Archive for Data Storage

Platform Independence Drives High Demand for Universal File System Driver Technology

Smartphone Storage Options by Eric Zeman of Informationweek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Fedro

Recently, Eric Zeman posted a piece on Informationweek.com about Smartphone storage Options. It was very well laid out explaining all the choices available among the different manufacturers and pointing out the upgrade costs for extra storage. The options ranged from purchasing expandable storage in the form of a microSD memory card to tapping your PC to view your movie and music collection. While informative, the conversation ought to be expanded to discuss the assurance that different devices with differing operating systems can indeed communicate, share, and recognize the storage hardware used.

For example, in a household of five, you might have a mix of varying Windows operating systems, new Android devices, iPhones, Tablets and Macs, all potentially capable of playing music or movies from a network attached shared storage device. What is often overlooked is that the differing Operating Systems (OS’s) may not be able to communicate. That is where universal file system drivers (UFSD) technology can add real value.

UFSDs enable devices with different OS’s, Chip sets, and firmware to share data and manipulate files seamlessly – basically providing complete platform independence for the user. Many OEMs partner with companies providing this technology and embed it into their devices to maximize the customer experience, making access more user-friendly.

With the soaring popularity of smart devices, the ability of the devices to interact seamlessly with storage will become more important and drive the mass adoption of UFSD technology along the way. So while the availability of storage for smart devices is a story, it isn’t the whole story; embedded systems that include UFSD technology that empower users with complete platform and OS independence will see solid growth in the coming years.

 

The Value of Data Storage vs. the Cost – Software Defined Storage

Balancing the cost vs the value of storageSenior Strategist Randy Kerns argued on Storage Soup that businesses cannot really just focus on the cost to store information; that the focus should be about the value. Other factors, for example, should be evaluated such as the speed at which data needs to be retrieved, how important the protection and integrity of the data is, how long must the data be stored to meet compliance and regulations in the industry. He is really spot-on.

Often, IT managers, directors and engineers find themselves arguing the need for highly effective storage and backup solutions only to be shot down by Finance. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a disaster, such as a hurricane, fire, earthquake. tornado or some other event, to get their point across. Communication is paramount; tech managers must speak in the language of profits and losses to help drive the point home.

While the argument for the value of securing data is important, especially as our need to save data increases exponentially we can’t dismiss the associated investment involved. Fortunately, the cost of saving and protecting the data has decreased with advances in technology. In fact, software-defined storage seems to be logical direction for the market to head. By implementing a software solution for storage, the hardware manufacturer is irrelevant, enabling the engineer to use commodity off-the-shelf (read inexpensive) components.

Good news is there are storage options on the market today that make securing your company’s data much more affordable than it was even 12 months ago.  Software defined storage is a trend that needs to be followed closely by any serious IT Executive.

Today’s Storage Mosaic

Popular Backup Methods by IndustryBy Tom Fedro

Paragon recently surveyed more than 370 IT professionals regarding the backup and restore methods employed in their networking environment. The results show that today’s storage environment is primarily serviced by local servers and Network Attached Storage. Cloud storage only made up 30 percent of the mix. And, long ago considered obsolete, tape’s foothold is nearly 40 percent.*

However, the interesting numbers lay among the makeup of storage implemented in vertical markets. Among those surveyed, the

  • Healthcare, aerospace and aeronautics industries did not use cloud services for backup at all, instead relying primarily upon local server and tape storage–this may be due to the sensitivity and complexity of the data produced by these two industries, along with associated regulations;
  • Finance industry’s unique mix of very short system-recovery and long data-retention requirements makes it the market segment with the highest integration of cloud services (36.8 percent) in the storage environment. Finance is also the highest integrator of tape into the storage mix, 68.4 percent of those surveyed; and lastly
  • Logistics and Government industries were the second and third highest users of tape backup.

