What's a 'next-gen FC array?'

By Dave Simpson

—The Taneja Group research and consulting firm has produced a report, titled "Next Generation Fibre Channel Storage Systems Market Forecast: 2007-2011," that provides market size estimates/predictions, as well as a taxonomy that describes various segments of the Fibre Channel disk array market.

Highlights of the market forecasts include

  • Next-generation Fibre Channel storage systems will grow from only $170 million in 2007 to more than $2 billion in 2011, representing an 85% CAGR;
  • The market for traditional midrange Fibre Channel systems will crest in 2009 (at about $4.7 billion) and remain flat throughout the forecast period; and
  • Revenues from traditional high-end monolithic disk arrays will decline through 2011, from about $4.4 billion in 2007 to $3.56 billion in 2011—a CAGR of -5%.

But what may be of more interest to end users is how the Taneja Group categorizes Fibre Channel arrays, and what constitutes a "next-generation" array.

According to Taneja's definitions, a next-generation Fibre Channel array includes a majority—but not necessarily all—of the following design characteristics:

Clustered controller design: The array supports more than two active controllers on a given volume and provides facilities that ensure the cache in each controller is coherent and synchronized across all active controllers. Clustered controller systems also virtualize the individual controllers and make the entire set of controllers appear as one single storage system to hosts.

Sub-disk virtualization: The array divides each physical disk into granular allocation units, each of which can be independently assigned and dynamically re-assigned to virtual volumes of different QoS levels. These allocation units are grouped to meet user-defined levels of performance, cost, and availability (varying parameters such as RAID level, drive type, radial placement, and stripe width). Sub-disk virtualization enables a storage system to achieve a higher level of efficiency in its use of storage assets and provides the flexibility to respond to changing application workloads quickly and non-disruptively. Sub-disk virtualization also forms the foundation for enabling systems to offer a set of advanced virtualization capabilities, resulting in higher levels of optimization, efficiency, and data protection compared to traditional virtualized storage systems.

Self-configuring and ?tuning storage: Systems intelligently configure, load-balance, and place data on physical disks automatically, without pre-planning, in order to optimize performance and overall efficiency.

Automated storage tiering: Refers to systems that intelligently distribute and re-distribute data across different tiers, or classes, of storage based on user-defined policies.

Thin technologies: Systems ensure physical storage capacity is allocated on write, not on allocation. The array supports the ability to thin-provision storage volumes without manual allocation requirements and physical dedication of capacity in intermediate pools. The array also supports reservation-less snapshots, where only a single copy of changed volume data is stored for all snapshots associated with that volume.

The Taneja Group divides the next-generation Fibre Channel storage systems market into midrange and high-end products. Examples of vendors of midrange next-generation systems include 3PAR (E Class arrays), Compellent, and Pillar (Axiom). Examples of high-end next generation vendors include 3PAR (S Class) and XIV's Nextra. (XIV was recently acquired by IBM.)

Although noting that some of the established market leaders may enter into the next-generation category, the Taneja Group concludes its report with the following opinion:

"For the past decade, the Fibre Channel storage market has been dominated by the major storage vendors, such as EMC, HDS, IBM, and HP. The barriers to entry into this market have been high because organizations have been loath to trust anyone but the most established players. As a result, the market has been impervious to rapid change and innovation like we have witnessed in other IT sectors. However, with the advances in storage virtualization, thin technologies, and clustered system design, a new class of entrants has demonstrated that they have the mettle to compete with the entrenched Tier-1 players.

"The system design principals in next-generation Fibre Channel storage systems represent an evolution in storage system design. In fact, we have already witnessed this evolution play out in other parts of the storage system ecology. For example, new entrants in NAS, iSCSI, and CAS have embraced clustered designs and advanced virtualization capabilities and have competed successfully against incumbents with traditional systems architectures. The next five years should be a pivotal time in the Fibre Channel market as [established] leadership comes into question and new leaders are anointed."

For more information on the report, visit the Taneja Group.

This article was originally published on April 24, 2008