People are currently in the midst of a digital revolution that is changing the way they communicate, work and live. This in turn has had significant ramifications on how they produce, store and recall information, almost every bit of which is becoming digitised, writes Edmont Rao, regional director of sub-Saharan Africa, Huawei Symantec.

Collectively, people are on pace to churn out 1,2-trillion gigabytes of digital information in 2010. This is expected to grow to 35-zettabytes, or 35-trillion gigabytes, by 2020.
To put this in perspective, if each piece of digital information is a DVD, the stack of DVDs would now reach halfway to Mars. Given this reality, it is critical that users have a reliable, cost-effective and scalable storage solution in the form of an easily managed unified storage platform.

Drowning in oceans of data
The increase in data creation is taking place at personal and enterprise levels. At a personal level, the rise of personal digital devices speaks volumes to the way users create and share personal data.
Photos have moved from physical photo albums to smartphones and photo sharing websites. On Facebook alone, more than 25-billion pieces of content are shared each month, requiring over 60,000 servers to handle the storage and transactions.
At an enterprise level, there is unprecedented growth in online transactions and services needing to be stored, secured and managed. For companies like Taobao, an e-commerce site in China comparable to eBay, reliable data storage is critical.
Consider that in one day in September 2009, the company sold 4,561-million items and processed 64,808 transactions. With each item holding an accompanying description, photos and customer data, there is a burgeoning need for robust and scalable storage solutions.

Insufficient storage
Users are creating so much digital content that they have already exceeded the amount of digital storage space available. In IDC’s estimates, there would be a shortfall of around 35% if users tried to store every single piece of digital data created in 2009. This gap will only increase over time.

The growing need for unified storage solutions
Traditional servers have become too expensive as a long-term solution, especially when factoring in the costs of the equipment and software licenses, and also the need for management by a network administrator.
In recent years, a new class of storage solutions which consolidates network-attached storage (NAS) appliances and storage area networks (SAN) has become readily available.
Instead of multiple servers running on various platforms, these new storage appliances run on a single storage platform and provide enterprises with reliability, scalability and ease-of-use tools to effectively manage their storage needs.

High reliability
Given the growing dependence on digital information for business transactions, a single minute of downtime has direct revenue impact for a company. For a business like Taobao, which processes all of its transactions via its website, losing one minute of uptime can cost the company US$36,000, or roughly US$2-million per hour.
Taobao selected Huawei Symantec’s Oceanspace N8000 unified storage platform because of its active-active node configuration, which can survive single or multiple node failure through workload redistribution across a clustered solution.
In addition, the N8000 can recover data almost instantaneously through data snapshots. With these safeguards in place, companies can enjoy the assurance of 99,999% availability.

High scalability
Enterprises also need to consider future business and data growth in their selection of storage solutions. For example, Shanghai Ocean University was looking to manage 100Tbs of e-books and videos within its digital library on campus, while also planning ahead for its role as a supercomputing centre.
With scalability and flexibility in mind, it chose a unified storage platform that is not only a high-performance file serving solution, but is also capable of scalability up to 15 petabytes in the future.  
Dynamic storage tiering (DST) within this platform also ensured the most efficient use of storage locations for the university’s data. DST enables data to dynamically move to different storage tiers, depending on usage needs. For example, frequently accessed data would be stored on tier-one servers, which consist of faster disks, while less volatile data resides on tier-two or three servers.   
Because most organisations access only 10% of their data frequently, 90% of the university’s library data would be redirected to the less expensive storage using DST technology, which is expected to bring more than US$700,000 in savings.

High performance
The constant demand for data is putting a strain on storage system performance. To meet this demand, there is a need for even utilisation across multiple nodes within a single storage system. A unified storage system addresses this by enabling every NAS engine node to share the same storage pool simultaneously.
In addition, systems like the N8500 make it possible for multiple NAS engines to read and write the same document simultaneously, improving response time and performance in cases where many users are trying to access a single document.  

Management simplicity
While technologies are becoming more sophisticated, the management of these technologies has to be simple and intuitive. Unified storage systems offer centralised management tools that are easy-to-use and access, whether through a GUI application or a web interface.
System administrators can use these management tools to set notification alerts via multiple communications mechanisms in the case of a system failure. Data backups can be configured and monitored for success and failures.

The digital revolution continues unabated, and we fully expect that more changes will occur in data creation, security, storage and management as we move into a digital universe of unfathomable amounts of content.
For enterprises, the demand for innovative storage solutions will only increase with time, and it will be increasingly important for these solutions to be highly reliable, scalable, and simple to manage.
Unified storage platforms can adapt to an enterprise’s changing business needs and provide it with the peace of mind to focus on improving the business, just as Taobao and Shanghai Ocean University have.