SAS: Storage for the Proactive SMB/SME

Author: Franco Castaldini, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, and Kent Bransford, Sr. Technical Editor Seagate Technology

To successfully compete against today’s enterprise behemoths, small- and medium-sized businesses/enterprises (SMBs/SMEs) rely on their superior agility and rapid adaptability to ever-changing business challenges. Lacking the deep pockets of their outsized rivals, SMBs/SMEs simply cannot afford to be caught flatfooted. Lumbering along in reactive mode is often costly to a large enterprise, but to an SMB/SME it can be fatal.

So it’s no surprise that SMBs/SMEs bring a decidedly proactive perspective when contemplating investment in storage solutions. It’s not enough for a new storage system to cost-effectively address current needs—it must also have the power and flexibility to seamlessly keep pace as storage requirements inevitably evolve. Achieving this balance of efficiency, performance and expandability has been an elusive goal for the SMB/SME community…until now.

Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) gives forward-thinking SMBs/SMEs unprecedented freedom to maximize the value of their storage investment at every stage of business growth. SAS combines compatibility with Serial ATA (SATA), blazing throughput and enormous scalability to meet the needs of a broad range of SMBs/SMEs, from budding start-ups to established market leaders.

Storage with a Future
Until the advent of SAS, farsighted SMBs/SMEs found themselves on the horns of a vexing dilemma: How to efficiently meet storage requirements today, while also ensuring the ability to transparently add performance and capacity tomorrow as storage needs grow?

Conventional solutions to this dilemma have all been ineffectual:

  • Overspend upfront on powerful, costly solutions that current business needs don’t justify.
  • Pinch pennies with inexpensive, underpowered solutions that later prove inadequate when business expansion occurs.
  • Cover all bases with separate high-performance and capacity-oriented storage infrastructures—and suffer the expense and maintenance headaches that such redundancy entails.

SAS fundamentally changes the rules for SMB/SME storage, delivering the flexibility SMBs/SMEs need to proactively adapt their storage solutions as business needs change. SAS/SATA compatibility allows high-performance SAS drives and low cost/GB SATA drives to be consolidated on a common backplane and housed in a single enclosure, enabling one SAS-based infrastructure to handle the full gamut of SMB/SME storage duties.

Built for Growth
An emerging SMB/SME can save money by deploying a SAS infrastructure (HBAs, backplanes, cabling, etc.) that is initially populated with low cost, high capacity SATA drives. Such light-duty drives are an economical solution when funds are tight and storage performance/reliability requirements are modest. As the business grows and greater capacity is needed, more SATA drives can easily be added. Offering vastly greater scalability than its SATA counterpart, a SAS infrastructure can connect over 16,000 SAS and/or SATA drives in one domain.

As this growing SMB/SME develops and moves further into online/transactional applications (in which critical data must be delivered with high availability), its SAS infrastructure proves its greatest worth. Adding high-performance SAS drives for such online duties is literally a snap, with zero modifications of the existing infrastructure required. Utilizing the proven SCSI command set, SAS drives deliver the exceptional throughput (3.0 Gb/s) and reliability needed to ensure data availability under heavy loads (e.g., multiple, concurrent users).

And when the storage requirements or priorities of the SMB/SME change, it’s a simple plug/unplug process to alter the SAS/SATA drive mix within the SAS-based storage subsystem.

Nearline Revolution
Larger, more established SMBs/SMEs have long relied on parallel SCSI disk drives to meet their online/transactional storage application needs. SAS wisely leverages the acknowledged strengths of its parallel predecessor (rock-solid reliability, mature SCSI command set) while offering dramatic improvements in speed, scalability and compatibility. Proactive SMBs/SMEs quickly recognized the significance of these improvements, and the long-term benefits they would yield in SAS-based online storage solutions.

Not surprisingly, many SMBs/SMEs are currently developing SAS migration strategies. But some of these strategies may overlook a less obvious SAS advantage—the ability to seamlessly integrate nearline and online storage in the same SAS infrastructure. Common nearline applications such as file serving, fixed-content data, disk-to-disk backup, bulk storage and short-term archiving all entail data that falls below the threshold of high-availability, online storage, but must still be readily accessible to multiple users. Nearline storage needs may also be driven by regulatory compliance requirements (Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA) that stipulate rapid retrieval of enormous quantities of financial and medical data.

Storing this mountain of rarely accessed but fundamentally essential nearline data on high-performance, premium-priced online drives is clearly wasteful, yet deploying a separate SATA infrastructure to house low cost/GB SATA drives is similarly excessive. SAS/SATA compatibility gives SMBs/SMEs a cost-effective alternative, enabling nearline SATA drives and online SAS drives to share a common SAS infrastructure.

Such an arrangement will pay dividends on multiple levels:

  • Capacity-optimized nearline SATA drives ensure optimal cost-effectiveness in bulk storage applications.
  • The need for a redundant SATA infrastructure (and its associated equipment and maintenance costs) is eliminated.
  • SAS drives deliver optimal online/transactional performance when not clogged with nearline data.

The SMB/SME community has long understood that it must take full advantage of its greater nimbleness and flexibility to remain competitive with larger, better-funded rivals. Serial Attached SCSI enhances that flexibility with a peerless blend of performance, cost-effectiveness and compatibility. Proactive SMBs/SMEs can now deploy a single SAS infrastructure that delivers optimal cost/performance for a broad range of storage applications, both today and tomorrow.

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