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Compare entry-level SAN arrays for the SMB market

Performance, capacity and data protection features are a few of the many factors SMB organizations should consider in their comparisons of entry-level SANs.

Storage area networks are no longer the exclusive domain of large organizations. Many vendors offer entry-level SAN products, hoping to lure customers away from their network-attached or direct-attached storage systems.

But SAN products vary significantly in terms of performance, management capabilities and the workloads they support. For organizations new to SAN, it can be difficult to choose one over the other.

The three SAN products below target SMBs. They demonstrate the different features to look for in an entry-level SAN and show how much these systems can differ. Use this information to better inform SAN product decisions, but keep in mind there are plenty of other entry-level SAN systems worth consideration. For a bigger selection of products, see the extensive chart below.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise MSA 1050

HPE MSA Gen6 is a line of entry-level SAN products for SMBs. HPE says organizations can deploy and maintain these arrays without specialized knowledge or skills.

The MSA 1050, which has the lowest storage array price point in the MSA family, according to HPE, comes with two-port dual controllers that support Fibre Channel (FC), iSCSI or SAS. The system includes 6 GB cache per controller and can accommodate both small form factor and large form factor storage, whether HDDs or SSDs. The MSA 1050 is available in eight models, which vary by controller and form factor.

All storage on the MSA 1050 is virtualized, including the automated tiering capabilities. The tiering features make it possible to effectively mix SSDs and HDDs within the same system. The MSA 1050 supports three tiers: a performance tier with SSDs, a standard tier with enterprise HDDs and an archive tier with midline HDDs. The entry-level SAN system also supports sub-LUN tiering and automated data movement between tiers. These features, however, require an Advanced Data Services Suite LTU (license to use).

The MSA 1050 also includes thin provisioning capabilities that can allocate physical storage as it's consumed by an application. This makes it possible to overprovision the storage pool to accommodate specific workloads.

HPE recommends the MSA 1050 for companies that run virtualization technologies, such as VMware and Hyper-V, as well as Oracle, Microsoft and SAP platforms. Organizations can choose from a range of SSDs and HDDs, and they can expand their systems with optional disk enclosures, which can be hot-added to an operating array.

The MSA 1050 provides a good balance between performance and budgetary considerations, offering smaller organizations the ability to deploy a SAN product that might otherwise be unaffordable. For example, a small company running moderately sized VMware virtual servers could benefit from this storage system.

Chart of entry-level SAN products

NetApp AFF A250

NetApp's AFF A-Series is a line of all-flash SAN products. It includes the AFF A250, an entry-level SAN that provides end-to-end NVMe data services. The A250 includes NVMe over FC (NVMe/FC) host connectivity on the front end and embedded NVMe SSDs on the back end. The system also supports various data access protocols, including FC, iSCSI, NVMe/FC, FC over Ethernet, Network File System, Server Message Block and Amazon S3.

The A250 includes NetApp's OnTap data management software to provision storage and automate common storage tasks, such as rebalancing workloads, applying data protections and upgrading the operating system and firmware. NetApp also offers the Active IQ intelligence engine to optimize NetApp storage systems with predictive analytics and proactive support.

The A250 can deliver up to 11.4 million IOPS, 100 μs latency and 300 GBps throughput, according to NetApp. The A250 also provides symmetric active-active host connectivity for fast failover and continuous availability. The system includes adaptive quality of service (QoS), as well as NetApp's FlexCache software, which increases data throughput for read-intensive workloads. In addition, the A250 lets customers combine different controllers, SSD sizes and other technologies for flexibility.

The A250 includes multiple data protection features. For example, NetApp SnapCenter software provides cloning capabilities to simplify data management; NetApp SnapMirror replicates data to any NetApp FAS or AFF system on premises or in the cloud; and MetroCluster provides synchronous replication.

The A250 supports self-encrypting drives and software-based encryption, making it possible to achieve levels 1 and 2 of FIPS 140-2 compliance.

Although the AFF A250 is geared toward SMBs, its all-flash, high-performing capabilities make it a good fit for organizations running mainstream enterprise applications such as Microsoft SQL Server or SAP HANA. In addition, organizations that want to support workloads such as artificial intelligence, machine learning or real-time analytics might also consider the AFF A250.

Pure Storage FlashArray//X10

The FlashArray//X10 is part of Pure Storage's FlashArray//X all-flash and NVMe-enabled storage products. It's an entry-level SAN in a 3U form factor that can support up to 73 TB of effective capacity. It also provides FC and iSCSI connectivity, and it's NVMe-oF ready.

The FlashArray//X10 works with a range of applications, including MongoDB, SAP, OpenStack, Kubernetes, Red Hat OpenShift, VMware Horizon and Citrix XenDesktop. Like other FlashArray//X systems, the FlashArray//X10 comes with a REST API to facilitate integration and automation.

At the heart of the FlashArray//X10 is the Purity operating environment, which offers data protection capabilities, such as snapshots and replication. Purity provides an orchestration layer to manage and monitor the storage environment, and it includes features such as data reduction. In addition, the FlashArray//X10 comes with maintenance and generational upgrades, as well as the Pure1 predictive analytics and support service, which includes a snapshot catalog of all backups.

According to Pure Storage, organizations can install the entry-level SAN easily and quickly, without a manual or specialized personnel. The system comes in one box and requires six cables. Array data services are built in and admins can automate many storage operations tasks through the API.

Admins can use built-in QoS features to consolidate mixed workloads onto one system without affecting performance. According to Pure Storage, the FlashArray//X10 delivers 99.9999% availability, with upgrade and maintenance support. The system's sub-microsecond latency makes it possible to support critical workloads, including those running in containers and virtual machines.

Users can upgrade the FlashArray//X10 to any other FlashArray//X product without needing to migrate data.

The system is well suited to small and midsize organizations that need the performance of an all-flash system but require a product that is simple to deploy and scale. Organizations that want to set up agile data services for containers and VMs might also benefit from this system.

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