Storage on demand

To many in the industry, the future of enterprise computing lies in a utility model. In this concept, accessing information technology resources would be as simple as taking what you need when you need it — much the way electric utilities supply power today.

Among the parts that are necessary to make this model possible are flexible data storage systems that can support a mix of users and applications and can adapt easily to changing business requirements. That kind of capability is what a new storage company called 3PARdata Inc. hopes to bring to the federal sector, via a new Washington, D.C., office and a partnership with Storage Area Networks Inc. (Sanz), a storage integrator with numerous government customers.

3PAR, which recently signed deals with two federal agencies, develops and sells a turnkey disk storage system that is an alternative to the modular storage systems from Hewlett-Packard Co. and the monolithic systems from companies such as EMC Corp. and Hitachi Data Systems Corp., said David Scott, 3PAR's president and chief executive officer.

Scott said the problem with these other storage systems is that they are managed using the traditional, though inefficient, dedicate-on-allocation model. In other words, when administrators supply new storage capacity to an application or a group of users, they have to carve out and lock up a pool of storage for that application, even though the resource is used incrementally.

This approach creates several problems, Scott said. "On average only about 25 percent of an organization's allocated disk capacity is actually being used at any time — you've paid for the rest early," he said. "Then when you need new capacity, you don't have access to it because it's locked up."

3PAR's utility storage system, by comparison, was built on the idea of faking out an application or server, causing it to think it has more storage allocated to it than it really does, allowing a more efficient utilization of storage resources, said Patrick Phelan, the new federal business manager who will lead 3PAR's federal team.

Highly flexible provisioning and better utilization are key elements of providing utility storage. Another important feature of the model that 3PAR provides is the ability to support multiple applications with differing performance requirements on the same storage box, a concept 3PAR officials call multitenancy.

Many traditional storage systems can support mixed applications, but administrators often have to make performance trade-offs when tuning the box if the applications have drastically different performance characteristics, according to a report on 3PAR from the market analyst firm Enterprise Storage Group.

"The [3PAR] architecture uses techniques that deliver ultra-fine virtualization of physical resources and highly refined, intelligent volume management capabilities," according to the report. "These volumes can be precisely defined in terms of performance, availability, cost and size."

The utility storage model should be particularly attractive to the large number of government agencies that want to consolidate their storage resources and cut costs through simpler administration, said Nick Jovanovic, regional manager for the federal capitol region at Sanz.

One of 3PAR's two sales in the federal market — both are civilian agencies the company declined to identify — involves a 6 terabyte system that will serve as the consolidated platform for multiple data-mining projects. The system, which was sold by Sanz, needed to be able to scale up to as much as 20 terabytes. Such scalability is a common requirement for systems handling consolidation projects, and it's a feature that 3PAR handles well, Jovanovic said.

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Utility storage

The hardware part of 3PARdata Inc.'s utility storage system, the InServ Storage Server, is available in two configurations.

The midrange option starts at about $100,000 for a 1.5 terabyte to 2 terabyte system and can scale up to support 180 terabytes.

The high-end platform starts at under $150,000 for a 2 terabyte system and can scale up to 376 terabytes. These prices include 3PAR's InForm operating system software, which handles centralized volume management and basic provisioning features. Optional software for data copying is available.

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