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IBM's Sanford sees storage nirvana

IBM's storage chief Linda Sanford said she has seen the future of storage and it includes products that take care of themselves.

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- IBM's Linda Sanford, the senior vice president and group executive of IBM's storage systems group, told Storage Networking World attendees that she's seen the future of storage, and it's autonomic. In fact, Sanford went so far as to claim that autonomic storage was the "nirvana of storage" -- an ultimate goal for the evolution of today's storage architectures.

Sanford described this future storage model as one that could ultimately heal and manage itself -- eliminating many of the currently complex storage management tasks in which administrators now find themselves embroiled. She indicated that IBM would be announcing new products "soon" that allow customers to benefit from some autonomic storage technologies.

Such an autonomic model is similar to the human body's ability to automatically monitor and control functions of its autonomic system such as heart rate and breathing, she said. Sanford also claimed that autonomic storage is a natural outcropping of a larger IT push into grid computing which will make many, future computing functions available like a utility to the network.

While quoting IBM's autonomic server project, eLiza, along with other grid computing projects with the Department of Energy and others currently underway, Sanford took time to acknowledge that true autonomic storage architectures are still years away from reality.

In the meantime, she urged the storage industry as a whole to take steps now to reduce the complexity of managing storage systems. "Storage environments today are unwieldy to manage," she said. According to Sanford, storage administrators currently face a variety of management headaches, including file systems with different languages, disparate volume managers, and policies that don't remain with specific files when they are transferred from server to server.

What's needed short-term, she said, is a "next generation of storage model" which must be open and support open standards, must include virtualization, should have a single file system to share data residing on storage devices, and should provide much more comprehensive policy-based management features.

Attendee Jim Velbeck agreed with the need to develop a single file system. Velbeck, a senior LAN analyst at Cleveland, Ohio-based Rockwell Automation said, "You're going to need more unity. We can't just go on with NFS over here and CIFS over there."

In terms of its openness, Sanford urged the support and development of industry-standard APIs, hinting at the industry debate currently afoot with EMC who has been moving forward with its own storage management middleware API work on AutoIS. "The new model must be open and not a proprietary creation of any one vendor," she said, and urged storage vendors not to consider the exchange of proprietary APIs.

In discussions on the need for providing one single file system, Sanford said such a system would share actual data residing on the devices, whether that be file or block data. She indicated IBM's Storage Tank -- which has experienced its own rollout delays and some industry criticisms -- provides this type of single file system functionality and is currently in alpha testing with customers.

Sanford acknowledged that Storage Tank has been delayed due to navigating some "uncharted waters" to prototype functionality not previously attempted. She also indicated that it's undergone heavy testing and iterations to ensure it performs up to customer expectations.

When can customers expect to see a Storage Tank rollout date? All she would say was that "we'll introduce Storage Tank when it's ready to perform flawlessly for our customers."

In the meantime, what did she recommend customers and the industry do now to move toward storage nirvana? For customers, Sanford said moving from direct-attached storage (DAS) to networked storage (NAS or SAN) is a "great start and all doable today."

The next logical step for the industry is to take networked data and move it to a single file system that allows customers to share their data. Finally, she urged the introduction of policy-based management so the ease of administration goes up,.

"Customers may evolve to the new model over time, but can start now," she said.

More information:

Read more about IBM's eLiza project.

See other views on the future of storage management from Storage Management 2002.

See our search results page for more on IBM Storage Tank.

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