Hot technologies to keep your eye on

Recently, the editors of Storage magazine went searching for the most cutting-edge storage technologies. Here's what they found.

Storage magazine editors recently asked leading industry analysts and storage professionals to identify which emerging technologies hold the most immediate promise for storage managers.

The emerging technologies discussed here include continuous data protection (CDP), intelligent storage switches, storage encryption, network-attached storage (NAS) accelerators and storage virtualization. Several other storage technologies are equally interesting, but are currently in earlier phases of the adoption cycle. These include grid storage, serial-attached SCSI (SAS) and InfiniBand.

Continuous data protection
CDP -- also referred to as continuous backup -- are products that track and save information about stored data changes. In the event of a failure or data corruption, the CDP system can return to any point in the past, usually just before the storage failure or data corruption. Some CDP vendors include Mendocino Software, Revivio Inc. and XOsoft Inc. The field is becoming crowded, and larger vendors haven't weighed in yet, although they're starting to make noises.

"We are big advocates of CDP. We think it is the future of data protection," says Nancy Hurley, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. The reason: Despite decades of work on the problem, "backup is still the No. 1 headache," she says. CDP promises to eliminate that headache once and for all. In a survey of buying intentions by TheInfoPro, roughly half of the 90 managers who responded to the survey either had purchased CDP technology or plan to do so by 2006.

Up and coming

The following technologies are heating up, but are not quite ready for prime time.

Grid storage - Grid storage entails abstracting hardware and software components that deliver whatever storage an application needs at that time.

Serial-attached SCSI (SAS) - The next generation of SCSI modeled on serial ATA, SAS provides a full, dual-ported connection intended to support high-availability computing.

InfiniBand - A high-performance, low-latency data network interconnect that uses one-tenth the CPU resources of other interconnects.

Each vendor does CDP a bit differently, but the basic approach is to record every change to the stored data. You're essentially making a journal or index of the changes that are time-stamped when they're entered. When you need to restore data, you just restore, or rewind, to the point in time you want to recover.

CDP differs from point-in-time snapshots in three ways. First, you don't have to halt activity as you do with snapshots. Second, you aren't storing the changed data like snapshots, so you don't need as much disk storage. Third, you can restore to any point in the past, unlike snapshots, which are taken at specific intervals.

How hot: heating up fast.
Risk factor: medium, because the technology may fail to scale, either in the volume of data it can handle or the performance it delivers.
Buy or pass: If you need the ability to recover current data fast, go for it.

Intelligent switches
"Will intelligence in the fabric be important? Yes, but don't expect to see much for 18 to 24 months," says ESG's Hurley.

At this point, however, "There has been a ton of hype," says Arun Taneja, founder of the Taneja Group. "The only one I see who's really delivering it is Maxxan." Hurley would add Maranti and several larger switch vendors to the list, such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Computer Network Technology Corp., that have announced initiatives or have just started shipping products.

According to TheInfoPro buying trends survey, 43% plan on deploying intelligent switches by 2006.

Intelligent switches are capable of running software services that now run on the host or are built into the firmware of the disk array, such as replication, mirroring or volume management. The advantage to putting that kind of functionality on the switch is that the switch can see all the hosts and disks, regardless of the vendor. This allows an organization to consolidate services that it buys from multiple vendors, saving money on software licenses and simplifying storage management.

How hot: Warming up.
Risk factor: Still highly proprietary; the intelligent switch port costs are two-and-a-half-times higher than ordinary Fibre Channel ports.
Buy or pass: Unless the cost of services from multiple vendors is unbearable, wait.

Storage encryption
The case for storage encryption began building as storage became increasingly networked. Multiple hosts could access a shared pool of disk capacity, which increased data vulnerability. SANs, which rely on complicated zoning and LUN masking for security, aren't considered secure. Encryption ensures that even if both host and SAN security is breached, the data will remain unreadable to unauthorized parties.

Storage encryption typically is delivered as an appliance that encrypts and decrypts data as it moves in and out of storage. All the encryption capabilities are handled by the appliance, which requires little in the way of management. The challenge is to do it quickly enough so as not to impede storage performance and to be transparent to the application and the storage.

The problem is that enterprises are already spending a ton of money on security and don't want to buy yet another security product. Leading vendors include Decru Inc., Neoscale Systems Inc. and Vormetric Inc.

How hot: Slow simmer.
Risk factor: Hard to build yet another security business case.
Buy or pass: Unless auditors or regulators are putting pressure on you, wait.

NAS accelerators
NAS wide area accelerators are gaining traction on Wall Street, where they are undergoing extensive testing, reports Taneja. These products are appliances that speed up the TCP/IP connection between remote NAS storage and the main data center. The University of New Hampshire has established an interoperability lab for storage, and NAS accelerators from Actona Technologies and Tacit Knowledge Systems Inc. have achieved impressive results there, Taneja adds.

NAS accelerators work by effectively taking TCP/IP out of the WAN picture as far as storage goes. They terminate the TCP/IP connection locally and insert their own protocol, effectively removing TCP/IP's error checking and latency. Additionally, the appliance may use techniques such as difference recognition, local read/write, read-ahead capabilities, data streaming and compression to speed the transmission, all of which makes the remote NAS storage perform as if it were on the local LAN. The savings in reduced WAN costs and remote storage management can be considerable.

In addition to Tacit and Actona, many vendors are working on approaches to WAN acceleration. Vendors include DiskSites Inc., Expand Networks, NetCelera, NetScaler Inc., Network Executive Software, Orbital Data Corp., Packeteer Inc., Peribit Networks and Riverbed Technology. Some of these companies are just out of stealth mode, and are searching for their next venture capital funding, says Taneja. Be forewarned.

How hot: Warming up.
Risk factor: Many different approaches and immature companies may make choosing chancy.
Buy or pass: If you maintain file storage at many remote sites, seriously research these products and technologies.

Storage virtualization
The amount of vaporware surrounding storage virtualization is enough to turn anyone into a cynic. DataCore Software Corp., FalconStor Software Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. have offered working storage virtualization as part of their offerings for some time. But overall, the market has been long on promises, but short on actual products from major vendors. Until now.

Storage virtualization consists of a software layer that masks differences in a heterogeneous storage environment through a common interface, a common namespace and common management. It uses filesets to combine storage from different devices into common pools and virtualizes block storage.

"IBM's SAN Volume Controller (SVC) is a good, solid product," says Jon Toigo of Toigo Partners International. The SAN SVC and the SAN File System are part of IBM's Virtualization Engine Suite for Storage. "Everyone has been waiting for this for years, at least since IBM started talking about StorageTank maybe four years ago," says Mike Karp, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, CO. Unlike those who have tried to introduce storage virtualization products previously, IBM seems to understand that virtualization really isn't a product at all, but a capability that enables benefits such as lower TCO and streamlined management, Karp explains.

How hot: Was simmering, now suddenly very hot.
Risk factor: Extremely difficult to do, especially in a highly heterogeneous environment.
Buy or pass: Let the early adopters bleed a bit as they smooth out rough edges.

Buy now, pay later?
You can buy products for each of these technologies, but the products are proprietary and many of the vendors are small--a combination that raises the risk level considerably. Although the products promise big returns on investment by offering solutions to nagging problems, you need to weigh the risks with the benefits. The real question: How much of a guinea pig do you want to be?

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