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What Are Your Storage Options in SQL Server?

Author: Eric Russo | | November 20, 2014

As we discussed previously in our SQL Server issues blog post, regular and reliable database backups are the foundation of database administration. In order for backups to run consistently and smoothly, you must have adequate disk space for the backup drive.

We’ll look at two storage options for SQL Server that will ensure you never run out of room for your backup: Windows Azure Blob, which is a cloud-based option, and the StorSimple 8000 series, which combines hardware and cloud storage but comes with a hefty price tag.

Windows Azure Blob is cloud data storage used for storing and fetching Binary Large Objects (BLOBs), more commonly known as files. One of three Windows Azure Storage services available, it is useful for organizations seeking to reduce the load on their web servers or for those that share files regularly with clients.

What is particularly attractive about Windows Azure Blob to most organizations is that it provides persistent data storage. There’s no worrying about hard drives or managing virtual machines. The BLOBs—text, images, database files, virtual hard drives—can be accessed with HTTP or other types of REST interfaces. The system also stores everything in triplicate, and that redundancy is attractive.

Files uploaded to Windows Azure Blob are stored in either the Page or Block BLOB format. How the file will be used or its size dictates how it is stored. Page BLOBs, optimized for random reads and writes, are one or more 512-byte pages of data. The maximum size of a Page BLOB is 1 terabyte per file.

Mike Wood, a technology evangelist for Cerebrata who works with Windows Azure tools and services, advises:

The majority of files that you upload would benefit from being stored as Block BLOBs, which are written to the storage account as a series of blocks and then committed into a single file. We can create a large file by breaking it into blocks, which can be uploaded concurrently and then then committed together into a single file in one operation. This provides us with faster upload times and better throughput.

Any file stored using BLOB storage can be easily accessed by URL. There are also many related best practices (covering using metadata, privacy, and file sharing) that will allow you to make the most of Windows Azure BLOB storage’s features.

Another storage option with Microsoft Azure is the StorSimple 8000 series. These Seagate-made storage appliances use a hybrid approach, incorporating cloud storage to address key challenges inherent with building storage and administering storage arrays.

The idea is to keep frequently used files and folders accessible. Solid state drives are used for fast retrieval of frequently used files, while older, “cold” files are sent to the cloud. The benefit is most obvious with the 8600 system, which allows a user up to 500 terabytes of storage capacity spread across the local drive, local spinning media, and in the cloud.

This approach reportedly allows users to balance both cost and performance. It also uses the Microsoft Azure StorSimple Manager service for managing the physical and virtual storage. The downside is that the hardware itself is fixed. It cannot be changed or upgraded. And the cost is prohibitive for smaller enterprises.

Jonathan Hassell, a consultant writing on Computerworld, concludes:

Enterprises that have standardized on Microsoft Azure and have a six-figure storage budget may be interested and will find a very capable device that has a great set of features. Everyone else can simply move on, or perhaps wait for a lighter version that is a little easier to swallow budget-wise.

For a more comprehensive discussion of data storage as well as related SQL Server issues that can help you more fully leverage the time and resources invested in your SQL Server, please download our SQL Server white paper written by Andy McDermid, Datavail’s SQL Server principal database administrator.

Contact Datavail for more information on how we might best support you and your organization with custom solutions tailored to your needs.

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