BOSTON—No business user really cares about IT infrastructure. All they want is for something to work, and work well. They do not care how it works.
As cold and dire as those statements may seem, they are true on an everyday basis, said storage analyst Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst of Enterprise Strategy Group, in Milford, Mass.
Duplessie was addressing day two participants—mainly IT managers and CIOs—Sept. 20 at the Storage World conference here at the World Trade Center.
"As enterprise systems get more and more complicated underneath, the less people want to know about how it all fits together," Duplessie said.
"Look at our kids—theyre computer whizes. Do they know how an operating system works? No! Do they care? No! They just know it works, and how to use the interface.
"The interface is the beginning and ending of their computer world. This is the way the rest of the world is moving."
What would be ideal for IT would be for it to become totally invisible by being completely abstracted out of the picture, Duplessie said.
"Lets face it: We fight fires for a living. A problem comes up here, we fix it here ... another issue pops us there, we go there and fix it. Infrastructure is the root of all evil in what we do," Duplessie said.
IT infrastructure is already well on the way to this goal, with system virtualization the first big step—even though its a case of "back to the future."
"Virtualization is not new, by any means. It goes way back to the time of the dinosaur mainframes, but, if you think about it, mainframes were pretty good things," Duplessie said.
"You had everything in one place where you could work on it, you could make one thing look like many things, you had good availability, and it was dependable. Arent those the kind of attributes were looking for now?"
VMWare and Veritas Volume Manager are on the right track, but they stop short of what could be possible: complete abstraction of a system, Duplessie said.
"Those kind of tools are wonderful, but they both make one thing look like many things, which improves optimization and makes management that much easier," he said. "But making one PC or server look like 100 is not as valuable as making 100 nodes look like one."
Using this yet-unserviceable kind of complete abstraction that Duplessie is describing, everything would move out of "smokestacks" and "silos" and into a cloud of interoperable, interchangeable components that work seamlessly to deliver data on-demand, 24/7.
"With this level of operability, which will happen eventually, nobody would care if a server goes down or an I/O channel breaks, because the system would automatically find a way to reroute the data to its intended location anyway," Duplessie said.
IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., and Sun Microsystems, of Santa Clara, Calif., are among the IT leaders in working to develop autonomic computing, a form of artificial intelligence that allows a computing system to locate and identify programming and other system errors and make corrections without the help of a human administrator.
Suns ZFS (Z file system) is already doing this in the marketplace in Solaris 10. IBM has been slowly working its autonomic software into its new servers—storage and otherwise.
As a professional analyst and speaker, Duplessie said he really depends on Microsoft PowerPoint for his presentations, and he used this as an example.
"Lame, but true," he joked. "However, it works for me. I dont care how it works, I just run it. I am abstracted from that application totally."
Once the IT infrastructure is completely abstracted, "then you can really do some interesting things," Duplessie said. "Exactly what well be doing, we dont know yet—but well be free from the shackles to do it."
Duplessie also cautioned IT professionals not to get too specialized.
"Everything evolves. Remember when you had to make a SWAP page in order to open an application and use it?" he asked rhetorically. "Well, thats history. That guy who used to come around to your desk and open the SWAP space is now out of work. That job no longer exists.
"Make sure you understand all this at a high enough level so you dont become that SWAP guy."