Here’s a look at how the numbers aligned:

Industry

Server

Tape

Cloud

Aerospace/Aeronautics

66.7%

50.0%

0.0%

Education

50.0%

53.6%

17.9%

Finance

47.4%

68.4%

36.8%

Healthcare

50.0%

50.0%

0.0%

Government

60.0%

56.0%

16.0%

Insurance

50.0%

50.0%

25.0%

Logistics

66.7%

66.7%

33.3%

Manufacturing

41.7%

55.6%

25.0%

Non-Profit

42.9%

42.9%

21.4%

Real Estate

75.0%

50.0%

25.0%

Retail

47.1%

23.5%

35.3%

Telecommunications

33.3%

50.0%

33.3%

Transportation

60.0%

40.0%

10.0%

For all the hoopla surrounding cloud, it appears that in all industries IT professionals still prefer to maintain some control over their organization’s critical data, unwilling to completely trust the cloud in the event of a disaster.

* Note: In some cases, multiple storage methods are employed within the same IT environment thus resulting in a totaling of storage methods greater than 100 percent.

Who Can Benefit from Software-Defined Storage via an iSCSI SAN or NAS?

Benefits of Software Defined StorageBy Tom Fedro

There’s a lot of talk about software-defined storage lately. It even has its own Twitter hashtag: #softwaredefinedstorage to keep us up to date on the topic. The emergence of iSCSI-based SAN & NAS means that an IT department with budgetary constraints can have a scalable, highly available and affordable storage network using off-the-shelf hardware. Furthermore, building your own iSCSI SAN is a fairly easy task.

But why bother with an iSCSI SAN at all?

With an iSCSI SAN you can do many common tasks far easier and faster than with conventional file servers and direct attached disks. A SAN gives you “shared storage” on your network, meaning that you can centrally manage all of your storage from one device as opposed to managing storage on each individual application server. Some of the advantages of shared storage includes enabling simplified backups when using snapshots and allowing replication between storage devices — for off-siting data — to be done at a far lower cost than with host-based replication.

Who can benefit most from an iSCSI SAN? Any company that places a high value on their data can benefit from an iSCSI SAN, including

  • Any IT shop with limited resources and limited budgets. iSCSI is a proven technology that costs significantly less than Fiber Channel and provides superior data protection and cost reductions over traditional direct attached disks (also referred to as DAS). iSCSI is fully supported by VMware and many  other virtual machine vendors: in most cases an iSCSI SAN is the best choice for server virtualization projects.
  • Designers and testing and development teams that require immediate and fast access to data and backup sets, without waiting for delays with traditional tape-based backups.
  • When data is required in real time across geographically distributed organizations, iSCSI makes the most sense due to the low cost and ease-of-use of IP Networking.
  • Organizations that host other people’s data such as Application Service Providers (ASPs), Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or Storage Service Providers (SSPs) can all benefit from a reduced TCO footprint when using iSCSI storage.
  • Anywhere remote data replication or disaster recovery is a requirement: Typically as organizations start to expand (i.e., a new office is opened or a new company is acquired in another state), the costs associated with traditional data protection such as tape off-siting and data center hosting costs can be significantly reduced by leveraging remote sites and iSCSI.
  • Even the smallest companies can seek a positive ROI when using iSCSI storage to back up straight to disk before going to tape, essentially retaining weeks or even months of backups for protection against data loss and for legal/compliancy requirements, thus reducing the dependency on backup tape.

But software-defined storage is only touching the surface of the impact of this technology. Software-defined networks may in fact eliminate siloed functions of servers in the near-future data center…all while cutting the expenses associated with traditional data centers.

iSCSI vs FC—Which Is Better for Storage?

iSCSI vs FC storageA standard protocol for decades, SCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface), enables computers to communicate with storage devices. As system interconnects move from the classic bus structure to a network structure, SCSI commands must be mapped to network transport protocols. Today’s IP Gigabit networks meet the performance requirements to seamlessly transport SCSI commands between application servers to centralized storage.

The iSCSI protocol enables the transfer of SCSI packets over a TCP/IP (Ethernet) network. iSCSI is an interoperable solution which enables the use of existing TCP/IP infrastructure and addresses distance limitations; iSCSI can also be used over the Internet. This means the disk drives in your SAN are presented over your existing Ethernet network to server applications as though the disks are local to your physical server hardware.

