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Is the term elastic storage a new category, or a stretch?

EMC and IBM recently launched storage products with the term “elastic” in their names. These announcements were significant for the companies and for the IT community in understanding a direction being taken for storage technology.

EMC launched Elastic Cloud Storage that incorporates ViPR 2.0 software onto three models of hardware platforms. The hardware consists of commodity x86 servers, Ethernet networking, and JBODs with high capacity disk drives. ViPR 2.0 brings support for block, object, and Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) protocol storage.

IBM’s Elastic Storage is an amalgam of IBM software solutions led by General Parallel File System (GPFS) and all the advanced technology features it provides.  The announcement included server-side caching and a future delivery of the SoftLayer Swift open source software. In addition, IBM Research developed StoreLets that allow software to be run at the edge (storage nodes in Swift) to accelerate data selection and reduce the amount of data transferred.

Elastic is not a new description or label for storage.  Amazon Elastic Block Storage or EBS has been the primary storage solution used by applications that execute in Amazon’s EC2.  Elastic is a new label from more traditional storage vendors, however.  These solutions are being associated with cloud storage and extreme scaling – termed hyperscale by EMC and high-scale, high-performance by IBM (note that IBM already uses the term Hyper-Scale with the Hyper-Scale Manager for XIV that consolidates up to 144 XIV systems).  Deployment for private/hybrid clouds is mentioned repeatedly in addition to cloud environments deployed by service providers as targets for elastic storage.

But in the world of IT, we like to fit products and solutions into categories. Doing so helps to understand and make comparisons between solutions. Categorization is also a big factor in having discussions where both parties can easily understand what is being discussed.

These elastic storage discussions are a bit more complex and require more of a description of how they are used than just a product discussion. The initial thought about EMC Elastic Cloud Storage is that it is ViPR delivered in a box. That is true but it is more than that.  The box concept doesn’t really foster the immediate understanding of what the system will be used for in IT environments.  For IBM, Elastic Storage could be seen as GPFS on a server—a solution that has already been offered as SONAS, Storwize V7000 Unified, and the IBM System X GPFS Storage Server. But again, there is more to IBM Elastic Storage than that.

So, we have a new name that may become a category.  It is still too early to tell whether that will have real traction with customers or remain a marketing term. Ultimately, it’s about IT solving problems and applying solutions. Storing and retrieving information is the most critical part of any information processing endeavor and involves long-term economic considerations. The term elastic is a new designation for storage systems, and is currently equated to using commodity servers and JBODs with custom software.  Attributes about performance, scaling, advanced features, and reliability go along with the systems and are highlighted as differentiating elements by vendors.  Elastic may be a new category, but the name is not yet sufficient to understand how it solves the problems for storing and retrieving information.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).