Storage Tiering 101: How to Maximize the Value of Your Data

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Thursday, June 9, 2022

Effective tiering is a key part of any enterprise's storage strategy as data volumes grow. What does this involve and how can you deploy it effectively?

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Storage Tiering 101: How to Maximize the Value of Your Data
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Data volumes are continuing to grow exponentially, with no signs of slowing down any time soon. Indeed, according to Statista, the amount of information held by enterprises is set to double from 2020 to 2022, from just over one petabyte to 2.02 petabytes.

As a result, the need for modern storage solutions to handle this data is also set to grow. And in order to make the most efficient use of this, firms will have to deploy a wide range of different technologies to balance the competing needs of cost, performance and capacity. To achieve this, you'll need to have a storage tiering solution in place.

What is storage tiering?

Storage tiering is a method of managing your data that utilizes various storage media depending on the needs of the information, including how valuable it is to the business, how often it has to be accessed and how quickly it must be available.

A typical storage tiering solution will use a range of technologies, such as solid state drives (SSDs), hard disk drives (HDDs), cloud storage and tape arrays. Generally speaking, faster and more expensive forms of storage should be prioritized only for the most important data, while less frequently-used data, such as archives and backups, can be safely stored on cheaper but larger capacity media.

The benefits of a multi-tiered storage solution

Storage tiering offers a number of advantages, with one of the main benefits being more efficient and cost-effective use of resources. It allows you to deploy faster solutions such as flash and SSD storage (where the cost per megabyte is significantly higher) only where necessary, while still having the capacity and reliability you need to handle large volumes of data elsewhere.

Other advantages of effective storage tiering include allowing you to repurpose older equipment that would otherwise be scrapped. For example, even if you're moving away from lower-performing HDDs for your most important data, you can still utilize them for lower-priority applications.

Understanding the key storage tiers

The key to successful storage tiering is to understand which parts of your data will fall into which category, so they can be allocated to the most effective storage media. To do this, you can essentially divide your data into two basic categories - hot data and cold data.

Hot data is the most important for your enterprise, and is likely to be in near-constant use. Any delays or failures that prevent access to this data can have serious and immediate consequences for the business, so this is top priority. Cold data, on the other hand, is used rarely and doesn't have the same sense of urgency, so can be accessed at slower speeds.

Of course, there are more complexities to this, with some data being considered 'warm' and some data even more critical than hot. Therefore, most storage tiering solutions use a four-tier model to provide a more granular level of detail for their data storage needs. The most commonly-used tiers and their requirements are as follows:

  • Tier 0: The most critical tier, this is reserved for only the most important and high-performance workloads, where even small amounts of latency can be harmful. This typically utilizes SSDs, flash or RAM memory with PCIe connectivity and is the most expensive type of storage, so is only used where the performance demands require it.
  • Tier 1: For mission-critical and highly sensitive files that will be in constant use, but when speed is not a top priority. These may use a hybrid configuration that incorporates SSDs and HDDs, or all-flash storage where appropriate.
  • Tier 2: For 'warm' data where access will still be required on an occasional basis, such as old emails, financial records or classified information. This tier is where capacity starts to become a primary concern ahead of performance, so technologies such as HDDs, tape backups and cloud storage will be of use here.
  • Tier 3: This covers your 'cold' data such as archives and backups. Low-performance or outdated HDDs, tape drives or even CDs can be deployed here, as they offer low-cost, high capacity solutions for records that will rarely be accessed, but may still be needed for long-term retention, especially in regulated industries.

Best practices for maximizing the value of your data

Making storage tiering work effectively requires a full understanding of your data. This includes what it is, where it's stored, how often it needs to be accessed, and how quickly. This is all essential information when determining which tier to assign various data types to.

Steps such as flash caching can also help maximize your data value. This involves holding data in the cache for only as long as it's needed, before moving it off to lower tier storage solutions.

Adopting automation technology can help streamline this process and make it easier to manage your data. These tools allow you to set policies for your data to transfer it between storage tiers if its user performance and capacity requirements change.

It's also important to focus on your network performance. The money you spend on fast storage services for tier 0 and 1 data may be wasted if there are bottlenecks elsewhere in the network that prevent information getting where it needs to be quickly. Therefore, monitoring and automation tools should be considered a key part of your storage strategy as well as your network solutions.

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