Supermicro and Seagate: Solving the Capacity Crunch

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Solving a customer problem is easy. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a singular IT problem.

For example, a medium-sized business can find its local storage array — a formidable, 4U rackmount solution implemented less than two years ago — running out of capacity. The surface problem is easy: Need more capacity? Add more drives. Beneath this obvious problem, though, lie several more that experienced IT professionals must also address, including:

  • How do we increase performance to match the scaling user base generating this content?
  • How do we make our storage more energy-efficient to help lower TCO?
  • How do we increase the long-term reliability and utility of our storage?
  • How do we decrease our storage footprint to free up space for other needs?
  • How do we tier our storage for optimal asset price/performance efficiency and then keep those tiers optimized as our workloads change over time?

Any company can sell drives in a box, but to get at the heart of IT’s true needs and solve its business problems requires much deeper probing. This need to provide real storage value, not superficial capacity bandages, sits at the center of Seagate’s collaboration with Supermicro.

Since its 1993 founding, Supermicro has distinguished itself as an innovator and green design champion in the server and workstation markets. The company made its mark designing motherboards, building them into its own enclosures, and integrating a host of custom-made power, networking, and storage technologies. From dense blades to GPU-laden compute systems or modular servers, Supermicro likely sells a configuration optimized for it. Naturally, as SMEs continue to see their annual terabyte counts climb, storage dominates many of Supermicro’s product categories.

“In the last three to five years, our storage solution portfolio has evolved to include pure RAID arrays and extreme-density JBODs supporting traditional HDDs and all-flash solutions to keep up with performance and capacity demands,” said Charles Liang, President and CEO of Supermicro.

Today, Supermicro leverages the growing diversity among SATA-, SAS-, and now NVMe-based devices to pack in unprecedented capacity, all the while using those interfaces to fine-tune performance and reliability. For Supermicro and every other storage solutions vendor, high-capacity storage marks one of the most exciting opportunities in the market. The challenge is to figure out what drives high-cap demand and what to do about it.

Two Key Businesses Driving Higher-Capacity Drives

Broadly speaking, the transition from tape to disk for mass storage reached the elbow of its exponential rise in mid-2014. With hard drives offering per-gigabyte pricing at unprecedented lows while simultaneously adding vastly superior data access compared to tape, the market has taken a fresh look at how to integrate high-capacity solutions into its operations. However, for those looking to find high-cap sweet spots, two stand out above the field.

Data Archiving

“More than three years ago, we started seeing a major shift in countries where data centers were limited by the amount of physical space available for use,” said Supermicro’s Liang. “Due to rising demands and cost of real estate, business looked to us for creative solutions when expanding their data centers.”

Capacity need is global, but certain regions may feel greater urgency than others. In countries where data centers are fully utilized, upgrading outdated racks with two or three times as much storage often proves to be the least-expensive path to scaling up, a trend Supermicro first saw in Asia but that has recently spread to their US customer base. Coupling larger drives with extreme-density enclosures such as Supermicro’s SuperChassis CSE-946ED-R2KJBOD, which accommodates as many as 90 hot-swappable 3.5” disks in 4U of rack space, it’s easy to see how a site’s old capacity limits can be soundly shattered.

Video Surveillance

While advancements and video quality have grown substantially in the last few years, so has the ability to leverage those recordings. Increasingly, metadata, image recognition algorithms, and the ability to mine storage archives have turned what was traditionally all but dead data into rich veins of opportunity.

“Surveillance used to be security — scrutinizing activity to protect your assets,” said Liang. “Today video analytics have morphed that video recording into an asset with the ability to assess business opportunity and adjust practices accordingly. There’s now an ROI associated with these recordings.”

In addition, insurance or industry regulations require customers to keep data for longer periods of time, from 30 days to three years. One doesn’t need IT certification to understand how the constant recording of a video surveillance system would chew through copious amounts of storage space over time. And that's just the initial recording. These days, video footage often gets backed up and/or duplicated. Compound that figure again every time camera resolution increases in order to provide owners with more detail.

