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Early Insights from the Upcoming DCIG 2014 Enterprise Midrange Array Buyer’s Guide

The time for the release of the refreshed DCIG 2014 Enterprise Midrange Array Buyer’s Guide is rapidly approaching. As that date approached, we have been evaluating and reviewing the data on the current crop of midrange arrays that will be included in the published Buyer’s Guide (information on over 50 models) as well as the models that will be included in DCIG’s online, cloud-based Interactive Buyer’s Guide (over 100 models.) Here is a peak into some of what we are finding out about these models in regards to their ability to deliver on data center automation, VMware integration and flash memory support.

Data Center Automation

Data center automation is an area of emphasis for many organizations because it promises to facilitate efficient management of their data center infrastructure and enable a more agile response from IT to changing business requirements. Ultimately, automation means more staff time can be spent addressing business requirements rather than managing the routine tasks of a data center.

Organizations can implement automation in their environment through management interfaces that are scriptable and offer additional enhancements with API and SDK support.

Support for automated provisioning is an area where improvement in the near future is expected. Currently, less than 20% of midrange arrays featured in this upcoming Buyer’s Guide expose an API for third-party automation tools, while 11% provide an SDK for integration with management platforms. As more organizations place a premium on automating their storage environment, these numbers should go up.

A higher percentage of these arrays support automated storage tiering, which is offered by 45% of arrays. This automated tiering capability can be important for achieving maximum benefits from flash memory when using flash for more than just a larger cache.

Similarly, 40% natively support the reclamation of freed blocks of thinly provisioned storage. These freed blocks are then available for reuse. Native support for this capability eliminates the cost and additional infrastructure complexity associated with licensing a third party product or the inefficiency associated with manual reclamation processes.

Along the same lines, 21% of arrays are recognized by third party software, such as Symantec Storage Foundation, that can simplify storage management by reclaiming freed blocks of thinly provisioned storage automatically.

VMware Integration

In general, DCIG emphasizes advanced software features in the DCIG 2014 Enterprise Midrange Array Buyer’s Guide. This is especially true of integration with VMware vStorage APIs such as VAAI (vStorage APIs for Array Integration) and VASA (vSphere Storage APIs for Storage Awareness). The VAAI and VASA APIs can dramatically improve overall data center performance.

Given the wide adoption of VMware by enterprises, it follows that they are seeking hardware that can take advantage of the “force multiplication” these APIs provide for existing and future VMware deployments.

The good news is that 62% of the midrange arrays included in this upcoming Buyer’s Guide support all of the VAAI 4.1 APIs. However, only 5 arrays out of 53 support the full set of VAAI v5 features. Of the VAAI v5 features, Dead Space Reclamation (SCSI UNMAP) fares best with 26% of arrays supporting this feature.

Similar to the currently low support for VAAI v5.0, less than a fourth of the arrays support VASA. These integrations are key to the software defined data center and to minimizing ongoing management overhead for the large number of data centers that utilize VMware.

Robust VMware support is a product differentiator that matters to many potential array purchasers, and is an area where we expect to see further improvement in the coming year. Those organizations embracing VMware as their primary hypervisor will want to pay particular attention to how an array’s VMware support maps to their requirements

Flash Memory Support

Flash memory is clearly of growing importance in data center storage. Within the enterprise midrange array segment of the market, the importance of flash memory is demonstrated by the fact that 77% of the arrays in this upcoming Buyer’s Guide now support the use of flash memory in addition to traditional disk drives.

Nevertheless, just 45% support automated storage tiering, a technology that helps get the most benefit from the available flash memory. Also, only 15% of arrays implement any of the flash memory optimization techniques–such as write coalescing–that enhance both performance and reliability. So while support for flash memory in midrange arrays has grown dramatically, the depth of integration still varies widely.

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Jerome M. Wendt

About Jerome M. Wendt

President & Founder of DCIG, LLC Jerome Wendt is the President and Founder of DCIG, LLC., an independent storage analyst and consulting firm. Mr. Wendt founded the company in November 2007.

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