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How to Evaluate Your Data Center Storage Solutions

By: Alan Seal on August 14, 2019

Colocation data centers put a lot of emphasis on accommodating servers but rarely focus on data center storage options. The fact remains, however, that colocation customers need to incorporate some kind of data storage solution into their IT infrastructure, making storage crucial to data center operations. There are a number of ways they can increase their data center storage capacity, usually by adding new equipment into a colocation environment. Before they can do so, colocation customers need to understand their data center storage options to make the best choice for their business and manage data center storage costs effectively.

Data Center Storage Solutions

Hard Disk Drive (HDD)

The classic traditional hard drive, an HDD is an optical system that stores data on a circular disk. To read the disk, the drive physically spins it so a read-write arm can scan it as it passes. The faster the disk spins, the faster the drive can read the data. Since the drive is purely mechanical, its performance is limited by how fast it can spin the disk. Most standard HDDs are rated between 5,400 and 7,200 RPM (revolutions per minute), but more expensive drives can reach faster speeds of 15,000 RPM.

Since HDD technology has been around for quite some time, engineering and production costs are quite low, making them much cheaper than other forms of physical storage. However, the fact that they involve mechanical components makes them more vulnerable to failure. A 25,000-drive study conducted by BackBlaze found that the failure rate of an average HDD increases significantly after three years, although only 26 percent of drives failed during the four-year study, suggesting that HDDs could last far beyond that timeframe. For organizations depending upon HDDs in their data center storage architecture, however, it would be wise to consider replacing them after three to four years of service. Since the typical server also needs to be replaced around the same time, evaluating HDDs should be part of an ongoing maintenance/refresh cycle.

Solid State Drive (SSD)

As the successor to HDD technology, SSDs have no moving parts. They utilize NAND (Negative-AND) flash memory, which is a form of nonvolatile storage that can retain data without using power. SSDs write and store data in blocks on a NAND memory chip. Increasing the number of these microchips in an SSD increases its storage capacity. Although each block has a finite number of write cycles, manufacturers have compensated by overprovisioning SSDs. Moreover, there has been some research to suggest that SSD lifespan is actually much longer than manufacturers estimated.

Since SSDs have no moving parts, they are able to access stored data much faster than optical drives. Depending upon the throughput of the connection (traditional HDDs use a SATA connection, but SSDs perform better with a higher capacity PCIe or M.2 connection), an SSD can access data between four to ten times faster than an HDD. Although the price of SSDs has come down significantly in recent years, they are still more expensive on a per gigabyte basis, making them cost-prohibitive for data center storage solutions where large storage capacities are needed.

Cloud Storage

While most colocation customers have a hardware data storage solution in place when the migrate equipment into the facility, they may not plan on storing all of their data there. This is especially true if they’re utilizing cloud services of some kind to manage computing workloads or applications. Many cloud providers offer pure storage plans on a subscription basis, while others incorporate some kind of storage plan into their existing services. A SaaS (software-as-a-service) provider, for instance, typically stores much of the data that is used in conjunction with its software. Thanks to the connectivity options available in a colocation data center, customers have many cloud storage providers to choose from.

The major advantage of subscription-based cloud storage is that it’s easy to scale capacity when needed. No extra hardware needs to be purchased or installed, and the storage volume, for all intents and purposes, unlimited. On the downside, relying exclusively on cloud storage leaves an organization vulnerable to downtime. If the cloud provider’s servers go down or their services are disrupted, customers can lose access to their data. Cloud providers also may make it difficult to migrate data from their cloud service, which could limit an organization’s flexibility in the long run.

Tape Drives

While data tape drives are one of the oldest forms of storage, they are still utilized by many enterprise-level companies to meet their sizable data backup needs. Digital tapes are not only portable and easy to manage, but they can also retain data for thirty years or more with virtually no maintenance. They can also incorporate a number of encryption features that make them a much more secure format than other storage mediums. Tape drives are frequently used for dedicated disaster recovery plans when organizations can’t afford to take any chances when it comes to their data.

For most companies, however, setting up and managing a tape drive system isn’t a practical data center storage solution. While the tapes themselves are inexpensive, the drives and storage systems that utilize them are costly to maintain. Many companies that still use tape archival systems do so because switching to another backup system would be time-intensive and cost-prohibitive.

Selecting the right data center storage solution doesn’t have to be a complicated ordeal for colocation customers. They must balance their existing and future needs in terms of performance and capacity while also keeping cost considerations in mind. Whatever storage methods a company decides to implement, colocation data centers have the infrastructure to accommodate the equipment associated with it or the connectivity required to access it. With so many options to choose from, organizations have the luxury of diversifying their data center storage capacity to maintain maximum flexibility.

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