Collaboration & Targeting Markets

There’s more to a high-capacity deployment than plug-and-play. Supermicro thrives in this market in part from the ample research and design work it puts into storage solutions, always with one eye on easing high-capacity migration and adoption. The company’s portfolio includes 1U, 2U, 3U, and 4U form factors; single- and dual-processor platforms; up to 96%-efficient power supplies; redundancy options; and plenty of ways to expand. The company also invests in software engineering and offers a suite of server management utilities for monitoring system health, power consumption, and updates. Users can manage storage at a macro level, including fast RAID array builds, reallocating capacity in existing configurations, and powering down blocks of idle drives to improve efficiency.

Tailoring storage solutions necessitates choosing the right drives for each market, and Lam credits Seagate for offering the greatest breadth of available features, capacities, price points, and interface options. Consider government sales. Simply dropping high-capacity disks into dense enclosures isn’t enough to satisfy the storage needs of such tightly regulated customers. Rather, Seagate offers its big Enterprise Capacity 3.5 HDDs with AES-256 self-encryption and FIPS 140-2 validation, along with its own Instant Secure Erase feature for almost instantly rendering stored data unreadable ahead of a drive retirement event. Supermicro, in turn, outfits its optimized systems with the right options from Seagate to build government-ready solutions.

High-availability applications have a different set of requirements, so Seagate also arms those same Enterprise Capacity 3.5 HDD units with either SAS 12Gb/s or SATA 6Gb/s interfaces. In fact, Seagate offers over a dozen different models within this drive family focused around features including:

Supermicro even co-developed a technology with Seagate to help bring non-responsive SATA drives in a JBOD back to life. While Supermicro concedes that you probably wouldn’t want to leave a marginal disk in service indefinitely, resetting it allows for a more controlled replacement. This hardware- and software-enabled capability is specific to SATA and particularly suited to cold storage environments.

The opportunities available to Supermicro are tied to the number of ways the company can build storage-optimized platforms, and, clearly, Seagate gives them the greatest amount of freedom and support to co-develop and customize offerings. In many engagements, Supermicro’s partnership with Seagate helps seal the deal.

More Capacity Where It’s Needed

Let’s apply some real numbers to the above concepts. Using Seagate’s 6TB Enterprise Capacity 3.5 HDDs, one fully-populated Supermicro SuperChassis 946 hosts up to 540TB of SAS or SATA storage. The new 8TB version raises the ceiling to 720TB — a 33% boost. Both capacities employ conventional, long-proven high-capacity technologies for maximum performance and reliability. (Alternatively, other high-cap drive families with less need for top performance, such as Seagate’s Archive HDD, may adopt Seagate’s Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) technology. SMR writes in overlapping tracks, ultimately fitting more tracks per platter and yielding up to a 25% boost to total areal density.) These Enterprise Capacity 3.5 HDD models excel in delivering a data center-optimized mix of high performance, maximum storage space, and best-in-class reliability levels. Not long ago, having these qualities fueling a solution of such capacity would have consumed one if not multiple racks — and all of the energy consumption that would have gone into them. Achieving 720T of fast, reliable storage in 4U is truly remarkable.

Supermicro adds unique value with end-to-end coverage of the storage market based on its rich lineup of hardware platforms, custom software written to exploit its systems fully, and relationships with companies such as Seagate to build right-sized solutions. As capacity increases and companies like Supermicro find ways to engineer more drives into their enclosures, thermal energy and vibration become real concerns. Fortunately, by working with Seagate, the pair maximize reliability for their customers, all the while offering a wide breadth of performance profiles based on the composition of each platform.

For IT professionals tasked with managing data, that flexibility is key to satisfying an application’s specific requirements and proving to finance and C-level executives the achievement of outsized ROI.

For more information on Supermicro’s complete range of high performance, high-efficiency Server, Storage and Networking solutions, visit www.supermicro.com. Follow Supermicro on Facebook and Twitter to receive their latest news and announcements.
About Super Micro Computer Inc. (NASDAQ: SMCI)
Supermicro®, the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/Big Data, HPC and Embedded Systems worldwide. Supermicro is committed to protecting the environment through its “We Keep IT Green®” initiative and provides customers with the most energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly solutions available on the market. Supermicro, Building Block Solutions and We Keep IT Green are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Super Micro Computer, Inc.

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