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Enterprise data storage beyond 2010: What's cooking in academic R&D labs

Storage vendors have partnerships with universities for early research on the next decade's technology. EMC, NetApp and LSI give us a peek inside their academic research programs.

This is the time of year when people in the technology industry give us their predictions of what's coming in the next year, but some vendors are already working with academic institutions on ideas that won't come to fruition for at least another 18 months. Enterprise data storage vendors LSI Corp., NetApp Inc. and EMC Corp. have interesting projects underway to create research and development for future waves of enterprise data storage and data management technologies.

LSI and Wichita State University: Next-generation storage controllers, security

LSI and Wichita State University (WSU) in Kansas partnered this year to open LSI's first storage-focused research facility on the WSU campus. Cisco Systems Inc. also has a relationship with WSU for a networking research center on campus. LSI and Cisco will donate equipment, including storage controllers, disk arrays and Fibre Channel and Ethernet switches, to WSU's new Center for Storage Networking Research.

LSI's Engenio enterprise data storage division has a facility in Wichita, and WSU associate provost and chief information officer Ravi Pendse said the university is preparing to offer certification training in storage management to students in addition to conducting research. "Training and workshops will be held at least once a month," he said. "Our first workshop was on virtualization at the opening [of the center Dec. 8], and the next one will be on cloud storage."

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LSI chief architect and Engenio fellow Bret Weber said research goals will focus on next- generation storage controllers, specifically "how to make sure storage systems can continually add storage and increase the number of IOPS and bandwidth out of the system as they scale up," as well as making storage devices more efficient. "Everyone's data center is bursting at the seams," he said. "Greener storage is a real key area right now."

LSI and WSU are also looking into cloud storage. Graduate student Amarnath Jasti said he is working on next-generation data security technology for the cloud.

"The challenge is that in the cloud [storage] world, everything isn't controlled by the same entity, including security," he said. "Security profiles that follow data as it moves, along with authentication, authorization and encryption, all need to be researched. Standardization is also an absolute must on this."

NetApp and UCSD focus on troubleshooting

While LSI and WSU are just beginning their program, a collaborative effort between the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and NetApp is closer to finding its way into production applications within NetApp.

According to UCSD professor Yuanyuan Zhou, she and graduate student Wihang Jiang have been working with NetApp to improve the classification and diagnosis of system bugs within NetApp technical support. What began with a research project using NetApp "real world" troubleshooting data to locate patterns and correlations among system log reports has spawned a startup company, PatternInsight. PatternInsight's software, developed through the UCSD research program, identifies signatures among large amounts of troubleshooting data to locate common root causes of problems and potentially identify trends NetApp can then proactively fix.

A NetApp spokesperson said the vendor is evaluating PatternInsight's software for production use. "NetApp is now evaluating PatternInsight's Patch Minor tool, which helps check if a software defect has been patched in all given versions of code," the spokesperson wrote in an email. "NetApp is also looking into how to leverage PatternInsight's technology to automatically classify and quickly resolve customer problems from storage system logs."

MIT and EMC look to information sharing and cloud storage

This year, EMC opened a new research facility in Cambridge, Mass., and signed on as a corporate sponsor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)'s Media Lab.

MIT Media Lab associate director Andrew Lippman said EMC is looking to piggyback on early research MIT is conducting into "the intersection of technology and human activity," but that MIT is not developing products for EMC specifically. "We're taking the first crack at ideas," Lippman said. "We seldom bring problems up to the level of industrial strength."

However, EMC is keenly interested in research MIT is currently conducting into how information is shared among devices and people. EMC Research Cambridge director Rob Masson said this could potentially have three main interrelated applications: consumer-level storage; virtual private clouds among constituencies of customers; and a "secure reliable platform for information in the healthcare industry."

Lippman said the MIT Media Lab just moved into a new facility and is working on building an "open information structure" for the building. "One of the ways we think about that is as a way of evolving and building a new form of cloud, as a personal utility or resource rather than a corporate economy, " he said.

Particularly in healthcare, this type of information management will become essential as medical records go digital, Lippman and EMC officials said. "Storage is no longer just a file drawer, anymore than your brain is a bit bucket," Lippman said. "So we're looking at how to add a brain to the bit buckets."

One example of new information-sharing paradigms being worked on by the lab is, which geographically pinpoints reports of illnesses. "Sometimes that's a faster way to spot an epidemic than waiting for an official diagnosis," Lippman said, though he acknowledged one of the problems HealthMap is wrestling with is the potential for false-positives. "You've really got to analyze the data and get in there early."

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