Review: HP 3PAR conjures powerful storage magic

HP 3PAR StoreServ 7400 combines high scalability, high performance, and a big bag of tricks for easing storage management

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The HP 3PAR uses a mesh-based architecture that makes it possible for all nodes to directly connect to each other and to the underlying storage. This mesh effectively achieves an active/active arrangement because all nodes process data in parallel and can take over from any other node in the event of a failure. The distribution of data across drives uses an HP 3PAR proprietary technique to portion out the data in small chunks (aka chunklets) to create virtualized storage. Virtual volumes and virtual LUNs are then created from this pool of chunklets. It's basically HP 3PAR's approach to wide striping, which means your data is striped across many disks to improve both resiliency and performance.

Another key part of the HP 3PAR architecture is the use of a Gen-4 ASIC, which handles the bulk of I/O, as well as RAID functionality. The ASIC performs four basic functions: RAID parity calculation using an integrated XOR engine, handling mixed workloads of control and data traffic, communicating between clustered nodes, and zero-detect functionality, which implements the HP 3PAR's ability to reclaim and reallocate unused space.

Big SAN features
The HP 3PAR StoreServ 7400 has a long list of features addressing ease-of-use, efficiency, management, and performance. On the efficiency front you'll find thin provisioning, which gives you the ability to specify a fixed amount of storage for a volume without physically allocating it up front. Storage is not allocated until data is written. Because the data is distributed across the drives in small chunklets that are tracked by the storage system, no additional hardware or software is required to achieve thin provisioning.

Load balancing is another feature that's effectively architected into the system. One of the primary benefits of using the mesh architecture is the ability to spread the work across all nodes. This, in effect, accomplishes load balancing as an inherent feature of the design. HP 3PAR also incorporates autonomic storage tiering. This feature performs adaptive optimization by classifying chunklets and migrating them between different types of storage based on usage. The rules for how and when data is moved are defined when you create a new Common Provisioning Group (CPG), and they can be defaulted to the values established through templates.

Additional features including data deduplication, remote copy operations, thin copy, and thin copy reclamation. All of these have to do with making the best use of storage and using disk space only when necessary. You'll find full support for generating volume snapshots at the array level, and this is integrated with software applications such as Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle Database. HP 3PAR offers a number of related add-on packages for operations like remote copy, data replication, and data migration.

Rethinking SAN management
Simplicity is the name of the game when it comes to managing HP 3PAR storage. One of the primary goals for the HP 3PAR software team was to remove the need for the administrator to deal directly with drive configuration or LUN allocation, or to have to figure out how many spinning disks you'd need to achieve a certain level of performance. HP also recognizes the need for integration with storage consumers such as the virtualization solutions from VMware and Microsoft. In these cases, HP 3PAR provides plug-ins to work from within those environments to minimize the need to use more than one management tool.

The HP 3PAR InForm Management Console is the primary tool for administering everything to do with the storage system. It's a typical Windows-based management GUI with a left-side pane containing a tree view of all resources, another pane with quick links to common actions, and a large pane with detailed information about the selected object.

From the virtual machine management perspective, you need the ability to provision new VMs and locate an appropriate amount of storage. HP 3PAR provides plug-ins for both VMware's vCenter Server and Windows Server 2012's Server Manager to accomplish these tasks. For instance, creating a new virtual machine in the vSphere Client using the Thick Provision Lazy Zeroed option will allow the HP 3PAR system to thinly provision the storage on the back end. The VM gets the storage it needs without actually taking up the full 40GB of space as specified. The same goes when provisioning a new virtual disk from within Server Manager on Windows Server 2012.

Review: HP 3PAR StoreServe 7400
The HP 3PAR management console handles all aspects of StoreServe administration.
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