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MAID and other energy-saving storage technologies for SMBs

As a result of the sharp rise in the cost of electricity, the cost to power and cool data storage gear is taking a bigger bite out of IT budgets. Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst of the StorageIO Group, estimates that anywhere from 20% to 30% of a company's

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IT budget goes to energy. And approximately 20% to 30% of that energy is consumed by storage -- and up to 80% of storage power is consumed by spinning drives.

Below are eight ways that small to midsized businesses (SMBs) can keep storage energy costs down. Of course, you must assess the potential negative impact on response time, availability and productivity before implementing these suggestions. Some can be performed with your existing storage environment, requiring administrative and/or user time; some require additional software; and some apply only to new hardware.

1. Reduce the total volume of spinning data

Obviously, the less data you have on spinning disks, the less energy it's burning. Archive old or otherwise inactive data offline, e.g., to tape or removable media, as long as it doesn't interfere with your ability to respond to discovery requests in a timely fashion.

Look for other ways to minimize duplicate online data, for example, by reducing copies of live files and real-time data compression. "Take inventory of all your data, so you can prune, archive and migrate things offline," urges Schulz.

2. Reduce/minimize unused spinning capacity and the number of spinning disks

Use techniques like storage virtualization and consolidation, including "wide striping" (which lets multiple volumes share a disk, or multiple disks), and thin provisioning -- pioneered by 3PAR and now available from most storage array vendors -- to minimize the amount of unused space.

3. Avoid unnecessary spinning of disks

First-generation massive arrays of idle disks (MAID) solutions throttled power consumption down by idling disks when they weren't handling requests, but often took several minutes to respond to a new I/O request. Today's second-generation MAID solutions, from vendors like Nexsan Technologies Inc., feature multiple levels of spin-down. These range from Level 1, which has a power savings of up to 20% and response times (to the first request) in the second-second range, through Level 3 with up to 60% energy savings and response to the first I/O request in fewer than 30 seconds.

Look for storage systems that spin down -- and even sleep -- when inactive, such as Netgear's network-attached storage (NAS) products. And, of course, turn off storage that isn't in use.

4. Tiered storage

Use lower power disk drives, e.g., small form-factor (SFF) drives and lower RPM drives for non-performance-critical data. Look for systems with software that automates tiering management.

5. Move to more efficient disks

Choose energy-efficient disks (subject to performance requirements), e.g., 2.5-inch SFF disks like Seagate Technology's Savvio, which, according to Seagate, consumes up to 50% less power while doubling performance (IOPS/watt) over traditional 3.5-inch drives.

6. Select energy-efficient storage gear

Many new hard drives are more energy-efficient than ever, thanks to features like Seagate's PowerTrim technology. Disks aren't the only components getting more energy-efficient; so are power supplies, CPUs, host adapters and fans. Overall, storage systems are getting smarter about how they avoid using energy unnecessarily.

For example, EMC Corp.'s Clariion CX4 series of networked storage systems includes both hardware and software power-saving features, including flash drives, low-power high-capacity SATA drives, adaptive cooling and policy-based spindown. They can further reduce power consumption through data deduplication, archiving, storage virtualization, tiering and virtual provisioning.

7. Make the most of your cooling

Make sure your cooling is doing the best it can. Unclutter airflow-blocking cables, clean out those dust bunnies and unclog vents. Also, make sure cool air is flowing directly to your storage and being exhausted (rather than spilled directly back into the room). Are you overcooling IT gear by setting your cooling capability to the lowest rather than the highest level of the acceptable range?

8. Look for "green" rebates for new purchases

Ask your vendors about energy-efficient storage -- and ask your utility about rebates for green energy-efficient equipment. According to vendors and analysts, you may be able to reduce your storage energy footprint by 40%, 75% and even up to 90%, depending on how inefficient your old storage environment was, and how many of these tips you implement.

(Just make sure you don't impede your business -- IT responsiveness or availability -- in the process of trying to save money!)

Daniel P. Dern is an independent technology writer. He can be reached at dern@pair.com. His web site is www.dern.com and his technology blog is TryingTechnology.com.

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This was first published in September 2008

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