Tiering, it’s not just for storage anymore!

I want to talk a little today about the concept of what I’ll call “Tiered X”. Yes, if you work in a datacenter or in IT for a company that has one, you’ve probably been approached by a vendor or partner to talk about tiered storage. If you haven’t you will be.

But tiered storage is certainly not where you should stop having those discussions. Without using the term you’ve probably already thought about application tiering (did you ever cluster or set up DR (disaster recovery) for anything important to your business for instance?) But have you considered things like how you tier your hypervisors? Or your network? Or your power distribution? Or even what you report back to the business for successes in uptime?

Well, let’s cover a few topics that have become important to some of my larger customers in recent months.

For those of you who haven’t really given any thought to tiering in general, I’ll use storage as the basis for the concept as this is the most prominent. Basically we’ve been just keeping the lights on and going with status quo as an industry. We standardize on something and then… well? We sorta’ leave it at that sometimes.

And data is in out-of-control sprawl mode. People are generating so much information these days the numbers are staggering. Literally 95% of which will never be accessed again! (and 60% of which is from my 15-year-old’s text messages). We’re filling up SANs left and right, buying new suitcases full of disks whenever we hit whatever threshold we believe justifies expansion. We’ve hit critical mass on this folks. And if you don’t want to see ad’s in the hiring classifieds with a title of “SAN Janitor” we’ll need to act.

So, enough marketing babble. What are people doing? Simple, they’re investing in less expensive storage options to parallel their existing storage infrastructure and rating the data on their network. If it’s critical to the business, it goes on the expensive stuff – the rest goes on something more economical. For instance, I have several customers who use a mix of PowerVault, EqualLogic, and EMC. They’ll throw a PV MD3000i on the network for low-end stuff like ISO images, rarely used (but backed up) databases, archived documents of terminated users, etc etc. They will use EQL for mid-range, important data. And they will use a solution like EMC for critical data. A lot of them are also investing in devices like DataDomain, which will help with data de-duplication – but that’s a whole other topic. Bottom line is, if the data isn’t critical don’t put it on high-end storage. If you’re married to your storage vendor or just don’t want to introduce more brands into your environment because you’re standardized, talk to your vendor about their lower-end options. They’ll listen.

But, why stop there?

Look at your port costs. I love Cisco, don’t get me wrong. But on some of your servers that you could classify as less critical, you might think about shopping around. Remember most vendors have similar command sets to Cisco IOS. And companies like Dell and HP have some really attractive offerings that both beat the cost (and in some cases outperform) the 800-lb gorilla. Dell has even partnered with Juniper and Brocade recently to expand to end-of-row and core switching – so don’t forget to look at some of your other options out there. Standardization is cool, but is it really worth the expense for every server in your datacenter? You should at least be weighing in.

Same goes with power. Without digging too deep, give some thought to how much of your datacenter is plugged into that high-end UPS. Does the server that runs your company’s test-and-dev environment really need to be drawing that much voltage, or would those expansion dollars be more effective buying a lower end system next time around and moving some of the less-used stuff next round?

But one clear miss I’m seeing out there is with hypervisors. I’m a VCP and would never trash VMware. Would I argue if someone told me that Vsphere has more features than Hyper-V? No. But I pose this question. Does it matter? No, seriously… look at the feature comparison. How many of those features are you really ever going to use on your lower-end systems? Is it really worth all that extra money to have all your VM‘s on the same type of host? That’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself… but I will say that if a standardized interface is your cup of tea, then check out SCVMM (System Center Virtual Machine Manager). It can manage both hypervisors! (yes, shameless Microsoft plug, sorry – still, it’s true)

So what are you really losing? I’m not going to list this out in a feature comparison chart – there’s 1,000’s of them out there already. But go find one (make sure it’s up to date, lots of old inaccurate info out there about limitations with Hyper-V) and ask yourself the real questions and weigh in on the price you’re paying. You might find that tiered VM’s makes more sense than you thought! Though, I think I may have to give my opinion on one feature differentiator. Over allocation of RAM. OK, seriously? Guys? If that’s important to you…. if you’re honestly putting production systems online on hosts that don’t have the infrastructure to run at capacity, please send me your address. I’ll come out there, grab your end users, head back to the IT Department and take turns smacking your wrists. :-)

Over allocation + Production Systems = Bad Mojo

Even in your test, dev, and lab systems – how can you really get accurate results on tests if you’re running under capacity? How will you really know if you are testing for the real world? OK – jumping off my soap box.

So in conclusion, give some thought to your infrastructure. Is your Cisco guy telling you to buy more port licenses because he’s comfortable with the interface or the convenience of managing one system? And, do you really need something like Nexus just yet? Is your server team telling you to buy VMware because they like having all their VM’s in one VCenter window? Have you thought of the fact that one Windows Server Datacenter edition license comes with unlimited Windows Server licenses to run as guests under the host?

Maybe in your case, it’s all justified. Food for thought though, Cheers everyone!

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