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IT executives want virtualized, commoditized, utility storage

A panel of IT executives at Storage Networking World (SNW Spring 2010) calls for utility pricing, virtualization of storage and less vendor lock-in; remain lukewarm on public cloud storage.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- IT executives at SNW Spring 2010 called for more virtualization, commoditization and utility pricing...

of storage, although not necessarily through a cloud model.

During a panel session Tuesday, AllState Insurance Company vice president of technology solutions Anthony Abbattista, A&E Television Networks CIO Martin Gomberg and Kroll CIO Jeff Kubacki kicked around their ideas for what storage networks should look like in the data center of today and the future.

"For me, the technology with most promise is the virtualization of storage," A&E's Gomberg said. "We store very big things. As a television company, our digital asset management storage is already in the 45 PB range. And these are video files, so deduplication doesn't help us. It's all about how we can reduce the cost and expand [capacity]."

Gomberg said he considers virtualization and data center consolidation "two parts of the same problem. The big problem in [the television] industry is IP convergence. That which was stored on video tape is not digitally stored, and that which was delivered via broadcast is now delivered via Internet pipes, so we have all of this convergence going on, and IT and broadcast are becoming one technology. The only way we'll be able to manage it is with the marriage of those two kinds of technologies."

Kroll's Kubacki pointed to a data migration project using Hitachi Data Systems' USP-V arrays that his firm will soon undertake as an example of how virtualization can help.

"We finished our file server virtualization, now it's time to do storage virtualization," he said. "We just bought a product that's going to allow us to move terabytes of data from my drives now that are fully depreciated and ready to send back. It will cut our time in half to migrate from the old stuff to the new. I can get it done in a couple of months instead of almost a year. So speed is one thing, and sitting behind that appliance I can put EMC or Hitachi or anybody's storage."

AllState's Abbattista envisions a storage network of commoditized interchangeable parts. "I like to think of it as a services-oriented architecture," he said. "There are movable chunks and you can buy a whole bunch of this or a whole bunch of that and have the integration layer to do that. If you want to move a tier of storage around, it would be more of a plug-and-play concept. I think there's going to be a lot more of commodity-based buying. And the work will be around the integration of components."

A&E's Gomberg said he'd rather not deal with too many components. Following a merger with The History Channel last year, A&E relocated its data centers to a colocation facility, "largely because we're interested in getting rid of power and cooling issues," he said. "The data center of the future is an outsourced data center."

That would never work for risk consultancy firm Kroll, Kubacki said, because it handles too much sensitive customer data.

"My business needs are different," he said. "If you are putting trust in our business to do some kind of discovery for you, you're sending us your Exchange database, your documents, your audio files. And you are paranoid, as you should be, about security. I know we are paranoid about security. So today we like having control of our own data centers."

[A public cloud] is not in my short-term interest because I'm concerned about security. I'm not ready to give up control of my data.
Jeff Kubacki
Kubacki said he would like more control over the costs of his storage .

"I hate having so much fixed cost, so I need variable cost and I only want to pay for what I use for that month," he said. "I want it on my premise; I have a huge need for high compute. I probably want to standardize on one or two providers. I've done a lot of that simplification the past few years and will probably continue doing that. But I need a lot of storage, a lot of compute, and I only want to pay for it when I need it."

The three agreed that public cloud storage has limited benefits, although AllState's Abbattista said he's looking into it for deep archiving.

"We're investigating that," he said. "That's going to largely be a dollars and cents discussion because with the right sites and right architecture, you can archive your own site. So we'll make an economic decision around deep archive."

Kroll's Kubacki said of the cloud, "it's not in my short-term interest because I'm concerned about security. I'm not ready to give up control of my data."

A&E's Gomberg added: "We're not there yet in terms of cloud-based storage either. We've done a little bit with some of the websites that we're launching, but it's more of an experiment at this point."

They also agreed that it helps to be agile when dealing with storage vendors. AllState's Abbattista said his goal is to avoid lock-in, or what he calls "stickiness," with vendors.

"I'll look for vendors that aren't being too sticky," he said. "Are they adhering to standards? Are they playing with other vendors? The ability to plug and play, and adherence with standards is what we look at first. If they start giving us, 'You have to buy it all from us or it doesn't work,' that's a showstopper."

A&E's Gomberg said he avoids lock-in by limiting contracts to one year. "We make decisions quickly, and we change directions based on where technologies are going," he said. "We just finished a large VoIP implementation and that's changed a whole bunch of functional things in terms of vendor relationships that would've been constraining if we allowed our contracts to dictate how long we were locked in."

Kroll's Kubacki said he limits the number of vendors he deals with, but won't get down to only one. "I have a primary vendor and now a secondary vendor for servers and storage," he said. "I used to have one storage vendor, but now I have at least two and it's helped from a negotiating perspective."

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