The average user doesn’t often consider where his data’s stored. When you’ve implemented your storage successfully, and your devices are working properly, people don’t notice them. Your IT infrastructure isn’t meant to be a visible part of your organization; it should fade into the background, quietly supporting all your company’s real work. Despite its intentional unobtrusiveness, data storage is an incredibly important part of business. Everything from the choice of physical media to the location, configuration and management can hugely affect productivity and business’s budget. If your users continually fill up their storage or have to wait seconds (or minutes) to do anything with their files, your company has a significant problem.
The most basic aspect of commercial data storage is the physical type. Computers have used everything from punch cards and magnetic drums to hard disks and, eventually, three-dimensional optical disks for data storage, but the three most common types used by enterprise corporations are magnetic tape, hard disk, and solid state memory. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses. Although countless articles tout the virtues of one storage medium over another, the truth is much more nuanced. No single type of storage is the best. Each has its place in an IT infrastructure though smaller companies often have to settle on a single type to adhere to a budget.
Magnetic Tape Storage
Magnetic tape seems like an old-school holdout that most IT departments will soon erase, but don’t let the death of cassette audio tape albums skew your perceptions of magnetic tape data storage. The technology is old, but the data stored on tape can survive for decades, making it incredibly useful for data archival. Recent advances in compression for tape and the introduction of the Linear Tape File System (LTFS) make it easier to store and retrieve files on tape.
All of this together makes magnetic tape storage one of the most cost-effective, long-lived data archival options around. If, for example, your company stores records of customer transactions, you could make your system more efficient — saving storage space and cost — by archiving all records over seven years old on a tape system. Employees and customers are less likely to require earlier transactions, so why waste space on disk or a solid state array of them?
Hard Disk Storage
Hard disk storage is the most widespread method around today. It’s on most laptops and desktops as well as most storage arrays. It’s inexpensive (and the price is still going down consistently), and it’s easy to configure into whatever RAID level you need. If you have a lot of data to store that you access regularly, but it isn’t vital to have in a fraction of a second, then hard disk storage is the right choice. Likewise, if your servers perform mostly sequential I/O, a hard disk array will keep your costs low and carry out the job well.
Solid State Storage
Solid state is the latest widely available storage technology, so naturally people are proclaiming that it will soon supplant hard disk storage in all aspects of IT infrastructure. The thing is, it’s fairly expensive per physical gigabyte, and it doesn’t offer much improvement over hard disk storage in basic applications.
If you’re looking for storage for a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) or perform a lot of random I/O, solid-state storage is right for you. It doesn’t make sense to use solid state arrays for archival storage or sequential I/O storage, though. Despite the fact that the raw cost per gigabyte for solid state storage is higher than hard disk storage’s cost, the inclusion of compression, deduplication, and thin provisioning can bring the logical cost per gig down to a point comparable to hard disk storage. Although you may spend a lot for what appears to be little storage, you’ll have the same amount available to your servers or users as you’d have on hard disk while significantly speeding up access times.
Overall, the Battle of Data Storage is overblown; each technology has its place in your data center. The key is to identify your organization’s needs and match them up with the right storage. Mix and match as you need and you’ll soon appreciate the unique benefits of each storage technology.