Buyer's Guide: Midrange DASD

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In many ways, the information that keeps your organization running is as important as the money you put in the bank. That is why the disk devices which hold your information have to be as sound as the banks that keep your money. If a processor fails, you lose valuable time; if your disk drives fail, you stand a chance of losing much more. As a result, selecting the right disk technology for your installation is one of the most important hardware choices you will make.

Selecting disk drives, or direct access storage devices (DASD), is more than an important task; it's an expensive one as well. Over the life of your system, there's a good chance you will spend as much or even more on disk drives than on the system to which they are connected. AS/400 users in the United States will spend around $550 million on processors during 1993 and almost $650 million on storage devices. They will invest the lion's share of that $650 million on DASD.

Although IBM has cornered around 94 percent of the market for AS/400 DASD and more than 99 percent of the S/36 market (figures supplied by Computer Intelligence of La Jolla, California), this near-monopoly does not imply a shortage of competitive products. All of the vendors listed in our buyer's guide chart have fine reputations for quality and service. Before you can decide who will get your hard-won budget, you need to determine what type of DASD solution you need. Although we've only included AS/400 disk drives in the chart which accompanies this article, most vendors also offer S/36 and S/38 DASD solutions.

Critical Variables and Trade-offs

As you begin evaluating the disk products that are available on the market, you will discover two general truths about DASD. First, the best DASD purchase for your organization will not necessarily be the best purchase for other organizations. This is because each organization has different priorities in terms of disk capacity, transfer rates, system availability, data protection, performance and price.

The second truth you will discover is that every storage solution forces the buyer to accept some trade-offs between these priorities. You will need to determine which priorities are more important than others. As you make this determination, you should consider two critical variables: system availability and throughput.

The percentage of time the system is up and available-system availability-is important to all users. While many components affect system availability, disk drives have a major impact on this variable. In fact, a study of AS/400 sites by the Aberdeen Group of Boston, Massachusetts revealed that DASD failures caused 64 percent of all system crashes among survey respondents last year.

The degree to which storage devices maintain data integrity when a storage failure occurs has a direct effect on system availability. Most AS/400 sites use DASD that requires a full recovery of the system after a disk failure. After recovery from backup, further work must be done to restore objects, libraries and access paths to their status just prior to the failure. Options that decrease downtime after a failure include data protection schemes built into the DASD, such as disk mirroring, RAID, hot spares and redundant power supplies. (Each italicized item is defined in detail in the glossary on page 53.) OS/400 facilities such as disk mirroring (under software control), journaling, auxiliary storage pools and checksum can also improve data protection and system availability.

The level of throughput achieved by a disk storage solution may be difficult to obtain from vendors' literature. However, throughput is the most accurate measure of how the drive will actually perform. Throughput is impacted by hardware factors such as seek time, rotational latency and transfer rates, but data protection schemes such as checksum, mirroring and RAID also play an important role. In general, these efforts to improve system availability and data protection have a negative effect on performance because they use up CPU cycles or require additional reads and writes. They also take up valuable disk space, which raises the cost of storage.

It is relatively easy to create a low-cost storage solution on a system that does not use any data protection or system availability features beyond regular backups. However, these savings must be balanced against the cost of a data loss or system crash. It can be difficult to create an inexpensive storage solution that provides adequate protection against these dangers.

RAID: The Next Generation

As DASD buyers struggle in this balancing act, they will begin hearing more about a new "solution" to the problem: Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks (RAID). RAID is actually a variety of techniques that use multiple disks to provide data protection via parity. Many new RAID products will hit the market in 1993, generating lots of marketing heat. Over the next few years, however, it is highly likely that AS/400 disk vendors will continue producing non-RAID products that outperform (or perform as well as) RAIDs. Therefore, improved performance is not the reason to get an AS/400 RAID; the real reasons are to protect your data and improve system availability. Some AS/400 shops use AS/400 mirroring or checksum for these very reasons. If you currently use these techniques or are considering their use, RAID could be a better alternative for you. If you are not using these techniques, RAID may not appeal to your needs or fit your budget.

Computer scientists from the University of California at Berkeley defined several different types of RAID drives in the early '80s. Three types of RAID are currently available for the AS/400. The first of these, RAID Level 1, ensures that the data on each drive is duplicated on another drive. RAID-1 drives handle all disk mirroring for the system, which reduces the performance impact of mirroring. However, they do not provide mirroring of controllers, I/O processors or buses.

RAID Level 3 protects data via the same parity information used by OS/400's checksum feature. In RAID-3, the parity data is written to a specific disk that handles this function for the entire array. RAID-3 is an effective method for transferring large blocks of data, though inefficient for the small blocks that are read by most AS/400 applications.

RAID Level 5 technology stripes parity data across all disks in the array. The drives are also asynchronous, allowing each drive to read and write independently of the others. Because this is a more effective design for reading smaller blocks of data, RAID-5 is better suited for most AS/400 applications than RAID-3.

When compared to RAID-1, RAID-5 is far less costly because data does not have to be mirrored. However, RAID-5 will not perform as well as RAID-1 using the same disk technology. This is because each write to a RAID-5 device actually requires two reads and two writes in order to update parity data. This write penalty is a problem with all parity schemes, including the OS/400's checksum facility.

As you decide whether or not RAID should be a part of your future, it is important that you know what RAID can and cannot do for your installation. For instance, while RAID outperforms older disk devices, the newest non-RAID devices are based on the same high-performance disks as those used for RAID devices. When not encumbered with the need to read and write parity data, they can frequently transfer data faster than a comparable RAID drive. The exception is RAID-1, which uses mirroring rather than parity for data protection.

