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Commentary: When it comes to enterprise storage decision-making, searchStorage columnist Jon Toigo adds his own "dollop of realism" to the many vendor and industry association claims and literature floating around the marketplace. Join him as he turns a critical eye toward the industry, and offers up his own New Year's tenets for how best to make good decisions in this climate.
The American philosopher Havelock Ellis once observed, "Most of our so-called reasoning consists of finding arguments for going on believing the way we already do." The truth of this assertion can be seen in just about any debate surrounding storage technology today.
Whether the issue is NAS versus SAN, Fibre Channel versus IP, or that Balkanized quagmire called virtualization: nearly every technology innovation of the so-called Networked Storage Era has sparked a "holy war" between competing camps of vendors and their cadre of loyal analysts and pundits.
For many technology consumers, it seems that choosing up sides, then blindly sticking with a position regardless of its deficits or caveats, has become the order of the day. Doing so, however, limits your options for addressing storage requirements.
A New Year's resolution that you may want to consider for 2002 is to embrace a more practical - more "realpolitik" - view in your approach to storage decision making. Let me explain.
First things first. To understand what realism is and why it is needed, consider the source of your current views of storage technology. Unless you arrive at technology decisions via hands-on nuts-and-bolts testing of all available options (a laborious and time-consuming activity), discerning the origins of your technology preferences may require a bit of self-examination.
If you develop your opinions based on trade press accounts, analyst reports, and other popular oracles, there are some things you should consider about how this industry works. The more you know, the better you will be able to filter fact from fiction and make intelligent decisions.
There is an informal system in place for bringing a technology to market that in large part shapes the transfer of knowledge from the vendor to the consumer. Most storage technologies are backed by a cadre of vendors, supported, in turn, by analysts and publications that derive revenue for vendor contracts or advertisements.
Once a vendor, analyst or pundit has stated his or her allegiances to a particular storage protocol or topology, deviating from the party line is tantamount to backsliding from the new faith. And, in the world of storage technology as in other political environments, there are "Talibans," otherwise known as industry associations, who dedicate themselves to ensuring that backsliding doesn't happen.
Industry associations are created to serve as technology ombudsmen, ostensibly to advance consumer education and industry standards. More often, however, they act as propagandists and, in a few cases, as the secret police of the technology cadre. They discipline the faithful, punishing those who openly question doctrine, and target non-believers who criticize the technology for a broad array of political, financial or personal attacks.
At worst, this system stifles neutral, scientific analysis of the real capabilities and deficits of a technology. The drawbacks of a technology only become known once consumers buy it, deploy it, and find it lacking in some way. Occasionally, their criticisms reach the trade press, but more often than not they are exchanged among users themselves at trade shows and in other forums (like the message boards on searchStorage). When deficits become common knowledge, the technology either dies a quiet death or industry associations "fess up" to a knowledge of the deficits and present an "evolutionary roadmap" for further enhancement of the technology intended to rectify its flaws over time. Either way, the consumer is stuck with the investment that has been made.
At best - that is to say, when there are two competing industry associations advancing alternative technologies - the system can serve as a crucible of truth. Provided that both sides observe a bit of decorum, we can all sit back and observe as the camps duke it out. As in the US legal process, we hope that truth will emerge from the contest.
The problem is that this system has not been producing reasoned discourse about relative technical merits of alternatives. Dirty tricks abound and, as in politics, the camp with the most money to spend usually wins the war of words.
Shaping the consumer view
To the storage consumer, the division of technology into competing camps is, on the one hand, comfortable and convenient -- like having a favorite sports team. We are told to stick with the team through their ups and downs, buy team merchandise and wear team colors, celebrate and commiserate with fellow fans on-line and at tailgate parties, disparage competing teams and unfair play-calling by officials, and wait for that championship season that we can lord over the heads of anyone who ever criticized our chosen team.
Backing a particular team (or storage technology) to the exclusion of all others has the advantage of simplicity. Little analysis is required if we remain oblivious to the problems in the team's own performance, playbook, or organization. Who wants to do the heavy lifting of thinking when you can just enjoy playing the part of an ardent fan.
Of course, the difference between football fan-dom and storage technology fan-dom is that the latter can produce the kind of myopia about technology options. This, in turn, can create serious problems as IT managers struggle with the twin problems of data growth and shrinking budgets.
About the author: Jon William Toigo has authored hundreds of articles on storage and technology and is one of our searchStorage experts on storage management issues. Toigo is also the author of storage books, including, "The Holy Grail of Data Storage Management."