb Fibre Channel, FCoE, or NAS, NFS or CIFS, etc. In other words, you have an environment similar to regular storage, but with the benefits of shared storage.

The same goes for virtual server environments; some prefer using NAS, and some prefer using block for different reasons and different capabilities. So what it's doing is coming back to the notion of giving the customer the resource, or the storage, to be able to configure it to how it makes sense for them. In other words, instead of that customer tailoring their environment to fit the technology, it's putting the technology to work for that customer.

What other circumstances would push SMBs to use multiprotocol or unified storage in their environment?

There are a couple of different reasons SMBs would implement a unified storage system in their environment, and they build on what we've touched on already. The real key is the flexibility and ease of use unified storage offers. In particular, that flexibility is more important for SMBs with a very small environment, or maybe even a remote-office branch where they need that smaller-type storage system. The benefit of a unified storage system for a smaller SMB is that they don't have to buy a block or NAS device or buy a bunch of different storage systems. Think of it in these terms: A lot of companies go out and buy multi-function printer or fax/scanner machines because they don't want several different copiers and printers. They want it all functional to reduce their costs, and increase their flexibility and ease of use. But what you also might find in those environments is that they have multi-function printer/copier machine as well as a large printer or copier elsewhere in the company. And that's what you'll find in these smaller SMB environments -- you'll have the unified storage solution so it can be used, reconfigured, redeployed and fit their changing needs. But they still may have a dedicated or target-type device.

When is it a bad idea to implement multiprotocol storage? How can you tell if it's unnecessary?

Probably the easiest way to determine whether or not you need multiprotocol storage is to look at what you need for your environment. In other words, if all you need is FC, SAS, iSCSI, or NAS, and if a multiprotocol device is going to cost you more, then that's probably a bad sign. But what's becoming interesting with these multiprotocol and unified storage systems is it's ubiquitous and so common that it's become almost a no-brainer for many companies to purchase. Because if you think you may ever need that possible capability, and there's no extra charge for it, go for it. If you're not being penalized in performance, extra management software fees, functionality, availability or anything like that, and if you have the capability, why wouldn't you implement a unified storage system?

This was first published in January 2011

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