HP MSA Disk Arrays as a Basis for Data Consolidation

    Companies of all sizes, including small and medium-sized enterprises, are faced with the tasks of consolidating data and improving the efficiency of data management, backup and recovery. For SMB, as well as for big business, there is a need to purchase a storage system. The limited budget makes us look for inexpensive, but functional solutions.

    Equipping each server with a powerful disk array is too wasteful. A single disk array in a dedicated storage area network ( SAN ) based on iSCSI or Fiber Channel improves the speed and reliability of data storage. After all, as a rule, data on a centralized network storage is protected using RAID, their backup and replication are simplified.

    Consolidation task

    Data consolidation is one way to improve the performance, reliability and manageability of an enterprise information system. Due to the transfer of data from internal drives of the servers to an external storage system, they become available to several servers at once, which allows implementing various schemes for increasing productivity and fault tolerance.

    The task of a centralized network storage is to consolidate database data, CRM, financial system, shared files, as well as the company's email and document management system. In addition to data consolidation, more and more additional functions are assigned to the storage system. Modern storage systems have developed intellectual capabilities and provide many data management functions, which allows you to create "snapshots", optimize the work with data depending on their type.

    Meanwhile, small enterprises often do not have qualified IT specialists on staff, so they need easy-to-use solutions. One of these solutions is the HP disk array of the MSA family, which will be discussed below.

    To date, HP has a range of storage systems that allow enterprises with different numbers of employees to solve a wide range of data storage tasks. These are StoreVirtual 4000 optimized converged systems for virtualization, senior and middle class storage for critical 3Par and EVA tasks, VSA series software-defined storage systems, backup and archiving solutions, Fiber Channel (FC) switches, HBA and CNA adapters for building storage networks, gateways and NAS devices, JBOD disk arrays, and entry-level SAN arrays of the MSA family.

    At HP, this storage portfolio is divided into two large classes - converged and traditional storage systems. For example, convergent 3Par systems allowed HP to take a leading position among storage vendors in Europe, and software-defined virtual storage systems are rapidly developing.

    Tradition and Innovation

    HP MSA Disk Arrays belong to the traditional storage category. They appeared more than 10 years ago. This is technology proven over the years. Low-cost MSA dual-controller disk systems are designed specifically for small and medium-sized businesses, where there is a need for an easy-to-use and relatively inexpensive storage system. They can also be used as unit-level systems in departments and remote offices of large organizations. Convenient logistics also distinguish this storage system: the customer can receive from the distributor’s warehouse a system of the required configuration in a matter of days. This is the right solution for companies that want to move from data storage on servers to a consolidated storage environment.

    Released over the past year MSA 1040/2040became the evolutionary development of the storage system of the previous generation. Fourth-generation HP MSAs are the first in their class systems with high-speed 16 Gb / s FC interfaces, which is already in demand by customers due to the proliferation of flash memory and SSDs that generate significant traffic in storage networks. The growth of this traffic is also facilitated by the cloud model and an almost exponential increase in the volume of data stored and processed by companies, including in SMB, and the capacity of traditional disk drives (HDDs) continues to grow.

    The benefits of MSA are modularity and a large number of options. Like previous generations, storage design includes chassis, controllers, disks, interfaces and expansion disk enclosures. The 4-Port Converged (CNA) 16Gb FC / 10GbE iSCSI with 4GB Cache is compatible with legacy systems. Storage systems support up to 199 SAS 6 Gb / s drives of the SFF form factor (2.5 ") or up to 96 LFF (3.5") - up to seven disk shelves. SATA drives are not supported.

    The chassis of the HP MSA 2040 array has two models: with 12 drive bays for large form factor (LFF) drives and 24 drive bay for small form factor (SFF) drives. The array supports up to seven additional expansion shelves - D2700 for 25 SFF drives and MSA for 12 LFF.

    The HP MSA series includes two models - the high-performance 2040 and the budget 1040, with the HP MSA 2040 being one of the fastest entry-level arrays. Based on HP test results, the system demonstrates the performance of 85,000 IOPS at any load (read). Given the cost of the system, this is one of the most attractive offers among storage systems of this class. These arrays can be used with a limited budget for the development of storage infrastructure.

