Storage Execs: Vendors Must Simplify Technologies

By Graeme Thickins  |  Posted 2004-03-10

Storage Execs: Vendors Must Simplify Technologies

MONTEREY, Calif.—Storage industry executives on Monday converged here for Network Storage 2004, a two-day conference focusing on new architectural trends in enterprise storage. The event covered hot topics in utility computing, information management and archive, and iSCSI-based SANs.

The changing landscape in the wider computing industry was also mirrored in storage technology, according to panelists. While vendors now offer faster and more robust storage to address performance needs, they also seek ways to reduce the complexity of storage area networks and archive solutions, executives said.

According to Garth Gibson, CTO of Panasas Inc. of San Jose, Calif., the rising popularity of Linux-based clustered computing is demanding a new storage architecture: object storage. Gibson, one of the Berkeley originators of RAID technology, said he has been working on the object-based storage concept since 1995. He said theres a "flow down from [High Performance Computing] to you and me."

Linux clusters are a byproduct of "supercomputing moving to mainstream." Gibson said his object storage technology works, having tested it with hundreds of devices. "We just need to find a way to cross the chasm. Linux clusters have [crossed over]—object storage is still early," he said.

Meanwhile, Clod Barrera, director of systems strategy for IBM Corp.s Storage Systems Division, spoke of how storage area networks (SANs) are still complex "and each vendor does their own thing."

Barrera cited continuing interoperability problems with SANs, but pointed to the recent "interesting" work by the Storage Networking Industry Association on the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S). He offered that "SAN and NAS aggregation is alive and well."

He also gave attendees a view of the companys on-demand model, a k a utility computing. On demand computing is a "business notion, not a technical one," he said, adding that "the storage guys have a year or two to figure this out."

Here are a few highlights from the panel discussions and talks presented on Monday:

  • The term "information lifecycle management" (ILM) is gaining traction in the market but that may not necessarily be a good thing for customers and vendors, noted George Symons, CTO of Legato Software, a Mountain View, Calif.-based division of EMC Corp. He said "[ILM] is overused —its not a product, but a process for managing data."

    According to Symons, companies have been doing ILM for years, "just not well" and that "we need to look at it from an application-centric view." Commenting on the path to ILM, he said "we wont get there this year from a software perspective."

    He said that storage was becoming overly complex and that customers increasingly will need help planning and architecting their storage environments. However, Symons warned that there arent a lot of services companies to help customers with that task. "We have to be careful," he said.

    Next Page: More on iSCSI, Utility Computing and ILM

    More on iSCSI, Utility

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  • Claude Lorenson, Microsoft Corp.s technical product manager for storage technologies, said that customers are still driven to reduce total cost of ownership.

    Lorenson noted that 43 percent of all servers today are in environments of 15 servers or less, and the company will address this market. Several key storage initiatives at Microsoft will be aimed at "driving SAN adoption in the mid-market, both Fibre Channel and iSCSI," he said.

    Ease of use is critical for this market, Lorenson observed, adding that "were not quite there yet."

    Lorenson also said that new storage solutions will be coming from the Redmond, Wash., software maker "in the next quarter or two."

  • In a session called "The IT Managers View," four storage companies brought customers to present their own real-world case studies of implementing new storage solutions, including several with new iSCSI-based SAN that replaced Fibre Channel installations.

    One such makeover was described by John Denardo, IT director for Eagle Creek County in Colorado. The governmental offices replaced its direct-attached storage with a Lefthand Networks Inc. IP SAN.

    "We couldnt afford a $250,000 Fibre Channel SAN," he said. Now, "disaster recovery is effortless, and our remote sites replicate nightly via DFS."

    According to Denardo, the county had hired a "high-priced consultant who really pushed hard for a combination NAS/DAS solution." Instead, he went with the IP SAN, and couldnt be happier with the results.

  • In the closing first-day session, a panel of four storage company chiefs provided attendees with a look at what the coming year may hold for the industry and the storage market.

    "Were seeing funded projects now," said Kevin Daly, CEO of Avamar Technologies Inc. of Irvine, Calif. "Thats a big change."

    Agreeing with that trend, Chris Calisi, CEO of San Diego, Calif.-based Overland Storage Inc., agreed, noting that "theres good activity in the VAR channel, with quoting activity up. New storage environments are being planned."

    "Last year, things changed. The SAN business is changing," said Larry Boucher, CEO of Alacritech Inc. of San Jose, who joined the upbeat chorus. iSCSI is really happening and will accelerate in 05."

    Boucher looked out further to a "convergence of the backplane of the computer with the backplane of the switch," the result being "even more to happen in storage."

    The executives addressed the topics of information lifecycle management and utility computing.

    "[ILM] feels like it means everything and means nothing at the same time," pondered Rick Belluzzo, CEO of Quantum Corp. of San Jose. "It will be a rocky road to deliver a solution," he added.

    Daly predicted slow acceptance of utility computing. "Its a nice topping-off feature, but we probably wont see much in the next couple years."

    When asked what are the most significant trends for the year ahead, Belluzzo said: "Tiered storage, affordable solutions, and an ever-changing, dynamic industry."

    Boucher, the technologist, said, "Were getting, finally, to a real global file system. That will have a serious effect on storage."

    Daly foresaw significant growth in storage in the SMB market, where "the most influential person is the channel guy."

    Belluzzo expanded on this SMB opportunity: "Wheres theres magic, theres margin—helping customers deal with all the complexity."

    To Calisi, this will be the year of the customer. He said storage vendors need to improve "understanding the customer, not pushing technology. We have to be careful we dont promote the hype curve."

  • In his opening address, Farid Neema of Peripheral Concepts Inc. marked the 10-year anniversary of the conference. His retrospective of industry trends over the past decade showed that some things really havent changed all that much.

    In 1994, interoperability of storage systems was a big problem, Neema said. And so it still is today.

    Ten years ago, storage vendors pointed out that management costs for a storage system totaled about 8 to 10 times the purchase price of the storage itself, Neema said. Its a cost ratio thats still often cited by vendors and analysts.

    However, over that span of time, the cost of disk storage has continued to fall significantly, while labor costs have risen. Thus, Neema suggested the management side of the equation has grown to be a very big cost culprit for storage purchases.

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