Making a Decision

Because midrange customers have different priorities, the available storage solutions stress different capabilities. As 1 indicates, storage solutions that excel in some areas do not fare as well in others. For instance, RAID-1 and system-level disk mirroring provide high levels of data protection and system availability along with reasonable performance, but are very expensive. The most recent standard DASD products, on the other hand, are inexpensive and offer high levels of throughput, but are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to data protection and availability. To improve data protection and availability on standard DASD, some vendors offer hot spares. However, this increases storage costs.

Because midrange customers have different priorities, the available storage solutions stress different capabilities. As Figure 1 indicates, storage solutions that excel in some areas do not fare as well in others. For instance, RAID-1 and system-level disk mirroring provide high levels of data protection and system availability along with reasonable performance, but are very expensive. The most recent standard DASD products, on the other hand, are inexpensive and offer high levels of throughput, but are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to data protection and availability. To improve data protection and availability on standard DASD, some vendors offer hot spares. However, this increases storage costs.

One way to strike a better balance between these critical variables on the AS/400 is through the use of Auxiliary Storage Pools (ASPs). This feature lets you divide disk storage into as many as 16 pools, which can then be treated as individual entities for the purposes of checksum and system-level mirroring. When a disk fails in a system using ASPs, you only need to recover the data in that pool to bring the system back up. This improves system availability considerably. ASPs can also reduce the cost of data protection in both dollars and lost performance, as they let you apply protection techniques only to those pools that contain mission-critical libraries.

While ASPs make the choices between storage solutions less difficult, they cannot eliminate the trade-offs that must be made between critical variables. As part of the decision process, you may want to take a closer look at the data you consider to be mission-critical. What would it cost your company in lost business opportunities, system downtime and recovery expenses if that information was lost or damaged? The answer to this question may tell you to what extent you should trade off low storage prices for higher data protection and availability.

Looking Down the Road

Anyone who remembers the storage units of a decade ago knows that disk technology changes rapidly. Just as yesterday's drives look like washing machines compared to today's sleek cabinets, so will tomorrow's DASD make current technology cumbersome and obsolete. Within two to three years, expect to see arrays housing drives with diameters of two inches or less, containing three to four times the data in the same physical space as today's newest models. These units will handle parity writing efficiently, making RAID protection almost as affordable as storing data without RAID.

In the meantime, there are still some distinct trade-offs in price, performance and reliability between a wide variety of different storage technologies. However, with a little ingenuity and shrewd bargaining, you can use this variety to get the right disk devices for you at a price that's right.


Auxiliary Storage Pools (ASPs) - An OS/400 facility which lets the user divide disk storage into up to 16 pools.

Checksum - A software data protection implementation which groups disks into sets of two to eight disks, then spreads parity information across the disks in the set. In case of a disk failure, the system uses the checksum algorithm to recreate the data from the failed disk.

Disk Mirroring - The duplication of the contents of one or more disks on a second group of disks. The AS/400 has built-in software facilities to mirror disk devices as well as disk controllers, I/O processors and system buses.

Formatted Capacity - The capacity of a disk device, usually stated in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB), after the disks are formatted. This capacity is usually smaller than the unformatted capacity, which vendors may also use in their marketing literature.

Head-Disk Assembly (HDA) - A complete unit consisting of disk platters, actuators, read/write heads and the electronics needed to connect the unit to a controller. Most midrange disk models contain many HDAs built into a cabinet that fits into IBM's standard 9309 rack.

Hot Spares (also called Hot-Pluggable Replacements) - A data protection and recovery technique in which a head-disk assembly is reserved as a spare within an array of drives. If one of the drives in the array shows signs of an impending failure, the data on the failing drive can be written to the spare, which then becomes active. Hot spares are only as good as the array's ability to predict a failure.

Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks (RAID) - A data redundancy method which combines an array of disks with data protection techniques built into the disk unit.

Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) - The average amount of time a component works without failure.

Redundant Power Supplies - A method of protecting a disk array from going down by adding reserve power modules to the unit. The reserve modules can take over in case one of the primary modules fails.

Rotational Latency - The average time a read/write head must spend waiting for data after the head is positioned on the correct track.

Seek Time - The total time required for a disk device to access data. While most vendors give the average seek time, some cite minimum seek times, so make sure you know what you are being quoted.


Decision Data One Progress Ave. Horsham, PA 19044 800-933-9897 fax: 215-674-9543 Circle 150 on Reader Card

EMC Corp. 171 South St. Hopkinton, MA 01748 508-435-1000 fax: 508-435-8900 Circle 151 on Reader Card

IBM Corp. Contact your local branch

IPL Systems, Inc. 60 Hickory Dr. Waltham, MA 02154 617-890-6620 fax: 617-890-0059 Circle 152 on Reader Card

Memorex Telex Corp. Mid-Range Systems Group 5800 Campus Circle Irving, TX 75063 214-580-7500 fax: 214-580-8266 Circle 153 on Reader Card

XL/Datacomp, Inc. 908 N. Elm St. Hinsdale, IL 60521 800-323-3289 fax: 708-323-2104 Circle 154 on Reader Card

Buyer's Guide: Midrange DASD

Figure 1 Report card on IBM midrange storage strategies

 Figure 1: A Report Card on IBM Midrange Storage Strategies System Data Availability Protection Performance Cost Dual Mirrored Systems A A B- D System-Level Disk Mirroring A- A- B- C- RAID-1 B+ A- B C- RAID-5 B B+ B- B Checksum C B+ C B DASD with Hot Spares B- B- B+ B DASD without Hot Spares D C B+ A 
Lee Kroon
Lee Kroon is a Senior Industry Analyst for Andrews Consulting Group, a firm that helps mid-sized companies manage business transformation through technology.


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  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption



  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.



  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access




  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.


  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.



  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.



  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.