3PAR F-Class aims to beat the mid-range storage price v scalability dilemma

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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

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.