marriage-is-it-about-compromise?“She wants red walls in the living room, he wants dark brown. She wants a crystal chandelier, he wants brushed metal. He wants “it” 4 times a week, she is happy with once. She wants to have 4 children, and he is satisfied with one. She wants a minivan while he wants a Hummer. In many ways, marriage is all about compromise. And compromise is defined as giving up one thing for another. It’s very important to realize that there is a huge difference between compromise and sacrifice.” 1

The DBA wants low latency, the VDI team want all-out IOPS. The VMware guy wants control, the storage admin wants granular management. The CFO wants low cost, the CIO wants low operational overheads.

In many ways, enterprise data storage is all about compromise. And compromise is defined as giving up one thing for another. It is very important to realize that there is a huge difference between compromise and sacrifice.

Amazing how similar those paragraphs read isn’t it? For a long time now, the belief has been that, as in marriage, in order to successfully deploy enterprise storage there’s always got to be compromise. But, wait a minute, is that necessarily true?

Enterprise storage has been through some fundamental changes since the mid-nineties. Some of which were based on technology innovation, but most based upon the demand for increased performance, increased reliability, and a varying tolerance of cost.

History shows us that the storage market will tolerate compromise if there’s a surging demand for two of those three attributes (cost, performance, and reliability). When EMC started producing ultra-reliable Symmetrix arrays for the open systems world, it was based upon airlines, banks and telecommunications companies demanding 24×7 operations that could scale and stay running, regardless of hardware failures. Just as the (then) traditional model of JBOD (just a bunch of disks) arrays with server-based volume managers couldn’t deliver the required scale, performance and predictable stability, EMC hit the perfect blend of storage imbalance – the ability to deliver high growth (both performance and capacity) and low risk but at a time when customers were prepared to pay through the nose for it. Because EMC was the only storage vendor able to provide 99.999% availability and linear scaling at that time, they could get away with charging outrageously high prices and saw an 85,000% stock price rise (albeit the dot-com boom had something to do with that).stones

This surge happened again with the rise of the all-flash array vendors.  Violin Memory saw initial growth by providing an enterprise class all-flash array that provided the required performance but it came at the compromise of cost.  When other vendors started to emerge that could provide more efficient price/performance ratios with market-suitable reliability, Violin Memory’s slow-down occurred.

What’s happening now is that the market is demanding appropriately balanced storage arrays.  High performance shouldn’t mean high cost.  Low cost shouldn’t mean low availability or even low performance.  It’s about the relevant mix of these core attributes to suit the workload.

If we go back to that EMC Symmetrix example I used earlier, the reason they could provide such consistent performance and reliability is that they didn’t have to compromise on cost.  That meant they could spend millions engineering a complete hardware and software design that could get the most from hard disk drives (as was then the only option).

Frankly, to get the most from any media—be it hard disk drives, solid state or even custom flash modules—you have to engineer from the ground-up and that involves creating a shared-everything hardware and software storage array.  Almost all storage vendors these days are compromising by using third party hardware, in some cases third party open-source files systems, and merely providing “packaging”.  Why are they doing that?  Because they have to compromise on cost due to market demands.

So what’s different about this balanced approach?  Well for starter’s it’s all about getting the most from storage media.  I won’t bore you with the in-depth architectural detail, however, if you design and build a storage system from end-to-end then you don’t have to compromise on performance just to keep the cost down.  Performance without compromise should be a given in today’s storage marketplace.  That includes not having to compromise on cost– just take a look at some recent Storage Performance Council SPC-1 price/performance results.

Of course, if we see another economy boom where organizations are prepared to pay a million dollars per storage array, then we in the storage marketplace will be extremely happy. However, I don’t see those days looming anytime soon (well, roughly around the same time my wife tells me that I don’t need to compromise for the sake of our marriage).

This article was previously posted on TMCnet.com, here.

1 Unashamedly leached from http://www.professorshouse.com/relationships/marriage-advice/articles/marriage-is-all-about-compromise/

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