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Grid computing quietly takes over the storage world

While you may not have noticed, grid computing is already making an appearance in the storage market, and will have a much bigger impact over time than most may realize.

The storage grid is here, but did you notice? Probably not.

Like virtualization, grid computing will make a huge impact on the technology that we use. But most people, even those as tuned into the IT market as the readers of this column, need not pay much attention. Grid computing and virtualization will transform the server and storage market from a collection of independent devices into an interconnected team of elements. Most initial grid products look like homogenous clusters, but grid technology promises to eventually integrate most data center devices into a heterogeneous whole.

IBM made a big grid-related splash on the storage world with their Collective Intelligent Bricks (CIB) concept, first discussed in 2003 under the "IceCube" name. Each brick contained a CPU, some memory, some disks and a capacitive coupling system allowing it to communicate with neighboring bricks. Though IBM's decision to use water to cool the bricks drew away some of the attention, it was the scalability of this Lego block approach that caused a stir. While there is much promise in this design, IBM has given no hints about production.

A more realistic product was introduced in 2002 by Spinnaker Networks. Their SpinServer NAS product could combine the resources of hundreds of small devices into an extreme-performance unit. Network Appliance acquired Spinnaker in 2003, promising to base their next-generation filer around the company's parallel server concept.

EMC, too, has grid technology in their Centera CAS device and, to a lesser extent, Celerra NAS server. Other grid storage products are already on the market from EqualLogic, Isilion, ONStor and Panasas. The most impressive of these will allow a heterogeneous set of devices to intelligently move data from one to another based on performance requirements or other metrics. It seems likely that Hitachi will extend its TagmaStore virtualization technology into more of a peer-to-peer grid as well.

As you can see, grid computing concepts are working their way into the storage world. Soon, most enterprise storage products will be able to be massed together as a single logical unit, both in terms of management and functionality.

But will you notice? Probably not.

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