    The HP Storage Management Utility (SMU) management software interface is easy to learn for system administrators who are used to working with HP ProLiant and HP BladeSystem.

    MSA arrays are characterized by close integration with existing operating systems and hypervisors, developed management tools - CLI, Web-interface and SMI-S. They are very easy to administer, support centralized management of up to 100 MSA arrays using the ProLiant server management tools.

    Where and why is HP MSA used?

    According to HP, 95% of MSA deployments relate to data consolidation or the creation of the first SAN storage network. Typical customers are small and medium-sized enterprises ( SMBs ) with a limited budget but stringent data storage requirements. MSA attracts them by its price-performance ratio, fault tolerance, data copying capabilities by the storage system itself. The junior MSA 1040 model, which does not require in-depth knowledge of the system administrator, is often deployed as the first enterprise storage.

    MSA allows you to solve a wide variety of tasks. In SMB, these arrays are often used to provide the entire company with various IT services: support for email systems, accounting systems, file handling, etc. Typical applications for MSA are Microsoft Exchange, SQL, SAP applications, Oracle.

    MSA customers are enterprises with 50–250 employees, x86 servers, and small or absent IT staff who often deploy SAN-free configurations that include two to three servers and an MSA array. Another typical category - enterprises with more than 250 employees (manufacturing, supermarkets, outsourcers and hosters with dedicated customer infrastructure, universities, public sector) - often use these storage systems in the infrastructure of head and remote offices, when building backup solutions and disaster-resistant (DR) configurations thanks to MSA's support for remote asynchronous data replication and the delivery of snapshots of data to a remote system and their subsequent archiving. 25% of deployments relate to the deployment of MSA as a branch-level system.

    As the target device in backup systems and low-cost disaster recovery solutions, the MSA system is often used in combination with software such as HP Data Protector, Backup Exec, or Veeam software. Finally, HP MSA arrays enable you to upgrade your SAN storage infrastructure.

    From iSCSI to Fiber Channel

    As already noted, unlike previous models supporting dual iSCSI / FC adapters, converged CNA adapters can be used in fourth-generation systems. This makes it possible to flexibly change the port mode by installing GBIC or SFP modules for connecting the system via Ethernet or FC, which is convenient for gradually transferring the storage infrastructure from iSCSI to Fiber Channel. This is a fairly low-cost migration option, because the controller or the storage itself will not need to be changed. In addition, HP MSA allows you to combine the iSCSI and FC infrastructure - this task is also common.

    Example configuration with HP MSA 2040 arrays and HP ProLiant servers. Along with connecting through the FC switch, it is possible to directly connect the array to the servers.

    Thus, enterprises can first consolidate the storage environment, and then transfer it to FC and scale. And the scaling capabilities are inherent in the MSA at the level of controllers, and at the level of disk drives, and at the software level with support for virtualization.

    HP MSA and Virtualization

    The second most popular task after consolidation is support for virtual environments. According to HP statistics, 60% of MSA deployments take place in a virtual environment. Four times higher MSA performance compared to the previous generation means that the system can support more VMs, there will be less response time in applications.

    The HP Insight Control plugin allows you to manage your disk system from VMware vCenter. Thus, you can manage MSA directly from popular virtual environment management systems, for example, in vCenter - create logical volumes (LUNs), assign them to servers, etc. Support for ODX functions of Windows Server 2012 means that you can transfer data between storage systems in the storage network bypassing the server (core data path). And thanks to virtualization at the storage level, the Wide Striping feature has appeared. It allows volumes to use resources from the storage pool. A virtual disk (vdisk) - a group of disks combined into a RAID group - can be distributed across all HDDs in an array, which improves performance.

    Advanced features

    The functionality of the 1040 and 2040 systems is the same and is determined by the microcode, but for the younger model, many functions require the purchase of additional licenses. In addition, the 2040 can be equipped with an SSD and has the appropriate support facilities. MSA software supports a variety of data copying options: logical data copies ( LUN copies ), volume copy byte copy, and remote asynchronous replication. Asynchronous replication of data snapshots allows you to create a copy of the LUN for backup or other purposes. The Volume Copy function is used to copy data to another logical drive. These options are included in the configuration.

