If you asked most storage fortune tellers what the future data center would look like, it's a good bet the word "autonomic" would be somewhere in the prediction.
The concepts behind autonomic computing and storage as a utility certainly came up often enough among the six panelists who recently discussed the future of the data center at Storage Decisions.
All agreed the time has come for complexity to be removed from data center operations. Most also envisioned the future data center as a 'black box' that offers a bundle of diverse storage services to an organization's internal customers, all while masking the complexity of the underlying structures.
Marc Staimer, founder of Dragonslayer Consulting, said that ultimately, you want the data center to provide a service layer where users "don't tell you what applications, servers or brands they want." Instead, you should arrive at the point where they tell you what type of storage services they want and what quality of service levels they need.
Steve Duplessie, founder of the Enterprise Storage Group, broke down the concept of storage as a utility even further. "At the end of the game, we become the phone company," he said, claiming the phone company offers a variety of services to end users, without end users ever becoming aware of the type of hardware or software required to furnish the service. "The phone company doesn't manage each gizmo. They've figured out all they really care about is how to make money."
In effect, IT "becomes the black box. Inside the black box becomes this collection of all sorts of network assets," Duplessie said.
Citing some of his company's initiatives toward autonomic computing, Brian Truskowski, general manager of storage software at IBM's systems group, agreed with the other panelists that the current environment is much too complex. "We need to focus on simplifying the IT environment," he said. Truskowski also went on to describe how the use of storage management tools today could save data centers up to $80,000 a year.
Scott Green, of HP's Network Storage Solutions Group, took a different approach to the autonomic computing equation. He broke it down into three types of changes he said need to occur before you can usher in a new operational paradigm in the data center. These changes are in the area of standards, automation and adaptiveness.
One of Green's suggestions to attendees? Look at the business process that's driving your infrastructure needs. He also urged the audience to ask questions such as, "How much capacity do I need?" and "What level of high availability do I require?"
Two end users rounding out the panel said storage vendors today hold many of the keys to moving IT towards a better data center. But, both cautioned that allying themselves with one vendor alone was an unlikely scenario.
John Blackman, systems architect in Wells Fargo's emergent technologies group, said, "I don't believe that any one vendor's solution will provide the data center as a true service for our end users." Richard Nowak, director of systems engineering at United Air Lines, reiterated this point as well, while stressing the need for vendors to help today's data center in simplifying such tasks as provisioning storage and performing backups.
"We need to be able to rely on the vendors," Nowak said, "But, I'm not going to rely on one vendor. Sorry. If one vendor won't sell it to me cheap enough, I need to [be able to] get it from another vendor."
Other links to the full session proceedings are available here.
About the moderator: Mark Schlack is the editor-in-chief of Storage magazine and the editorial director of TechTarget's Storage Media Group.
This was first published in September 2003