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How Hot Is Automated Tiering?

Last week, a CEO at a large storage manufacturer predicted that automated tiering, the process of moving data between different tiers or classes of storage, was over-hyped. The executive's comment quickly brought responses from other storage manufacturers claiming the contrary. Most vendors position automated tiering as a "must have," and as is often the case with this type of topic, a digital food fight broke out.

I have written about automated tiering extensively on my blog on Network
Computing's sister Information Week in these articles: Introduction
to Automated Tiering
, Automated
Tiering Methods
, and The
Importance of QoS in Automated Tiering
. I think automated tiering has an important role, but I don't think it is a "must have." I would even agree with the CEO that it is a little over-hyped, kind of like the rest of the trends in IT. Isn't everything at least a little over-hyped?

So what is the role of automated tiering? It IS a must have IF you have a performance profile that can take advantage of the performance it can deliver. Just like everything else in IT. If you need to broadly increase storage I/O across multiple applications, then automated tiering can provide significant value. If your applications aren't pushing your current storage platform, putting faster storage in won't make that big of a difference. If you are at that wall, and an increasing number of storage managers are, thanks to virtualization, online applications and growing databases, then automated tiering may be a must have for you.

As is often the case with an SSD technology, if the storage performance gains that it can bring will directly increase revenue or productivity, then some form of memory-enhanced storage, such as automated tiering, may be right for you. Thanks to decreasing memory pricing, these technologies are now also valid candidates to prolong the life of a current storage system, augmenting its performance instead of replacing it with an entirely new but faster system.

The broader questions are, when should you use ATS, when should you directly place data on SSD yourself, and when should you just increase the RAM or cache in your storage? Let's tackle that one next entry.