Don't overlook unified storage systems for small networks

Are unified storage products the right way to go for storage deployments? IT pro Rick Vanover highlights some pros and cons to this approach.

Throughout my IT career, I’ve had to adapt my way of thinking on numerous topics due to the change rate of the pleasant chaos we all enjoy. This is due to new technologies that appear on our landscape, but also a reflection of what I’m doing in the day to day.

One area in which I’ve been becoming more and more versed is the wide world of storage. This includes everything from cloud storage, SAN or block storage (iSCSI/fibre channel), NAS storage (SMB, NFS), and direct attached storage resources. Further, a number of storage products can function as a unified storage product. Unified storage simply means it can deliver disk resources in more than one protocol type, specifically delivering a NAS and SAN protocol simultaneously.

Unified storage products are a boon for small networks and small to midsize storage requirements. As a generic example, a space-hungry server can be assigned a block disk resource (such as an iSCSI target) and clients can access disk resources over the network via SMB (Windows networking). This can also be done for virtualization environments as well leveraging either VMware vSphere or Microsoft Hyper-V technologies. NFS can be used for hosting virtual machines on vSphere or easily connected to Linux systems; I tend to avoid using NFS as Windows connectivity to that storage protocol is difficult.

With all of the storage protocols available, surely we all have a few. I’ve only seen the smallest environments gravitate to a single storage protocol, and that is usually SMB with everything else being direct attached storage. I still believe we can get in trouble by arbitrarily choosing additional storage and storage network protocols, but for the small environment, if we need to add a shared storage component – a unified storage product may just fit the bill.

The attractiveness of a unified storage product is that all of the underlying disks can be presented as multiple storage protocols, so scores and scores of disk resources for each storage realm would not be required. Further, there are compelling features for unified storage products that can offer a lot of features beyond simple storage resources. This can include replication, snapshots, cloud integration, and more. All of this is done without a new console as well.

Does unified storage appeal to you, or would you rather provision each storage type with its own device? Of course a blanket statement can’t be made without a proper data profile and requirements assessment, but do you find yourself preferring unified storage instead? Share your comments below.