Merrill Lynch CTO: We need a storage operating system

SANTA BARABARA, CA - Users have a huge opportunity to enjoy big cost savings in storage management, but standards wars, customer lock-in strategies and inconsistent pricing policies are frustrating them, according to a top Merrill Lynch IT executive.

Merrill Lynch CTO John McKinley, Jr. told attendees at his company's Storage Technology Conference here this week that operating systems must move out of the server and into the network as storage growth outstrips every other kind of technology investment at his company. Until then, users are being forced to do too much of the integration work themselves to make up for lack of cohesive standards.

`` I am a prime contractor and I don't want to be a prime contractor,'' he said. ``The company that provides good [storage management] software to me will be my prime contractor and will own the relationship with me.''

McKinley said about 80% of Merrill Lynch's 300T-bytes of storage is still handled on traditional architectures and that the company needs a ``storage operating system'' to handle the rapid migration of storage to networks. Merrill Lynch has already put about 20T-bytes of storage on a Fibre Channel-based storage area network (SAN) and is outsourcing another four terabytes per month of SAN volume.

However, ``Storage is also the least efficiently managed resource in my organization,'' with 50% to 60% of the company's distributed storage going unused, he said. The promise is that SANs allows users to get back control of their disks and use them as they want. Ultimately, McKinley said he wants to uncouple storage from servers completely, making it easy to mix and match storage and servers as environments change.

But many hurdles exist. Among the factors McKinley cites as holding back progress toward a truly heterogeneous storage environment are:

  • Lack of operating system support. No operating system is truly SAN-aware and that means vendors are building SAN architectures using proprietary tools. `` We need much more intelligent strage fabric than we have today,'' he said. ''We're at DOS 1.0 and I want MVS and Solaris.''

  • Vendor lock-in. Vendors are fighting religious wars over standards and protocols in an effort to own the SAN market, McKinley said. The result is that users are caught in the middle. Hardware standards are making good progress, but software standards are still a mess.

  • Convoluted pricing schemes. Each vendor prices SAN storage differently, leaving it to the user to untangle the mess, he said.

  • Lack of skills. `` Heterogeneous SANs are very hard to build and the skill demands on the client side are very high,'' he said. Compounding the problem is the lack of good management tools, which makes SAN configuration and management an onerous process.

But progress is being made. Hardware standards are coming together, the industry is rallying around SANs as a concept and equipment costs continue to plummet. Users and vendors both realize that there are huge economies to be realized from separating storage and servers on the network and that goal is unleashing a torrent of innovation.

Ultimately, the industry will consolidate and stabilize, McKinley said. But for now, ``It's the wild west out there.''

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