What is an MSA storage?

What is MSA Storage Technology?

MSA storage stands for Modular Smart Array storage. It is a type of storage area network (SAN) developed by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) that provides shared block-level storage between servers. MSA storage allows multiple servers to access a common pool of storage resources like hard drives and solid state drives over a dedicated fiber channel network.

The key characteristics of MSA storage are:

  • Modular – Can mix and match drive types and add capacity as needed
  • Shared – Storage resources are pooled and available to all connected servers
  • SAN architecture – Uses dedicated FC networks for server connections
  • Supports flash storage – Can use SSDs for improved performance
  • Scalable – Start small and expand as storage needs grow

HPE first launched the MSA family in 2012 by consolidating the previous StorageWorks P2000 G3, LeftHand iSCSI, and P4000 SAN solutions into a single product line. Since then, HPE has released several generations of MSA storage arrays aimed at small and medium businesses. The current MSA portfolio includes the MSA 1050, 2050, and 2062 arrays.

In summary, MSA storage provides a flexible, modular SAN storage environment tailored for growing SMBs. Its shared architecture allows centralized storage management while improving resource utilization across multiple servers. HPE continues to enhance the MSA family with new technology like all-flash models and storage class memory support.

How MSA Storage Works

MSA Storage utilizes a modular architecture that supports both SAS and SATA disk drives. A key component of the MSA system is the Storage Controllers, which manage the connectivity between servers and storage pools. The controllers support direct connection through 12Gb SAS or connection via Fibre Channel or iSCSI over Ethernet (with an appropriate HBA).

Inside the MSA chassis, up to 25 drives can be installed in small form factor drive bays, enabling flexible storage capacity scaling. The drives are arranged into Logical Disk Groups which combine drives of similar characteristics. The Logical Disk Groups are then partitioned into Logical Disks, which are then carved into volumes accessed by servers. This modular pooling of drives provides the foundation for advanced data services like snapshots and tiering offered by MSA Storage.

For high availability, MSA Storage utilizes redundant components like controllers, fans, and power supplies. The system also provides automated path failover to minimize disruption in connectivity between servers and storage volumes in case of component failure. Overall, the MSA modular architecture provides enterprise-class storage services while remaining easy to manage and cost-effective for SMBs.



Benefits of MSA Storage

MSA storage offers several key benefits that make it an attractive storage solution for many organizations:


MSA storage is highly scalable, allowing you to start small and expand as needed. Most MSA arrays support scaling up to 96 drives per array, with options to scale out even further using multiple arrays in a federated cluster arrangement. This makes MSA storage a flexible, long-term investment able to grow along with your data needs. According to HPE, some MSA models can scale to over 1 petabyte of capacity.


MSA storage offers flexible drive configurations, allowing you to mix HDDs and SSDs in the same array to balance performance, capacity, and cost. MSA also supports multi-protocol access, providing concurrent block-level and file-level storage access over iSCSI, Fibre Channel, SMB, and NFS from the same system. This versatility allows MSA storage to readily adapt to diverse application needs.

High Performance

MSA storage delivers high levels of performance, making it suitable for demanding workloads. Features like flash-backed cache, multipathing, and support for 10GbE networking allow MSA systems to achieve low response times and high throughput. According to HPE, MSA can provide over 325,000 IOPS in certain configurations.

Use Cases for MSA Storage

MSA storage is commonly used for a variety of applications that require performance, availability, and scalability. Some of the most popular use cases include:


MSA storage is well-suited for virtualized environments due to its thin provisioning and snapshots capabilities. By allocating storage on-demand, MSA helps optimize utilization in dynamic virtual environments. Snapshots allow quick restores of VMs in case of data corruption or accidental deletion (HPE MSA 2060 Storage Array – Overview)


With features like flash cache, automated tiering, and consistent high IOPS, MSA works well for database applications that require fast access to data. MSA storage can help improve database performance and response times.

Media Storage

The scalability, flexibility, and performance of MSA makes it suitable for storing large volumes of media files like video, audio, and images. MSA’s modular architecture allows scaling capacity and bandwidth as needed.


MSA can help analytics applications by delivering the throughput required during heavy workloads and large batch jobs. Automated tiering optimizes hot data on SSDs for fast analysis.

MSA Storage Vendors

The major vendors offering MSA storage solutions include:

Dell EMC – Dell EMC PowerVault ME4 Series is a flexible, high density MSA storage array that is easy to deploy and manage. It offers multi-protocol support and can scale up to 2.4PB raw capacity.[1]

HPE – HPE MSA storage arrays provide affordable flash-ready storage with remote replication and built-in high availability. The HPE MSA 2060 offers hybrid flash performance and can scale up to 2PB raw capacity.[2]

NetApp – NetApp E-Series arrays deliver performance, density, and scalability for SAN workloads while supporting multiple protocols. The E2800 offers capacity up to 1.92PB in a compact 2U form factor.[3]

IBM – IBM offers the Storwize V5000 series for affordable, easy-to-use MSA storage. It provides real-time data compression, remote replication, and supports flash, HDDs, and hybrid configurations.[4]

Implementing MSA Storage

Implementing HPE MSA Storage requires careful planning and configuration to ensure optimal performance. Some key steps include:

Hardware Requirements: The HPE MSA 2060 Storage system supports a wide range of hardware components like controllers, disk enclosures, SSDs and HDDs. Minimum requirements include the HPE MSA 2060 controller with 8GB cache and at least one disk enclosure like the D2700 or D2500. More enclosures can be added for capacity and performance. SSDs are recommended for optimal performance. Refer to HPE’s QuickSpecs for detailed hardware options (https://www.hpe.com/psnow/doc/4aa4-7060enw).

