Fourth gen HP MSA Storage adds data tiering, SSD read caching

The enhanced horsepower in the Gen 4 MSA facilitates needed upgrades like Archive Tiering and Performance Tier options, a new SSD Read Cache feature to better utilize flash, and thin provisioning.

Britt Terry HP

Britt Terry, product marketing manager for HP MSA

Today, HP is announcing significant enhancements to its SMB-focused HP MSA Storage Fibre Channel array that have been enabled by the extra horsepower of its fourth generation hardware platform. The sexier enhancements are for the MSA 2040, and consist of new Archive Tiering and Performance Tier options, and a new SSD Read Cache feature to better utilize flash, while other new capabilities like thin provisioning are now available for both the MSA 1040 and the MSA 2040.

HP’s MSA Storage line remains number one in the entry level Fibre Channel space, but the market and its role in it have shifted significantly since its third generation product was introduced in 2010.

“We had sunk a little bit over the last two years, but now that we have released the fourth generation we are back on track,” said Britt Terry, product marketing manager for HP MSA. The fourth generation products were rolled out in stages between May 2013 and March 2014, and are now all on the market.

“MSA has always been the first step into shared storage in the HP portfolio and we continue to be that, so it has made us a good fit for an office with 2-4 servers together,” Terry said. “It has been our entry virtualization sweet spot. But in 2010, virtualization hadn’t penetrated to the same degree as now. Today, 80-85% of even small companies are virtualized, and that helps MSA.”

Other factors have been working against it.

“Five to ten years ago, enterprise companies bought MSA for departmental use cases, onesies and twosies of Proliant servers hooked to an MSA,” Terry said. “But in IT today, that use case is almost gone, since the enterprises now use virtual machines served out as a service. That was a huge amount of our business, but while we have lost that, we have made it up in the SMB.”

These new announcements address those SMB needs by bringing features and functionality which are standard on mid-range products down to the SMB level.

“The fourth generation hardware platform made that possible,” Terry said. “The next step was to lay on some of these advanced data services that take more processing power. You had to get the horsepower from the platform to get tiering. We could have physically done it on the Gen 3, but we wouldn’t have had the results. Likewise with flash, read cache can only give extra performance if the horsepower can support it. If it can’t, the customer adds flash, and gets no more performance, and they get upset.”

HP MSA 2040_SFF_LF insert

The new HP MSA 2040

Two new tiering capabilities have been added to HP MSA, Archive Tiering, which is a free new feature with the MSA 2040, and Performance Tiering, which is an optional feature for the MSA 2040. Archive Tiering dynamically and automatically moves colder data onto lower-cost midline SAS drives from higher-performance SAS drives. Performance Tiering, does the reverse, automatically monitoring I/O patterns and escalating frequently accessed data onto high-performance SSDs.

“The goal is to do this in a hands-free way for users,” Terry said. “You have to do a little work to get it configured, but once the system is configured it’s all automated to keep tiering working. The system senses, every five seconds, what data is cold and marks it for demotion, and marks the hot data for promotion.”

The savings from this are significant, Terry added.

“The cost of disks for archive tiering, are now down to 21 cents a GB, while the cheapest cost in enterprise disks is 80 cents a GB, so moving it to archive saves a lot,” he said.

The MSA 2040 now adds a new SSD Read Cache feature which provides a predictive algorithm that dynamically leverages SSD capacity to extend controller read caching in order to maximize read I/O performance. SSD Read Cache acceleration delivers latency improvements of up to 70 per cent to applications on the hosts.

“Read cache is a great poor man’s way to get into the SSD game, because of the huge increase in IOPS it delivers,” Terry said. “It makes a nice step into this area, for only $1500. We are asking customers to try it. Get a single SSD, put it on your read cache and see what you get.”

Other capabilities which have been added include simplified volume expansion and rebalancing to save storage admins time, Wide Striping, which distributes data across all disks in a storage volume for increased array efficiency and lower latency, higher performance snapshots which are easier to manage, a new and more intuitive Web interface, and thin provisioning.

Thin Provisioning, which lets customers cut up-front costs by purchasing a more limited amount of storage, with configurable alerts when more capacity is needed, had become essential, Terry said.

“Thin provisioning has become table stakes in the entry market, even though many users don’t use it,” he said. “We didn’t have it in Gen 3 but not having it then didn’t cost us the sale. Nowadays, especially with the state of thin provisioning in hypervisors, we had to do it.”

The MSA enhancements have been added to the HP Simply StoreIT program, a program introduced last year to help partners get the right solution based on specific business requirements, and which includes quote and configuration templates, co-branded lead-generation assets, and training materials designed to increase sales opportunities assets

“Partners using this program are starting to see results, because it helps the salesperson get the right solution in front of a customer,” Terry said.

Performance Tiering is only available on the MSA 2040 and is priced at $USD 3999.

MSA 1040 customers will need to upgrade their firmware and purchase the MSA 1040 Advanced Virtualization Upgrade to take advantage of the new features. This upgrade is priced at $USD 3500.

All features and their associated SKUs will be available beginning December 1, 2104.