On building a unified storage architecture for edge computing

Lenovo consolidates edge data storage with block-and-file platform

Sponsored The edge has been tagged as a top-ten strategic technology trend for the year.

Edge computing is resulting in more data being generated, stored and processed on the front line of devices and it is seeing growing volumes of data transferred across networks and between clouds.

The edge is a mixed world of devices, micro hosting facilities, network nodes and on-premise servers. The general idea is to place data outside of centralised data centres and closer to the action and the end user or device that’s generating, accessing and processing the data. This is to improve application and workload performance by cutting out the latency inherent in transmitting data over long distances.

Edge is expected to grow its presence in a range of challenging, modern scenarios. IDC reckons that more than half of cloud deployments will include edge computing in 2020, with 20 per cent of endpoints and other systems out there running artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. That suggests some intense data hosting and processing outside the centralised data centre of old.

The number of on-premises systems required to store that data, meanwhile, are slated to grow. The Enterprise Storage Group (ESG) has said that a quarter of storage decision makers expected their organisations to increase their on-premises data capacity by half or more over the next 36 months.

No one-size-fits-all edge

Edge varies in terms of the volume and the complexity of devices involved and in terms of the process, applications and workloads executed. That means those responsible for their organisation’s data architecture will rely on a set of flexible, cost-effective server, storage and network appliances that are capable of working to differing requirements and spanning multiple work scenarios.

One important scenario in edge and that’s been identified by Lenovo is in enabling remote and branch office (ROBO) workloads. This demands an architecture that can be customised to suit isolated locations, offers some degree of resiliency in the case of wide area network (WAN) outages, and which provides a compute and storage deployment model that can be tailored to specific applications and use cases.

Just taking existing infrastructure components out of the data centre and shunting them into peripheral environments is unlikely to fit stricter power, space and connectivity constraints of the edge. Storing and processing mission-critical information in the same way as the core won’t pass muster either.

“The challenge for customers shifting applications and analytics to the edge is determining the associated data requirements and how the organisation is going to manage that data,” Stuart McRae, Lenovo’s director for storage product planning and product management, says. “On top of that, they have to work out how to secure and protect the right data, from the edge to the core or cloud.”

IDC expects organisations will develop a ‘unified platform strategy’ to simplify management and reduce the inherent security and governance risks that this huge diversity of deployment scenarios, device and data types entails. Also the unified platform will need to manage different technologies in the storage, compute and data management layer of most organisation’s edge networks. The compute and data requirements at the edge will drive the most effective solution.

As the demand for more edge deployments grow, customers need to adjust their technology strategy and invest in innovative solutions that extracts the most value out of their data. Small-scale edge deployments are best served by hyperconverged solutions and will deliver optimum results. Large-scale edge deployments will require a shared storage solution that gives the customer a seamless data management experience through unified capabilities.

The unified storage advantage

The unified approach enables customers to mix a range of disk formats, controllers, protocols, interfaces and capabilities into a single array that is more manageable than the typical network attached storage (NAS) and storage area network (SANs) architectures of the old, centralised world. These are ill-suited to ROBO settings that impose constraints of space, power and connectivity.

This is where Lenovo ThinkSystem DM Series comes in. The systems have been built to help deliver a cost-effective, unified block-and-file storage platform. The DM Series data management software reduces hardware requirements and lower costs by deploying SAN and NAS workloads in a single system. The product line includes three hybrid models, supporting flash solid-state drives (SSDs) and spinning hard disk drives (HDDs) that offer up to 88 petabytes of raw storage capacity and up to 5M IOPs in one cluster.

There’s support for the non-volatile memory express (NVMe) and NVMe over Fabric (NVMeoF) protocols, too. This helps alleviate bottlenecks caused by SAS/SATA that can occur between SSD iSCSI and Fibre Channel interfaces and the host subsystem. This can increase throughput and deliver the low-latency performance that produces faster data access and application response times.

Data consolidation is also a factor when building a unified storage architecture for edge computing environments.

