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Analysis

3PAR F-Class aims to beat the mid-range storage price v scalability dilemma
Peter Williams By: Peter Williams, Practice Leader - IT Infrastructure Mgmt., Bloor Research
Published: 15th April 2009
Copyright Bloor Research © 2009
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3PAR has introduced two new storage server models aimed at the mid-market which share architecture and software with its high-end T-Class models—but without the same price tag.

Mid-range storage servers typically suffer from a lack of scalability in performance and capacity but pricing stands as a barrier to mid-market companies migrating to enterprise solutions.

So the F-200 and F-400 provide the same enterprise features, they carry less controller nodes (2-4), I-O ports and disk drive expansion (up to 192 and 384 respectively), and therefore overall capacity and throughput in IOPS. A user can decide if these limits are going to cause a problem in the foreseeable future; if not, the high-end architecture should prove attractive.

The high-end features include the meshed, quad-cluster (except the F-200 only has two nodes) to boost overall performance and resilience. The controllers are all active on each volume so that there is both higher and more predictable performance—with no ‘degraded mode' when there is a single failure. The F-400 is the first mid-range SAN quad-controller. There is also SATA dual write through caching while, later this year, 3PAR will be offering persistent cache fail-over.

3PAR has discovered in testing that performance is degraded when OLTP (interactive) and sequential updating of the same dataset are randomly mixed. So a new feature on all models is to identify and separately handle the two traffic types through its Gen3 ASIC. Testing on a Microsoft SQL Server database showed this squeezed out a throughput improvement (perhaps 5–15% dependent on the traffic mix).

3PAR systems often look pricey at first sight but potential users need to factor the architectural benefits and how they bring savings. The use of 3PAR's ‘Fast RAID 5' provides approximately RAID 10 resilience but, primarily by carrying an integrated engine for ‘XOR' Boolean functions on its ASIC, it needs little more than half the physical drives for the same storage capacity yielding upwards of 80% of RAID 10 performance.

So Fast RAID 5 provides the most visible ROI value in these cash-strapped times. By dramatically reducing the disk drive count it hugely reduces floor space, cooling and power consumption—and hence operating costs.

Now factor in 3PAR's ‘utility' thin provisioning and storage virtualisation approach. This means adding capacity only as it becomes needed, higher percentage drive utilisation, so the company estimates the actual capacity need may be 75% less than on competitive systems.

Automated storage provisioning and load balancing—between drives, controllers, cache and I-O—is estimated by the company as reducing the management overhead by as much as 90%. This has always been built into 3PAR's ‘utility' approach to provide ‘capacity on tap' without manual intervention. That could prove the most attractive feature of all to hard-pressed mid-range storage managers.

Note: The entry point F200 and F400 cost around £56,000 and £60,000 respectively, compared with the T-Class equivalents at close to £20,000 more. The F-Class systems exceed the capacity and performance of the low-end 3PAR E-200 which will be phased out during 2009.

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Published by: IT Analysis Communications Ltd.
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