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Storage Infrastructure (#1 CGIAR Strategic Technologies Series)

We recently published the results of the Strategic Technologies for the CGIAR in 2010, so as promised; this article is about the Top 1 Strategic Technology selected by the IT Managers and the  Chief Information Officer for 2010: Storage Infrastructure.

But what is Storage infrastructure and why was this technology selected as Top 1?

The volume of critical data that must be preserved, from e-mail, to documents, to ERP data is ever-increasing. Storage has thus become an integral part of IT infrastructure planning.

The CGIAR is in the business of generating and making accessible information, so one of the main challenges for the IT departments in the CGIAR is: to develop and maintain an agile, efficient server infrastructure that delivers the service levels required and preserve our information.

Last year, we produced 7 Enterprise Security Good Practice Guides and the Network Infrastructure Good Practice Guide, suggested that: “centers should maintain a policy which requires that sensitive information (such as financial information and non-public research data) is not stored on systems in CGIAR centers that are connected to or directly accessible from external hostile networks (such as the Internet). Similarly, database and other servers that store sensitive information should not be directly accessible from the Internet”

CGIAR centers have already made investments in their Storage infrastructure, but technology is moving fast and an increasing number of disks, switches, hubs, disk systems, and tape systems have to be installed to satisfy the growing need of storing and preserving information, so it’s not by chance that the IT Managers have selected Storage Infrastructure as their number one priority for 2010.

In this series, I will introduce the concepts of Storage Infrastructure, the current status of our storage infrastructure and provide a summary of the immediate future plans for improving our Storage Infrastructure in the CGIAR centers.

What is Storage Infrastructure?

One of the key challenges a Storage Administrator has today is managing the Non-Database File systems. These File systems can be located on any number of Storage devices such as:

Fig 1: SAN vs NAS

SAN-Attached Storage (SAN) – which is an architecture to attach remote computer storage devices (such as disk arrays, tape libraries, and optical jukeboxes) to servers in such a way that the devices appear as locally attached to the operating system.  SAN’s used to require connections via Fiber Channel (an expensive short-distance networking technology), but now major vendors offer connections via iSCSI, and NFS.

– Network-Attached Storage (NAS) -uses file-based protocols such as SMB/NFS/AFS where it is clear that the storage is remote, and computers request a portion of an abstract file rather than a disk block.

Direct Attached Storage (DAS) – is made of a data storage device  (e.g.: a number of hard disks) connected directly through a computer through a Host bus adapter. A DAS device can be shared between multiple computers, as long as it provides multiple interfaces (ports) that allow concurrent and direct access.

What is the current status regarding Storage Infrastructure in the CGIAR centers?

Fig 2: SAN, NAS, DAS in CGIAR Centers

We prepared a survey to gather information about our current storage infrastructure (11 out of 15 centers responded). All of these centers have some type of Storage Infrastructure implemented already.

Actually, many centers have a mix of these technologies as you can see in Fig 2 (4 centers have SAN, DAS and NAS devices, 3 have NAS and DAS, 2 have SAN only, 2 have SAN and DAS, and 1 center has SAN and NAS.


  • The majority use the Storage Infrastructure to: consolidate research and institutional information, for individual and shared folders, and backup\archive of information.
  • The most popular disks used are SATA and SCSI
  • The most popular Storage brands currently in use are HP and EMC.
  • Most centers use Gigabit Ethernet to connect the devices to the network and servers, and some use Fibre Channel.
  • Most centers use ‘Tape‘ as their preferred option to backup information

What is the immediate future of this technology in the CGIAR?

Fig 3: Centers that would like to purchase new infrastructure in 2010

Some years back, the storage solutions available were highly expensive, almost inaccessible; but nowadays, prices have fallen dramatically.

As you can see in Fig 3; seven out of eleven centers would like to purchase new storage infrastructure in 2010 (both in-house and cloud solutions), so I see an opportunity here for leveraged buying especially now that we are (more than ever) working towards Shared services for the new CGIAR.

There are centers that have already approached local vendors and have obtained special discounts in the past, so we will keep an eye on any opportunities that arise for a possible system-wide deal on Storage infrastructure that would include the possibility of purchasing centrally while hopefully obtaining local technical support.

As a closing note: Many of you should probably know that a properly functioning Storage infrastructure goes hand in hand with an efficient ‘Virtual‘ environment;

This actually brings us to the Top#2 Strategic Technology: “Virtualization“. I will be talking about it in the next few weeks…stay tuned!