Don’t confuse this with traditional SCSI disks; in fact, iSCSI storage is typically implemented with affordable SATA or SAS disks. iSCSI presents block-based storage resembling your internal disk drives, whereas a NAS is nothing more than a plain file server that presents storage as file shares. A common scenario is to use a portion of your iSCSI SAN storage as back-end disks for file servers (NAS), consolidating both application data and file shares into one appliance.

With iSCSI storage you can use any IP switches and routers, and the client machines (your servers) can use a software driver called an “initiator” instead of the more costly FC HBAs (Host Based Adapters). For older servers with lower-powered CPUs you can use an iSCSI HBA, which is still lower cost than a FC HBA. Microsoft provides freely downloadable software iSCSI Initiators and endorses iSCSI technology for Windows, helping to promote iSCSI  awareness. The concept of using an IP network for block-based storage causes many people to incorrectly assume storage traffic will clutter their LAN, or that IP networking may not provide the necessary performance your applications require. While it is true that many early iSCSI vendors were shipping products that were not up to the job of enterprise class applications such as Microsoft Exchange, VMware and SQL Server, there is also a well-established base of vendors that are shipping iSCSI storage into SMBs and enterprise customers.

The iSCSI protocol provides numerous benefits for SANs vs Fiber Channel, a few key points are summarized below:

  • iSCSI uses familiar networking standards (Ethernet and TCP/IP): Most IT administrators are already familiar with TCP/IP, unlike the more complex skills required for FC storage.
  • Total storage costs are reduced: iSCSI SANs are easier to install and maintain than FC, lowering installation and maintenance expenses. iSCSI reduces the necessity of hiring or outsourcing
    storage administration.
  • Replication works over a standard IP network: iSCSI replication eliminates distance limitations and costs associated with FC routers.
  • Reduces complexity by eliminating FC switches and cabling: Using standard Ethernet switches simplifies everything as most organizations already have in-house IP networking skills.
  • iSCSI scales to 10 Gigabit: For enterprise applications that require high transactional performance 10GigE is available, thus expanding iSCSI Storage Networks’ performance to equal the performance of Metro and Wide Area Networks.

iSCSI’s use of IP Networking means long distance is no longer an issue for backing up remote sites or performing disaster recovery. With the use of Secure Internet Protocol (IPSec) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to provide authentication and privacy, iSCSI over a public network is a viable method to extend the corporate network without incurring high costs.10 Gigabit Ethernet provides enough bandwidth and iSCSI allows any IT administrator to easily deploy a true SAN over an IP network.

Surprising Results from Dell Testing FC, FCoE, and iSCSI for Primary Data Storage over SANs

Typical Storage Area Network

*Image Credit: Learn-Networking.com.

By Tom Fedro

The market generally argues that fibre channel (FC) and fibre channel over Ethernet (FCoE) are the preferred technology for primary data storage over storage area networks (SANs), and that iSCSI should be reserved for second-tier or remote storage. Looking to determine the throughput and CPU utilization for a given SAN protocol, Dell recently conducted a series of performance tests to compare 10GbE iSCSI, FCoE, and 4 Gb FC. The results were interesting: iSCSI outperformed FCoE and FC regardless of read or write operations for various I/O block sizes.

A brief summary is as follows:

  • Effective CPU utilization for various workloads: all the host adapters have similar CPU utilization metrics, showing that iSCSI is as efficient as FCoE and FC
  • Throughput efficiency (defined as MBps/%CPU for the various storage protocols): 10GbE iSCSI had the best throughput efficiency across the workload types, outperforming FCoE and FC

See full Dell comments here: http://en.community.dell.com/techcenter/storage/w/wiki/2722.aspx/

Dell’s test results showed that iSCSI  can outperform both FC and FCoE across the board—concluding that iSCSI SAN is a valid option for data center storage. Customers who are planning to purchase storage for their data centers especially High Availabilty (HA) storage,  should view iSCSI SAN as a viable option.