RAID Configuration: The MSA 2060 supports RAID 0, 1, 5, 6 and 10 for data protection and performance. RAID 5 and 6 provide a good balance of capacity and redundancy for most use cases. RAID 10 maximizes performance for transactional workloads. The number of disk groups, drive types and required capacity determine the optimal RAID level. Use HPE’s RAID calculator to model options.

Storage Pools: MSA allows creating storage pools from disk groups. This provides flexible capacity allocation. Pools can contain SSDs for performance and HDDs for capacity. Critical data can be tiered to SSD pools. The MSA 2060 supports up to 64 storage pools. Careful testing is required to determine the right disk group layout and pool configuration.

Managing and Monitoring MSA Storage

Properly managing and monitoring MSA storage is crucial to ensure optimal performance and reliability. There are several tools available for managing and monitoring MSA storage devices:

The HPE MSA Management Software provides a graphical user interface for configuring, managing, and monitoring MSA storage arrays. It allows administrators to perform tasks like creating LUNs and volume groups, viewing storage usage and performance metrics, and configuring alerts [1].

Third-party tools like ManageEngine’s OpManager provide detailed monitoring and alerting capabilities for HPE MSA storage. OpManager can automatically discover MSA devices, monitor utilization and I/O performance, and trigger alerts based on thresholds [2].

The HPE MSA supports configuring event-based email alerts for issues like component failures, connectivity problems, and capacity thresholds. Alerts can be processed and displayed right within the MSA Management software [3].

Automation capabilities like PowerShell scripting and RESTful APIs help streamline MSA storage administration. Routines tasks can be automated and executed on a schedule.

By leveraging the right tools and practices, IT teams can stay on top of potential problems with MSA storage and ensure optimal uptime and performance.

Optimizing MSA Storage

Capacity planning is a key aspect of optimizing MSA storage arrays. Proper planning ensures storage resources are allocated efficiently and can support future growth. MSA arrays utilize thin provisioning to allocate storage capacity as needed rather than reserving full pools upfront. Monitoring usage trends helps determine when additional drives or arrays may be required.1

MSA arrays also support automated storage tiering to optimize performance. Frequently accessed “hot” data can be moved to faster solid state drives while less active “cold” data goes on slower HDDs. The adaptive cache feature maximizes cache utilization by allocating more cache to busy volumes.2 These capabilities let organizations tune MSA storage to meet their specific workflow needs.

Additional optimization techniques include enabling deduplication and compression to reduce data footprint, scheduling frequent snapshots for backup/recovery, and leveraging remote replication for disaster recovery. Proper zoning and LUN configuration also helps isolate and secure mission-critical data.3 With the right optimization, MSA storage can deliver excellent performance and efficiency.

MSA Storage Security

MSA storage arrays offer comprehensive security features to protect sensitive data. One of the key security capabilities is encryption. MSA storage supports self-encrypting drives (SEDs) that meet the FIPS 140-2 standard for data-at-rest encryption [1]. The encryption is performed at the drive level, providing encryption across all data including operating system files. All major drive manufacturers offer SED options compatible with MSA storage.

In addition to encryption, MSA storage arrays provide role-based access controls. Administrators can restrict access and divide responsibilities between different users. For example, storage administrators may have full privileges while application administrators have limited access. MSA storage integrates with Active Directory or LDAP for user authentication and authorization.

For data protection, MSA storage includes snapshots, replication, cloning and integration with backup software. Snapshots can create point-in-time copies of volumes while replication copies data to a secondary array for disaster recovery. Together these capabilities allow comprehensive data protection workflows.

Overall, the security architecture of MSA storage arrays aims to meet the needs of small and medium-sized organizations while staying cost effective. The combination of encryption, access controls and data protection provides confidence for storing business critical information.

The Future of MSA Storage

MSA storage technology continues to advance with new innovations on the horizon. Several key trends are emerging that will shape the future of MSA storage:

Increased flash adoption – MSA solutions are leveraging flash storage more than ever before. The latest HPE MSA 2060 system supports an all-flash configuration for optimal performance [1]. As flash costs decrease, expect to see more affordable all-flash MSA systems.

Enhanced data reduction and efficiency – Data reduction techniques like deduplication, compression, and thin provisioning maximize MSA storage capacity. Vendors will continue improving these technologies to get more out of the available storage.

Simplified management – MSA systems are emphasizing simplified management and automation. For example, HPE’s MSA platform can be monitored and managed through a unified web-based UI or via REST APIs [2].

Expanded hybrid cloud support – MSA storage will integrate more tightly with public cloud and focus on hybrid cloud use cases. This allows seamless data movement between on-prem MSA systems and the cloud.

The MSA architecture offers affordable, high-performance shared storage for SMBs. While the fundamentals remain the same, continued innovation will ensure MSA storage adapts to new demands and workloads.