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Users to storage vendors: Pass the aspirin

Mark Lewis, Site Editor

Vendors and analysts love to pontificate on what they think are the biggest problems in the storage industry -- and they've certainly got their gripes. But, do the issues they expound upon match what causes users -- the person in the trenches running the data center day-in and day-out -- the most pain?

You bet.

Case in point: In a recent informal poll of SearchStorage users the number one headache is the lack of interoperability among vendors' products.

"The greatest issue associated with high-volume mass storage is standardization and compatibility," said Allen Hess, from Photon Research Associates in Arlington, Va.

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Hess added that any hardware technology a user like him selects should come with a reasonable lifespan and an ease of compatibility when a company decides to "undertake modernization". While Hess said he believes this should be par for the course, up until this point, it has been a triple-bogey for him.

"This has not been the case with changing hardware interfaces, tape formats, optical "standards", and interoperability among hardware/software solutions," said Hess.

Hess also noted that he feels lower volume storage is easier to change and tinker with because it takes less time and effort to convert.

Apparently, mainframe users are having major problems with EBCDIC (Extended Binary-Coded Decimal Interchange Code) conversion -- another compatibility issue.

"Why is it after 20 years [mainframe and non-mainframe] are still separate and inaccessible to the other," asked Calvin Lee, Data Administrator for Hawaiian Electric Company in Honolulu.

"EMC once told me the goal was in sight," he said. "The Holy Grail of storage was within [the vendor's] grasp -- to let the mainframe read ASCII storage and to let PC's read countkeydata EBCDIC. Directly. Well, that was five years ago. IBM's been promising it even longer.

Lee has been working with a mainframe for 32 years (to which he exclaims: "Oh my God!"). He started out punching round holes on a Univac keypunch machine before graduating to FortranIV and Assembly programming. He said he longs for the days of 'BALR and Shift Left Logical' and the days "in seventh heaven at the mere thought of a kilobyte of storage".

Lee said that companies like EMC and IBM are making a living selling DASD (Direct access storage device) to both mainframe and non-mainframe users. He said allowing easier communication between the mainframe and non-mainframes would be "jeopardizing revenue streams" and that the companies would not want to put that in the balance "certainly not for a user".

Lee isn't the only user befuddled by EBCDIC issues. Ian Mills, a systems planner for the Ministry of Planning in Kuwait, is experiencing similar issues.

"Recently we were visited by an organization promising to give ASCII to EBCDIC translation and before they withdrew I asked if they could identify the occurrence of the known character translation difficulties so that these can be marked for manual correction. Currently the entire data file moved from an EBCDIC to ASCII data set must be reviewed for errors," said Mills.

Mills also said that a particular "problem area" is "new solutions mostly wind up adding a further layer of complications."

Users noted it has been hard to get support from a storage vendor or the system or OS vendor if there are different platforms at work, because they may be competitors.

But, Lee summed up the feelings of many storage professionals.

"At a certain point you really don't care who does it as long as it gets done, and works. That said, I understand and appreciate the importance of competition and the role it plays in building the better mousetrap and lowering cost. I would also be hesitant to trade in the Towers of Babel for Saddam Hussein."


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