IBM Looking to 'Storlets' to Manage Object Storage

The software will enable users to more quickly and dynamically extract value from object stores while reducing bandwidth and latency costs.

IBM executives came to Boston earlier this year to unveil the company's Elastic Storage solution, Big Blue's most significant step into the increasingly competitive software-defined storage realm.

The Elastic Storage announcement was significant enough that top officials—including Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president of IBM's Systems and Technology Group and integrated supply chain business, and Jamie Thomas, general manager of storage and software-defined systems at IBM—headlined the event, which also featured several partners and customers talking about the virtues of the solution.

IBM also introduced Elastic Storage a week after EMC unveiled its ViPR 2.0 technology, helping give some shape to the burgeoning software-defined storage (SDS) market.

However, IBM also used the May 12 event—which also was Webcast—to highlight some of the work researchers at IBM Labs were doing around storage. According to some IBM officials, the announcement earlier this year of the deal to sell the company's x86 server business to Lenovo for $2.3 billion caused some confusion in the media and among customers about what IBM was doing with its storage business.

"There have been questions about IBM's commitment to storage and its importance to us," Thomas told eWEEK.

To answer those questions, several IBM researchers were on a panel discussion at the event in Boston discussing some of the wide-ranging work IBM Labs was doing in storage technology. One of the projects discussed in some detail involved the development of "storlets," a research prototype that is built atop OpenStack software and designed to make managing object storage easier and more flexible.

Object storage has been around for several years, but Michael Factor, Distinguished Engineer in research at IBM Labs in Haifi, Israel, said managing such storage can be difficult and frustrating. With object storage, data is stored as objects, which contain not only the data—such as documents, movies and images—but also the associated metadata that does such jobs as describes the data's content, who created the data, how the object is related to other objects and how the data should be managed.

IBM researchers are using software-defined principles to develop technology—storlets—that will make it easier for customers to more quickly and dynamically get value from the objects. For example, through the storlets, users would be able to extract greater detail in images. If a doctor wanted to get information from a medical image on his tablet, rather than having the entire image downloaded, the storlets software would enable him to extract only the part of the image that he needed and have it sent to the device.

A key to the storlets software is that the stored data can be processed locally, rather than having to be transferred from the storage server via the network to another computer to be processed and then sent back to the storage server, Factor said during a talk at the Boston event.

"We bring the computation to the data, instead of bringing the data to the computation," he said.