One product to consider is Paragon Starwind iSCSI SAN & NAS – it is an affordable option for HA requirements. Using “off-the-shelf” components and standard hardware for servers the solution when compared to proprietary hardware/software can lower HA investment by a compelling 50% to 90%.

Paragon Software Survey Results Show That Performance Is the Most Important Consideration in Backup and Recovery Software

Additionally, Over 70 Percent of Respondents Are Still Utilizing Windows 2003 and Nearly 80 Percent Have Windows XP in Their Operating Environments

Disk drive partition misalignmentBy Tom Fedro

Paragon Software conducted a survey last quarter that consisted of both Paragon and non-Paragon customers. Respondents revealed a couple of interesting results: 1) a reluctance to upgrade older operating systems (OSs) with newer software platforms and 2) when considering a backup and recovery software solution, performance is more important than price or support.

Out of 580 respondents,

  • 70.8 percent of respondents are running Windows 2003 in their environment and 79.0 percent of the respondents are running Windows XP in their environment
  • In order of importance when selecting a backup and recovery solution, 77 percent of respondents rated performance as their highest priority (over price and support)

At first, the two do not seem related, but in fact they are. No matter the reason for keeping an older OS in operation (i.e., cost or functionality), system performance may become an issue due to the transition from the 512-byte sector to 4K-byte sector storage standard. As explained in Partition Alignment: Problems, Causes and Solutions written by storage guru Thomas Coughlin, “…older operating systems and utilities can misalign the logical sectors in the host device and the physical data on the HDD sectors resulting in a significant performance degradation…if there is misalignment of the 512 byte logical sectors to the 4K byte physical sectors, it forces the hard disk drive to perform an addition read operation…” Hence, if you use an older OS with a newer 4K disk drive, you will run into performance issues.

Luckily, Paragon Software has an easy solution to correctly align your partitions and eliminate redundant read/writes: the Paragon Alignment Tool (PAT). PAT is a powerful utility that automatically detects if the drive is misaligned and then properly realigns all existing partitions, including boot partitions (and any data they contain) to the 4K-sector boundaries. Additionally, if you are using virtual server technology or have recently upgraded to solid state drives, your partitions may be misaligned.

Without realignment, performance loss can range between 20 and 50 percent, which can cause catastrophic issues during peak times.

 

Membership in the SD Association Ensures Accessibility to Engage in Standards Development for Embedded Technology Critical in Today’s Smart Phones, Set Top Boxes and TVs

By Tom Fedro

Over the last few years, demand for cross-platform drivers has exploded with the proliferation of Smart Devices like Smart Phones, Smart Set Top Boxes and Smart TVs.  And, more importantly, the trend shows no evidence of slowing down. As such, software developers involved in the technology that is critical to these devices should be an active member of the SD Association.

Another important aspect of membership is to providing validity of the developer’s commitment to meeting industry standards across the SD card industry to its OEM partners. SD standards apply to a wide range of peripheral consumer electronics beyond Smart Devices; they also apply to storage media for mobile phones, digital audio players, car navigation systems and electronic books. Technology like Paragon’s embedded exFAT, NTFS and HFS+ for Android and Linux driver technology enables compatibility for mobile devices across a variety of operating systems i.e., Windows™, Mac, Linux, Android™, etc.

Cross-Platform Drivers Ensure Read/Write Operability

OEMs use of SD card technology continues to expand as the consumer electronics device markets cross boundaries and merge. For example, Smart TVs have SD card readers so that consumers can view videos and photos over their televisions without the need of a cable to connect the device to the TV.

Consumers expect their Smart devices to recognize external media regardless of its operating system and to perform at full speed, allowing recording and playback for full HD and 3D video content. Exhibiting industry leadership by actively participating in the SD Association not only ensures that you are at the top of your game, but also lends assurance to OEMs that your products provides compatibility and integrity of the consumer’s stored data –a critical OEM requirement.

