New 3PAR arrays offer hardware-based thin provisioning

By Kevin Komiega

-- This week 3PAR announced the general availability of a new family of storage systems -- the 3PAR InServ T400 and T800 Storage Servers. Also known as the T-Class, 3PAR has packed the new arrays with hardware-based thin-provisioning technology and double the performance of previous-generation products.

The InServ T400 supports up to four storage controllers, 64 Fibre Channel host ports, 16 iSCSI host ports, and 640 hard disk drives (HDDs) for a total maximum capacity of approximately 300TB. The InServ T800 supports twice the number of controllers, ports and HDDs as the T400 for a maximum capacity of 600TB.

Beyond the speeds and feeds, there are some interesting silicon technologies at work in the T-Class. The 3PAR Gen3 ASICs within the arrays feature something called "Thin Built In," a hardware-based implementation of thin provisioning that allows customers to move traditionally provisioned volumes from legacy arrays into 3PAR systems to increase capacity utilization while maintaining service levels.
Thin provisioning is not a new concept, but 3PAR's vice president of marketing Craig Nunes says the Thin Built In design represents the first time a storage vendor has incorporated the technology into hardware -- an approach, he says, that offers better performance than software-based techniques.

"Anything that you can enable or accelerate in hardware means less work that the CPUs in the storage controllers have to do on their own," he says.

The Thin Built In-enabled ASICs incorporate detection of allocated but unused capacity to offer a silicon-based mechanism for fat-to-thin volume conversions. The T-Class architecture was designed to maintain performance and prevent disruption to production workloads during migration of fat volumes from other storage platforms to new thin volumes on an InServ T-Class array.

"Copying large amounts of data takes horsepower and it might lead to system disruption if the system is large enough. Offloading that fat-to-thin conversion to hardware may be the only way enterprise customers can effectively take advantage of thin provisioning," adds Nunes.

The InServ T-Class arrays with the Thin Built In design are available today, but fat-to-thin volume conversions are not yet available. Nunes says fat-to-thin conversions will be supported in the next version of the 3PAR InForm Operating System later this year.

The T-Class arrays are currently shipping for a starting price of about $130,000 for a minimally configured system with two controllers and 16 drives. Pricing for the T-Class is about 10% more than 3PAR's previous-generation S-Class arrays.

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3PAR debuts 'virtual domains
The benefits of clustered block storage

This article was originally published on September 05, 2008