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What is hierarchical storage management (HSM)?

HSM allows you to store data in a secure, cost-efficient manner. Here’s what you need to know about it.

Connection network in servers data center room storage systems 3D rendering.
Image: sdecoret/Adobe Stock

If you’re responsible for managing corporate data, you know that storage can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, having access to large amounts of data can be immensely helpful in making business decisions. On the other hand, storing all that data can be expensive and downright chaotic to manage.

SEE: Cloud Data Storage Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

That’s where hierarchical storage management comes in. HSM is a system to store data in a secure, cost-efficient manner. In this guide, we’ll give you a quick crash course on HSM, what it is, how it works, and some of the benefits it can bring to your organization.

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What is HSM?

HSM, or hierarchical storage management, is a system for storing data in a secure, cost-efficient manner. The basic idea behind HSM is to store data on the most suitable type of storage media depending on how often the data is accessed.

For example, data that is accessed frequently may be stored on more expensive, more powerful storage media such as solid-state drives, while data that is accessed less frequently may be stored on cheaper, lower-performing storage media such as hard drives.

SEE: Quick Glossary: ​​Data Storage (TechRepublic Premium)

HSM, although a long-standing idea, has changed dramatically since its conception due to the advancement of technological storage and communication methods. While aspects such as size and access time are now unrecognizable compared to the past, many of the original concepts remain popular today – albeit on a much larger scale when it comes to big data.

How do HSM systems work?

HSM systems work by automatically moving data between different storage tiers based on how often that data needs to be accessed. Data that is accessed frequently is stored on fast, expensive storage media such as SSDs, while data that is accessed infrequently is moved to slower, cheaper storage formats. This ensures that users always have quick access to the data they need, while minimizing storage costs and power consumption.

HSM is similar to the cache on most computer CPUs. Like the CPU cache, frequently used data is stored in small and fast SRAM memory, while less frequently used data is moved to slower but larger DRAM when new data needs to be loaded.

HSM components and algorithms

HSM systems generally consist of three main components: a data migration policy, algorithms for managing data, and a mechanism for ranking or caching data. The data migration policy defines how data should be moved between different storage devices based on factors such as frequency of use or importance. The algorithms used by HSM systems help determine which data to store on which device based on criteria such as how often the data is accessed or its size.

SEE: What is data migration? (TechRepublic)

Some of these algorithms include the Least Recently Used replacement, which moves data that hasn’t been accessed recently to lower-performing storage tiers. Size-temperature substitution is another common algorithm that uses both temperature and size thresholds to determine when to migrate data. The heuristic threshold is a newer algorithm that uses machine learning technologies to more accurately predict when to migrate data.

Layered and cached HSM

The tiering versus caching debate is one that HSM system designers face when trying to determine the best way to use lower-performing storage tiers. While tiering provides better long-term performance, caching can provide better short-term performance.

Whether you choose to tier or cache your storage, these mechanisms ensure that frequently used data is stored on faster, more accessible devices, while less frequently used data is stored on slower, cheaper devices.

Advantages of HSM

  • Cost savings: HSM systems allow users to store data on cheaper storage media where possible, helping businesses save money on overall storage costs.
  • Increased performance: HSM systems allow you to store frequently used data on more powerful storage media such as SSDs, improving the overall performance of your system.
  • Increased security: Hierarchical storage management systems allow you to store sensitive data on more secure storage media such as SSDs or HDDs with encryption capabilities. These options can help improve the overall security of your system.
  • Improved manageability: HSM systems allow you to store data on different types of storage media, depending on how often it is used. They can help improve the overall manageability of your system by making it easier to find and retrieve specific files when needed.

Top HSM Solutions

There are many different HSM solutions on the market today. Some of the best HSM solutions for big data include:

  • IBM Spectrum Scale
  • EMC Celerra/VNX
  • NetApp FAS/AFF
  • HPE 3PAR StoreServe
  • Huawei OceanStor Dorado
  • Qumulo core
  • Red Hat Ceph Storage

Read next: Top data integration tools (TechRepublic)

Note that this list is not exhaustive and is in no particular order. There are many different HSM solutions on the market today, so make sure your storage engineers and other data professionals take the time to research different options to find the best solution for your company’s needs.

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