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Xiotech predicts storage crisis, will tell us how to solve it later

Xiotech put out an intriguing press release yesterday, headlined “IT MANAGERS EXPRESS CONCERN ABOUT STORAGE SCALABILITY AND CAPACITY.” It discusses survey results from end users establishing that reliability is a key feature when considering storage systems (I personally prefer the ones that crash all the time, but maybe that’s just me), and an ominous quote from Xiotech’s CTO:

“The industry is on pace for a data storage crisis in the next few years,” predicts Steve Sicola, chief technology officer at Xiotech. “The cost of adding a gigabyte of storage is dropping nicely every year, but the cost of managing, protecting and servicing that storage continues to grow. Drives are the most numerous constituent of data centers, and with that have the largest probability of failure. If demand for storage continues at the expected pace and nothing is done, we may see a significant increase in data loss and accelerating cost inefficiencies.”

Thinking Xiotech may have joined Carnegie Mellon University and Google in blowing the whistle on drive reliability specs produced by manufacturers, I hopped on the phone with Sicola this morning. The call began with compelling candor. “Drive makers and systems vendors may say all drives are standard, but they don’t all talk the same way,” Sicola said. “People don’t see the problems that are already happening because big systems houses are trying to make money on both the front-end and the back-end.”

So are we saying that big systems vendors are covering for drive manufacturers even more than the Carnegie-Mellon or Google reports already led us to believe? Was there a heretofore undiscovered problem with drives Xiotech wants to warn us about? “It’s not one specific problem with drives, it’s when you add up a lot of drives in one system that you have a higher potential for failures, and more time spent addressing drive failures,” Sicola clarified. Ah. Hasn’t storage growth been raising the potential for failures over the last couple of years? Isn’t this why we have RAID 6 and clustered systems and. . . .
That’s when we got to the heart of the matter. Xiotech is also coming out with an approach to addressing storage growth, built on IP acquired from Seagate’s Advanced Storage Architecture (ASA) group in November. This itself isn’t news, either. We covered that acquisition when it happened.

Now thinking that the press release was a lead-in to a deeper discussion about what ASA will do and how Xiotech is developing it, I began asking questions along those lines. To my surprise, at that point, you’d have thought I had initiated this call, with the goal of getting Xiotech to divulge trade secrets. No comment, no comment, no comment. No comment on what specifically ASA will do to provide better storage reliability, no comment on when we’ll see ASA released by Xiotech, beyond “later this year.”

“So,” I asked, “until that happens, isn’t Xiotech one of those systems vendors making money on unreliable back-ends, too?”

“We see this problem really exploding in the next few years,” Sicola clarified again. “Xiotech has done a lot today to ensure balanced configurations and has limited the size of its systems. I’d be more concerned about big systems vendors like EMC and Hitachi that are packing in so many drives, which is like trying to herd 1000 cats.”

So to review, the news today seems to be that Xiotech is eventually coming to the rescue of PB-plus shops dealing with reliability issues. Sometime soon-ish. As to how they’ll rescue you. . .well, you’ll find out when they get here. Hopefully.

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