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Every cloud has a green virtual lining

Buzzwords are taking over the data storage industry, so it’s probably asking way too much of storage vendors to just tell us what their products can -- and can’t -- do.

I’m about to have another Peter Finch moment -- specifically, when he played the slightly demented newscaster Howard Beale in the movie Network and exhorted the masses to proclaim, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

OK, maybe I’m not quite that ticked off and, yes, I’ve used this Peter Finch reference once before in a column. I think I may have regressed to the “mad as hell” theme because the thing that set me off the first time -- vendors carelessly tossing around marketing mumbo jumbo -- hasn’t gone away. In fact, it somehow managed to rev itself up into an even higher gear, achieving new heights of nonsense and non sequitur. But . . . “Hey, vendors, we’re not dummies!”

Now that I’ve gotten my “mad as hell” rant out of the way, let’s get down to specifics. I don’t know if storage vendors actually think we’re dummies or if they just kind of treat us that way because they don’t know any better. And it’s not that they’re cheating people or selling bad stuff or anything like that -- what they’re doing, they’re doing with words. And some of those vendors seem to live in an alternate universe where things become true just by saying them. Mostly, though, they just delude themselves and don’t fool the ones they’d really like to convince, like storage managers.

Let’s face it, storage is a tough business. Making the things on which you just store stuff sound exciting or novel isn’t easy, especially with the competition always nipping at your heels with catchier catchphrases.

But it does take a certain amount of talent to take a word or phrase and by sheer misuse (and repeated use) render it meaningless. Most data storage vendors are doing a great job with “cloud”; they’ve managed to simultaneously render it meaningless while making it impossible to define. Cloud is headed straight to the Buzzword Buzzkill Hall of Fame to take its place next to “compliance” and “green.”

“Virtual,” the poster child for storagespeak in 2010, has been nudged out of the spotlight by the first significant catchphrase of 2011 that appears to have some legs: “big data.” This is an interesting one because in the short time it’s been bandied about, its meaning has already morphed into something that’s essentially the complete opposite of what the term originally referred to. That’s record-breaking obfuscation in my book, and it should probably earn members of the tech marketing intelligentsia nominations to the Cunning Marketers Hall of Fame.

I don’t know where “big data” came from, but at first it was used fairly innocuously (and accurately) to describe really huge files like video or research data that put a strain on storage gear. But then EMC went and bought Isilon, and Joe Tucci, EMC’s top guy, said “big data” was the key to the acquisition, and that was enough to trigger an avalanche of “big data” me-too-ism. When it comes to buying stuff, EMC doesn’t screw up very often (ever?), and if Joe says “big data,” everyone listens.

And soon -- what a surprise! -- everyone had storage systems that were perfect for big data. Except now “big data” also means lots and lots of not-necessarily-really-huge files. So everyone does big data even if they don’t really do big data, and big data includes both large and small files. Got that?

We’re not out of the “big data” woods by a long shot. For some reason, a lot of analysts and consultants are on the big-data bandwagon now, and everyone’s talking about it as if it actually meant something.

But don’t worry; as soon as “big data” wears out, the buzz will shift again. I’m betting on “_aaS,” as in, something-or-other as a service. We already have SaaS, which can mean storage as a service or software as a service; IaaS, which is infrastructure as a service; and PaaS, or platform as a service. And just the other day I saw DPaaS: data protection as a service. The _aaS engine is just heating up so you can expect more and more of this stuff, especially as people start to get tired of hearing the word “cloud.”

I guess I’m just old-fashioned and expect storage vendors to push the truly unique aspects of their products, like being faster or bigger than the others, or doing as much for less money. Instead, storage marketers obscure any real outstanding qualities of their products by paying lip service to the same buzzwords that everyone else is working over. These vendors seem to think they can be all things to all people: “Sure, we do big data!” I wonder if they’ve even asked storage managers what “big data” means to them. And I wonder how storage managers would define “big data.”

Can we start talking about real features and capabilities again? When everyone uses the same term to describe things that are basically (and very obviously) unalike, it can only be confusing. Let’s try to get this stuff out of our systems once and for all and get back to reality.

So tell me again, what exactly does your Green Virtual Cloud Big Data as a Service Compliance Edition system do?

BIO: Rich Castagna ( is editorial director of the Storage Media Group.

* Click here for a sneak peek at what’s coming up in the June 2011 issue.

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