Call it utility computing, on-demand, autonomic or anything you want. It's the hot concept in storage and the data center as a whole, but the gurus and end users agree that, over the next five years, the complexity of storage networks may be both a catalyst and a curse in getting to the on-demand Promised Land.
"I don't know when this happens, whether it's 800 years or three years from now, but at the end of the game, we become the phone company," said Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst for Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Storage Group Inc., saying the phone company offers a variety of services without end users being aware of the hardware or software required behind the scenes. "In effect, IT becomes the black box. Inside the black box is this collection of all sorts of magic processing assets," Duplessie said.
So how will storage effect the overall computing environment? John Blackman, systems architect for Wells Fargo's emergent technologies group, said simply, "Data access affects applications."
Blackman said for data centers to become a utility service technologies like InfiniBand, blade servers and Linux will be a necessity. He said technologies the vendor community is buzzing around about haven't excited the end user community.
"The storage market is going to become the bottleneck," Blackman said. "Storage [vendors] have to come to the realization that InfiniBand, if it plays in the server market, has to play in the storage market. You can't get at data [through] a small pipe."
IBM has invested billions of dollars in its "On-Demand" computing initiative and Brian Truskowski, general manager of storage software, has no doubt that data centers will change, despite the roadblocks along the way.
"We need to build a flexible architecture that's integrated, virtualized, open and autonomic," Truskowski said. "But the picture is a lot more complicated in practice than design. It's difficult to build and manage a heterogeneous infrastructure today. A lot of the technology that's out there was developed in a direct-attached storage world."
So how do we morph the data center into a phone company? According to Truskowski, virtualization and automation will do a lot of the heavy lifting by carving out logical units from physical assets.
Marc Staimer, founder of Dragonslayer Consulting, said some of the technologies coming, like grid computing, are potentially revolutionary. The concept allows for cooperation between heterogeneous arrays with different processors and instant access to data, but there's a disconnect. He said servers are flying down the path faster than storage.
"Automation needs to increase, complexity needs to decrease, and the technologies need to catch up with one another," he said.
Today, deploying a new application is a manual process, but it shouldn't require experts with Jedi skills to go into the backroom and provision storage for days on end. Once computing and storage assets are put in one big pool, end users won't have to test the waters for very long before diving headfirst into utility computing.
"We shouldn't care what the vendor has unless it fosters more functionality. That's the type of environment we need to get into so we can sleep at night," said Richard Novak, director of systems engineering for United Airlines.
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