“Customers in fields like financial services or retail for example will have mixed data sets – block data for transactions, file data for support services, video capture etc.,” said McRae. “So it’s not effective for them to have multiple edge devices and manage them remotely - it is much easier to unify that storage in one device to support remote management, backup and snapshots to a central site.” Lenovo estimates that its DM Series edge appliances could help organisations consolidate edge data storage requirements by up to 66 per cent or more, with parallel cuts in power consumption and the administration overhead associated with managing multiple devices - thereby delivering operational cost savings.

Hybrid storage management

The growth in cloud has inevitably made it an integral part of the edge-network scenario.

Hybrid is the strategy that most organisations are selecting. Data and workloads are shifted between on-prem and public providers, as opposed to organisations running purely on-premises or in public-hosted mode. Integration with leading public cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform and IBM Cloud is an increasingly common way for IT departments to extend on-premises storage for edge to cement availability and for disaster recovery, and to scale up available capacity.

It is important to pay attention to how you shift data and workloads in the hybrid cloud. In this setting, the orchestration of hybrid block and file data tiering can deliver significant cost savings. This involves shifting rarely accessed “cold” data to lower-cost, public-cloud object storage as part of backup and archiving. This is enhanced by deduplication and compression tools, which will reduce your cloud footprint and lower transport costs to and from the cloud. There is also no vendor lock-in when tiering data to the cloud. Users have the flexibility to tier to multiple public cloud providers. This gives the user leverage over the cloud provider to ensure they are receiving the most value.

Maintain security, compliance and governance

Moving data in the hybrid world entails some risk. Although automated tiering and replication save large amounts of time and energy for storage managers, they can also complicate the job of protecting data as it moves outside the firewall - and at the same time adhering to regulatory rules and governance.

The location of IoT edge network gateways that bridge enterprise Intranets to the Internet and public cloud makes them a prime target for cyber criminals. The security features built into the DM Series, however, help address those concerns by applying AES-256 bit encryption to data at every stage of the journey - at rest, in transit and in the cloud. The security software also applies FIPS 140-1/2 level 1 and 2 compliance to the SSD and HDD drives that populate Lenovo’s DM Series storage arrays, and extends the same policies automatically applied to the storage architecture provided by certified cloud service providers.

“Customers expect to encrypt everything by default. If you think about the proliferation of ransomware and malware attacks, the edge is a point of vulnerability because of how it is managed,” says McRae.

The DM Series also has a rich snapshot capability which integrates with backup policies, plus the ability to do immutable write once, read many (WORM) copies to preserve records and maintain data integrity by preventing the deletion or modification of sensitive data.

“That used to be considered a compliance requirement which wasn’t needed outside of the legal profession or healthcare, but knowing if they experience a ransomware attack, they can recover quickly and with little impact gives a solid confidence in their storage solution.” said McRae.

Own and manage

Any unified storage platform should allow for provisioning and management in a hybrid cloud. This is particularly important in rapidly expanding organisations, as it helps in rolling out new edge configurations and reduces the reliance upon, SSD/HDD capacity. A managed, elastic and virtual infrastructure saves on set up and on-going management.

For organisations with limited budgets and little desire to spend on building out and maintaining their own architecture, Lenovo also offers flexible consumption options that will give customers the autonomy to scale their infrastructure when needed. TruScale is a flexible subscription model which allows customers to pay for what they use and eliminate large upfront capital expenditures. Partner this with cloud tiering and replication capabilities, and customers can move to an OPEX infrastructure that will give them the agility to only pay for what they use and scale up or down when needed.

Lenovo recognized the need of storage customers and released a storage solution that meets the current challenges they are facing. The Lenovo ThinkSystem DM Series storage line offers seamless cloud integration, unified data management and data security within a single system. The addition of this storage line completes the Lenovo Enterprise portfolio, enabling Lenovo to offer an end to end solution from servers all the way through storage, while managing the entire stack via XClarity.

After years of running storage, server and networking architecture environments on huge hosting facilities, the edge represents a new challenge in the approach to storage architectures and the distribution of workloads. Edge requires a flexible approach that is able to integrate secure file, block and object storage – something existing, data centre orientated hardware is ill-equipped to provide.

Thinking in terms of a unified storage platform is a practical answer to this complex problem. It brings new challenges of performance, management, security and governance, but armed with the right systems you can ensure performance and security while maintaining management and oversight of your edge network – no matter what the scenario.

Sponsored by Lenovo

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