3PAR Touts Dynamic Interface

Using one array, 3PAR claims customers can change RAID, drive type, and perform other functions

May 18, 2005

4 Min Read
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3PAR says it can simplify tiered storage management for enterprises, in much the same way it simplified provisioning two years ago. But competitors claim to have gotten there first.

3PAR claims a new option for its arrays, dubbed 3PAR Dynamic Optimization, lets IT managers assign data to different RAID levels, disks, and even different parts of disks inside one array (a feature 3PAR calls "radial placement"). The approach gives users tiered storage without kludgey setups of multiple arrays and disks, the vendor says. Of course, the users will need to be smart enough to make use of the new feature.

3PAR's CEO David Scott insists Dynamic Optimization is the most important announcement he's made since 3PAR introduced "thin provisioning" in 2003 (see 3PAR Spins Disk Trick). In addition to reducing ILM hassles, he suggests the new feature can be used to create different classes of data storage services inside organizations. Cheaper drives, less processing power, and less RAID effort could be used for older data in a "silver" service, for instance. Newer, more strategic data needing greater levels of reliability and performance could be assigned "gold" and "platinum" service levels.

Figure 1: Class-of-Service Assignments With Dynamic OptimizationSource: 3PAR

Analyst reception is positive, so far. "In general, it's an exciting announcement from 3PAR, the ability to give their customers as well as their customers' prospects the ability to have unified tiered storage with the ability to dynamically optimize it," says Greg Schulz, senior analyst at the Evaluator Group. Besides the cost of additional hardware that fine-tuning storage required in the past, he says, downtime resulted as data was transferred from one array to another.Schulz stresses that 3PAR isn't the first vendor to automatically change RAID levels in one array. For several years, Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) has offered a product called AutoRAID. But that hasn't been available for different types of disk drives in one array, and it doesn't offer the fine-grained options 3PAR does.

"[3PAR's] really taking what's been available in disparate products in the past but delivering them in a single solution," Schulz says.

Others agree. "No one's done this dynamically, across four dimensions, including the geometry on the disk," says Stephanie Balaouras, senior analyst at The Yankee Group.

"The 3Par Data Optimization is extremely useful -- the ability to move data between different tiers of storage transparently and online," writes Tony Asaro, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., in an email. "The economic benefits can be very substantial. Traditional storage systems don't have this capability and it's a cumbersome and disruptive process to move data between different tiers of storage. With 3Par, customers can also set up policies to move the data as an automated process."

Asaro compares 3PAR's release to earlier offerings from BlueArc Corp. and Compellent Technologies Inc. He says 3PAR differs from these products in various important ways.BlueArc acknowledges it has the ability to dynamically assign RAID levels, but in the context of its enterprise NAS gear. Compellent and Xiotech Corp. seem to be among 3PAR's biggest competitors for Dynamic Optimization.

Like 3PAR, Compellent changes RAID assignments and mixes and matches data across two kinds of drives in one array -- in its case, Fibre Channel and SATA drives instead of FC and ATA. But unlike 3PAR, Compellent is focused on the midrange market, not the high-end enterprise. That's in part why Compellent product manager Bob Fine says some of 3PAR's granularity isn't required by his company's constituents.

That said, Fine agrees with the overall approach. "Administrators don't like tiered storage over four kinds of drives," he says. Anything that helps simplify the process of ILM is going to meet their approval.

Xiotech also boasts the ability to change RAID levels (between RAID 10, 5, and 0) and move data from Fibre Channel to ATA or proprietary Xiotech-designed drives, without disrupting traffic (see Xiotech Gives Magnitude a Tuneup). The company's main market is the midrange, though it also reaches into the low end of the enterprise. Like Compellent, Xiotech scoffs at 3PAR's radial placement and claims it has the weight of longtime customer traction to prove its approach. Xiotech also eschews the notion of service levels. "Nobody wants to be 'silver' service. Would you? We tune performance to the application, not tiers of users," says Xiotech VP of marketing Mike Stolz.

Customers will pay about $10,000 to have 3PAR's new option on their existing array. 3PAR says the product is in customers' hands. Two of these, eHarmony, an online matchmaker, and CNET Networks Inc., an interactive content provider, are using it.Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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