    The HP MSA 2040 storage system comes standard with a license for 64 snapshots and Volume Copy software to improve data protection, and also enables data replication between arrays using the optional Remote Snap software.

    For an additional fee, you can increase the number of simultaneous snapshots of data in the system from 64 to 512, or enable the function of asynchronous remote data mirroring. In addition, you can now create “snapshots” of data - this feature is used by developers and OEMs. Compared with the previous generation of systems, the productivity of creating images has also increased.

    The MSA firmware released in December supports dynamic capacity allocation (Thin Provisioning), multi-level storage (automatic transfer of “hot” data blocks to fast media and “cold” to slow) in a configuration with SSD, caching to SSD when reading data, the improved snapshot creation mechanism data management interface, the limit on the number of virtual disks in the system is removed. Thin Provisioning greatly simplifies the management of storage at the OS and application level, allows you to effectively distribute storage capacity between applications and free it after deleting files, which ultimately means cost savings.

    SSDs: caching and tiered storage

    The MSA system supports three types of drives: SSD, HDD SAS and HDD MDL SAS. The latter are used for tasks with sequential access to data. Thanks to the SSD, high system performance is achieved. Moreover, it is enough to install SSD in the system - everything else is done automatically. According to HP, delays in read operations are reduced by up to 80%. When installing an SSD in an array, an area for caching is reserved on it. SSD complements the read cache of the storage controller, and during sequential reading, the data is not cached, but read directly from the HDD. To increase reliability when working with SSDs, a system for predicting failures in the microcode (monitoring I / O errors) is also used.

    More efficient use of expensive SSD drives helps automatic movement of data across storage levels - the so-called tearing. 4 MB pages are moved every 5-10 seconds in response to a change in the nature of the I / O. This movement does not require significant resources: the load on the storage processor increases by about 1%. Previously, such capabilities were offered only in middle class systems.

    It is also not difficult to work with this function: it is enough to set storage levels, and the system will do the rest. According to estimates, the mechanism of moving actively used (“hot”) data on SSDs increases the system performance (IOPS when reading and writing) by one or two orders of magnitude, and the so-called archive tearing - moving rarely used (“cold”) data to low-cost carriers - 80% lower storage cost (dollar / gigabyte).

    SSDs are used to maximize random access performance, but using solid-state drives requires careful planning, taking into account the load of a specific application. Recommendations for 2040: at least four SSDs, one mirrored pair per controller.


    Small companies that solve server virtualization and storage consolidation tasks need reliable, but at the same time inexpensive and easy to maintain storage systems. To such customers, HP offers an entry-level family of products - MSA disk arrays.

    MSA is one of HP's most successful storage series. HP MSA Disk Array delivers high performance, reliability and ease of management with a limited IT budget. It is well suited for companies representing small and medium-sized businesses. MSA allows you to consolidate heterogeneous IT resources and, in combination with virtualization, increase their efficiency. For fairly little money, you can provide centralized data storage on a single platform.

    MSA 1040 and 2040 can also be offered to those enterprises that already use the MSA systems of the previous (third) generation and need their modernization. In this case, it is enough to replace the old controllers with new ones without changing the disks installed in the system. After the replacement procedure, the data will be automatically recognized and ready for use. This approach significantly saves the enterprise budget for the development and modernization of the data storage infrastructure, and protects the investments made in it.

    Flexibility of configuration allows you to choose the desired solution, select the required type of network adapters. Due to the constant availability of HP MSA in distributors' warehouses, delivery to anywhere in Russia takes only a few days. However, before buying the system, it is better to take a demo from the distributor and test MSA on a real task. In addition, HP has promotional programs - ready-made kits are cheaper than buying components separately.

    Our previous publications:
    » Multi-vendor corporate network: myths and reality
    » Available HP ProLiant server models (10 and 100 series)
    » Convergence based on HP Networking. Part 1
    » HP ProLiant ML350 Gen9 - server with incredible extensibility

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