Disk Attachment

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Disk Attachment

Computers access disk storage in two ways. One way is via I/O ports (or host-attached storage); this is common on small systems. The other way is via a remote host in a distributed file system; this is referred to as network-attached storage.

Host-Attached Storage

Host-attached storage is storage accessed through local I/O ports. These ports use several technologies. The typical desktop PC uses an I/O bus architecture called IDE or ATA. This architecture supports a maximum of two drives per I/O bus.

A newer, similar protocol that has simplified cabling is SATA. High-end workstations and servers generally use more sophisticated I/O architectures, such as SCSI and fiber channel (FC). SCSI is a bus architecture. Its physical medium is usually a ribbon cable having a large number of conductors (typically 50 or 68). The SCSI protocol supports a maximum of 16 devices on the bus.

Generally, the devices include one controller card in the host (the SCSI initiator) and up to 15 storage devices (the SCSI targets). A SCSI disk is a common SCSI target, but the protocol provides the ability to address up to 8 logical units in each SCSI target.

A typical use of logical unit addressing is to direct commands to components of a RATD array or components of a removable media library (such as a CD jukebox sending commands to the media-changer mechanism or to one of the drives). FC is a high-speed serial architecture that can operate over optical fiber or over a four-conductor copper cable. It has two variants. One is a large switched fabric having a 24-bit address space. This variant is expected to dominate in the future and is the basis of storage-area networks (SANs), discussed in Section 12.3.3. Because of the large address space and the switched nature of the communication, multiple hosts and storage devices can attach to the fabric, allowing great flexibility in I/O communication.

The other PC variant is an arbitrated loop (FC-AL) that can address 126 devices (drives and controllers).

A wide variety of storage devices are suitable for use as host-attached storage. Among these are hard disk drives, RAID arrays, and CD, DVD, and tape drives. The I/O commands that initiate data transfers to a host-attached storage device are reads and writes of logical data blocks directed to specifically identified storage units (such as bus ID, SCSI ID, and target logical unit).

Network-Attached Storage

A network-attached storage (NAS) device is a special-purpose storage system that is accessed remotely over a data network (Figure 12.2). Clients access network-attached storage via a remote-procedure-call interface such as NFS for UNIX systems or CIFS for Windows machines. The remote procedure calls (RPCs) are carried via TCP or UDP over an IP network—-usually the same local-area network (LAN) that carries all data traffic to the clients.

Disk Attachment

The networkattached storage unit is usually implemented as a RAID array with software that implements the RPC interface. It is easiest to think of NAS as simply another storage-access protocol.

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For example, rather than using a SCSI device driver and SCSI protocols to access storage, a system using NAS would use RPC over TCP/IP.

Network-attached storage provides a convenient way for all the computers on a LAN to share a pool of storage with the same ease of naming and access enjoyed with local host-attached storage. However, it tends to be less efficient and have lower performance than some direct-attached storage options. ISCSI is the latest network-attached storage protocol. In essence, it uses the IP network protocol to carry the SCSI protocol. Thus, networks rather than SCSI cables can be used as the interconnects between hosts and their storage. As a result, hosts can treat their storage as if it were directly attached, but the storage can be distant from the host.


Storage-Area Network

One drawback of network-attached storage systems is that the storage I/O operations consume bandwidth on the data network, thereby increasing the latency of network communication. This problem can be particularly acute in large client-server installations—the communication between servers and clients competes for bandwidth with the communication among servers and storage devices.

A storage-area network (SAN) is a private network (using storage protocols rather than networking protocols) connecting servers and storage units, as shown in Figure 12.3. The power of a SAN lies in its flexibility. Multiple hosts and multiple storage arrays can attach to the same SAN, and storage can be dynamically allocated to hosts.

A SAN switch allows or prohibits access between the hosts and the storage. As one example, if a host is running lowon disk space, the SAN can be configured to allocate more storage to that host. SANs make it possible for clusters of servers to share the same storage and for storage arrays to include multiple direct host connections. SANs typically have more ports, and less expensive ports, than storage arrays. FC is the most common. SAN interconnect. An emerging alternative is a special-purpose bus architecture named InfiniBand, which provides hardware and software support for high-speed interconnection networks for servers and storage units.

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