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Buying Storage

February 13, 2014 by Steve Modica

I’ve been in the computer industry for quite some time.

Back in the early days, we worried a lot about running out of space on a computer or a server. If you filled up your Novell Netware system, what could you do?  Adding drives was an option, but it was expensive and “scary” and you’d still end up with another volume you had to train your users to use (we didn’t have the ability to stripe all that stuff together). Further, it was likely your disk controller only supported two drives and your motherboard only supported a couple controllers.  If you ran out of space in that scenario, it meant buying an entirely new platform (software included) that would be extremely expensive. There was also no guarantee all of your stuff would migrate cleanly.

This led many of our early computer system design people down the path of expandability and modularity.  We wanted SCSI and later, Fibre Channel, so we could add device after device to a system and never run out of space. We wanted expandable filesystems so these new devices could be merged in without moving data around.  We wanted clusters so as we ran out of CPU power and IO slots, we could just add more. Never again would we find ourselves sitting on the floor at 10 p.m. trying to figure out why our second IDE drive wasn’t being seen by the new controller we installed last week.  (You forgot to change its address knucklehead. It’s conflicting with the first disk you put in there).

So today, we have lots of options.  There are blade servers, clusters, and all manner of scalable this and that. You simply buy the first bit and start using it, and if you ever need more, you just buy some more bits and plug them in and it all gets bigger.

The problem I have with this sort of model is the price for those first bits. You aren’t simply paying for the disks.  You’re also paying for the ability to expand. This expansion capability is extremely important if your business has the chance of wild and uncontrolled growth (and wouldn’t we all like that), but most of us are running smaller businesses. We’re like pizza places, but instead of selling pizza, we’re selling services. We’d be happy to see our businesses growing at 20% year over year.

When I think about servers and storage, I like to focus on what I expect to need this year, and what will likely get me through next year.  Beyond that, I should expect to refresh the entire system.  Even if I “could” double the storage capability, will I really want to? Will 6Gb SATA drives be fast enough for the new 4K codecs coming along in two years?  Will I want to spend “expansion capable” dollars on storage technology that’s two years old?

My personal opinion is that things are changing far too quickly to buy for a horizon past two years, and if you really think you might need to expand that quickly, you should probably be buying that storage now rather than hoping to add on in six months or a year.

Follow Steve Modica and Small Tree on Twitter @smalltreecomm.  Have a question? Contact Small Tree at 1-866-782-4622.


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