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Faster, easier, cheaper – simple steps to improving an SMB datacentre

This article was originally published on Technology.Info.
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Small and medium business (SMBs) in the UK have been a crucial pillar of the economy for decades. Over the years, like their larger counterparts, SMBs have also become established users of IT and they have experienced new threats and challenges as the IT world has evolved around them. Many have had to make crucial investments in IT to keep up with the accelerating pace of the global market.

One of the biggest issues confronting many organisations today is the exponential growth in data generated by databases, mobile applications, smartphones and other client devices, as well as social media. Organisations, including SMBs, have to manage and secure more data than ever before. In addition, the data must be available 24/7 to maximise productivity and deliver real value.

Storage is at the core of all data (and any network) and by concentrating on data protection, high availability and better storage performance, SMBs can accelerate applications in their datacentres. There are a number of technologies available today that can help SMBs achieve these goals without breaking the bank.

Data protection

As data becomes increasingly significant to SMBs, the need to ensure it is adequately protected becomes more and more important. Many SMBs use DAS (direct attached storage) in their datacentres because it is easy to implement and to manage. Compared to more complex solutions like NAS (network attached storage) and SAN (storage area networks), it is also a lot more affordable.
To scale up their storage, many rely on RAID, which enables organisations to choose the performance, data redundancy, availability, cost and storage capacity appropriate to the criticality of the data. Hardware RAID, based on a dedicated storage controller, can deliver superior storage performance. The return on investment (ROI) with hardware RAID can also be much higher since the host compute resources are free to conduct other lines of business tasks.
RAID storage controllers are designed to meet critical requirements for RAID data protection and server storage ROI. For example, RAID controllers can support a wide range of RAID levels including RAID 6, RAID 50 and RAID 60 to accommodate growing business needs of data protection.

High availability

A modern datacentre is the centrepiece of many organisations, housing all the data services and applications that employees need to be successful. It is crucial that everything can be kept up and running because ready, reliable access to growing volumes of critical data for business agility and competitive advantage has become a fundamental requirement for businesses of all sizes. This has driven the demand for fast, high-availability, easy-to-scale server storage.
But SMBs have struggled to achieve this objective because it has been very difficult, if not impossible, to deliver high availability in a DAS environment. Single-node servers and DAS are easy to scale because all SMBs have to do is add more servers and more storage. But because stored data is not shared, they fail to address high-availability (HA) access to data or deliver critical application uptime.
Upgrading to a more complex and costly SAN (storage area network) is prohibitively expensive for many SMBs. High-availability storage deployments based on SANs with high-end Fibre Channel connections require specialised IT staff and considerable budgets to procure and manage them.
Solutions are now available that change this dynamic by enabling SMB environments to have fully redundant server/storage configurations without requiring costly or complicated failover provision and SANs.
One cost-effective alternative to traditional clustered systems is to use a small form factor server cluster with failover and inexpensive, scalable storage. Such systems offer failover for planned and unplanned outages to help ensure high availability of critical applications. They also feature manual and automatic failover and modular, hot-swappable components to reduce support requirements while maximising uptime.
This solution offers scalable direct-attached hardware RAID-based storage, or shared DAS storage, designed to perform transparent failover in the event of a failure and enable IT non-specialists to make timely repairs, greatly streamlining remediation.
They can provide HA application uptime at a fraction of the cost of traditional HA solutions, simplify deployments and management and reduce latency and power consumption.

Improve storage performance

While performance on the processor side has skyrocketed in the last decade, progress on the storage side has failed to keep up, creating a bottleneck in the datacentre. This bottleneck slows down applications and makes an organisation vulnerable to losing business, because transactions and application response times are too slow.
Many SMBs are seeking to increase their storage performance but retain their current investment in direct-attached storage. While flash technology has become almost synonymous with speed, it comes at a price premium over hard disk drives (HDD).
An inexpensive way of speeding up the datacentre without major changes is to cache data on flash-based controllers. A combined flash and HDD solution is designed to enable the lowest cost/GB at the lowest cost/transaction over products that only support flash memory.
Flash accelerator cards for example, can boost applications by combining RAID performance from direct-attached storage and intelligent caching using onboard flash storage, while offering lower power and cost. Built-in intelligent caching software can accelerate applications by removing the IO bottleneck, and their lower cost per GB and lower cost per IO makes them more cost-effective than direct attached solid state drive (SSD)-only arrays or over provisioned direct attached HDD environments. Using intelligent caching algorithms it is possible to identify application “hot spots” so that frequently accessed data can be stored and accessed from flash, enabling the lowest possible latency. They provide the foundation for a complete solution of solid-state storage and HDD for optimal performance, capacity and cost.
Serving data requests from flash can significantly reduce application latency, boost user response times and improve quality-of-service. A SQL Server database driven by an online transaction processing workload using cards with intelligent caching and integrated flash storage was 80x faster than a hardware configuration with only HDDs.
Using faster 12Gb/s SAS technology can provide storage solutions with the connectivity and bandwidth needed for improved data transfer speeds increasing the speed of data transfer by as much as 50 per cent. 12Gb/s technology can accelerate storage speeds to meet the high-performance application needs for a range of environments including transactional databases, Web 2.0, data mining, video streaming and editing.


While SMBs may have understandable concerns over how they can put systems in place to deliver datacentre performance that meets the increasing demands placed upon them by data growth and by their customers, technology already exists to help them achieve their aim in a cost-effective manner. By deploying the right solutions SMBs can achieve acceleration, data protection and high availability to match much larger enterprises, without being forced to make prohibitively high investments.

Thomas Pavel is channel sales director for EMEA at LSI