With storage, what’s old is new again.

Open Systems Availability: Virtualization’s First Frontier

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun… – Ancient proverb

 Server virtualization has brought great advances in flexibility, efficiency and responsiveness to today’s always-on, web-enabled data centers.  Although that is what most people think today when they hear the word “virtualization” it is simply a current application of an old principle.

 When open systems technologies, UNIX and Windows in particular, came on the scene in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s they represented much more affordable ways for business to use technology.  How we work today is a direct result of the productivity advances made possible through these technologies.  However, they had one great downfall. 

 Compared to the much more expensive mainframe and mini-computing technologies of their day, early open systems were less reliable and full of single points of failure.  Disk drive reliability was addressed by creating RAID (Redundant Arrays of Independent Disks) and one of the first, and most important, forms of virtualization was born.  In addition to improving data availability, RAID enabled many physical disks to be bound together as a Logical Unit Number (LUN) for higher performance than a single disk can provide.

 Small RAID arrays were introduced as Direct Attached Storage (DAS).  These arrays provided greater capacity than what could be held within the server itself.  Additionally, externalizing the storage provided the ability to cluster open systems servers.  While the true impact of DAS was probably not known at the time it affects nearly every aspect of our lives today.

 While advances have continued in storage over the last two decades DAS still remains a foundational element of many IT environments today.  For many smaller enterprises, DAS is the foundation of their mission critical application environments.  Enterprises of all size use DAS for small and remote offices as well as applications that have moved some high availability features into the server itself but still need cost effective and scalable storage solutions.

 While the next generations of storage solutions such as Storage Area Networks (SAN’s), Network Attached Storage (NAS), Object Based Storage, Scale Out Storage Architectures, Tiered Virtualized Storage, etc. may have the spotlight, their ancestor, DAS, still remains active in the data center today and something that belongs in the portfolio of well-run IT organizations.

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About Ferrol Macon

Ferrol Macon’s career for more than 20 years has lived at the intersection of people and technology. He has been a part of designing storage and data management solutions for companies large and small in almost every industry.