Hard Disk Management

Hard Disk Managment by Thomas FedroBy Tom Fedro

I’ve often considered how rare it is to find an IT department that takes management of storage media as seriously as it should.  Ultimately, the media on which data is written and read has seen the same dramatic and revolutionary advancement as has the rest of computer and software technology, but this core item is often overlooked by the industry.  In early computing, floppy drives evolved from  the 8 inch giants to 3.5 inch “micro-discs” and finally to obsolescence as optical storage and flash drives provided better mobile options.

It was, however, the introduction of the hard disk drive that really allowed for the computer revolution.  This little stack of platters on a flywheel spool with head after head reading and writing is really a miraculous bit of technology.  When you stop and consider for a moment that the speed of a hard drive is measured in milliseconds — 1000ths of a second — you can get an idea about how remarkable the device really is.  Today, we take for granted the speed of disk operations, but we should stop for a moment and consider the real advantages the technology has delivered.

Storage capacity is one such advantage.  Throughout the 1980s, hard disk drives grew in capacity by about 25 percent per year.  In the 1990s, capacity grew at about 60 percent per year, and by 1999 capacity grew at a rate of 130 percent per year.  Now, these components double in capacity every nine months.  By contrast, processors double in processing speed about every eighteen months.  Although at some point, the actual limitation of space will slow the continued capacity increase, for now storage technology advances faster than the rest.

What does that mean to individuals and IT departments?  Perhaps most critically, it means that your hard disks are very likely to be more advanced than any of the other components in your desktops and servers.  This can lead to dramatic slowdowns in efficiency without appropriate instructions to the hard drive and the rest of the computer.  (For example, the brilliant partitioning method in advanced format hard drives actually causes all but the most recent Windows systems to perform redundant read/write operations — unfortunately, you get a slowdown instead of speed up! see Paragon’s white paper and solution description regarding this phenomenon)

One of the software products we’ve developed at Paragon Software is “Hard Disk Manager 11″ or HDM 11.  It’s designed to allow for an IT professional to focus on the technology from the perspective of increasing the performance of the machine.  (And of course, protecting data — we’re Paragon after all.)  It has advanced defragmentation techniques, partition management, and several levels of data elimination security.  As technology continues to increase, it’s the hard disk that’s outpacing all else.  It’s about time we focus on the hard drive!

Fixing Partition Problems

By Tom Fedro

Partition Alignment by Tom FedroThe new Advanced Format, high capacity, 4K hard drives can suffer from a misalignment when a user’s operating system is Windows XP or an earlier version. This phenomenon occurs in both physical and virtual environments, effecting both servers and workstations. Essentially, the misalignment makes the computer perform redundant read/write operations.  In other words, the computer does twice as much work for the same task which obviously makes for slow processing and poor performance.

At Paragon, we developed the Partition Alignment Tool (PAT), which eliminates the misalignment problems in advanced drives by identifying any sector misalignments and then fixing them. The software has the ability to automatically determine if a drive is misaligned.  Its automated realignment of all existing partitions, including the boot partition, can substantially increase performance, sometimes by as much as 300 percent.  Versions of PAT are shipping with a number of high end advanced format drives like those from Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc. who selected the Paragon Alignment Tool for use with the Toshiba Advanced Format (AF) hard disk drives. The product is also available from several very large PC manufacturers such as HP and Dell who have licensed the technology from Paragon.  The software not only corrects alignment but ensures, with the data protection elements within the program, that the alignment continues even after an unforeseen power interruption .  The alignment will thus remain in place even if the computer fails to boot.

When you head up a software company like Paragon, it’s always exciting to have the opportunity to see well-established industry giants choose your product.  We’ve been fortunate enough to see our software time and time again in the hands of consumers and businesses that got it pre-installed or shipped along with products from one of the big guys.

If you’re experiencing substantial performance issues and you operate with an older version of Windows, stop by Paragon’s download website for a comprehensive white paper and all the information you need to fix the problem, including a trial version.  Don’t let slow performance continue to hurt your output.  A tiny investment in a simple solution can pay great dividends.