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Translating those misleading data storage terms

Buying storage gear can be confusing, but if you put some effort into learning the real meaning behind vendors' data storage terms, it could also be a lot of fun.

When you're listening to a storage vendor pitching their products, do you sometimes get the feeling that it would be handy to have a translator nearby to figure out what they're really saying or selling?

I get briefed by vendors frequently, and I often feel like I'm stuck in a foreign language film without subtitles. I see their lips moving and hear words coming out, but sometimes I just can't understand what they mean.

Part of the problem may be that every vendor is singing the same tune. It seems these days that it's a bad thing to have what used to be known as a unique selling proposition. (Remember that concept?) Apparently, in the storage biz today, unique is out and everyone is chanting the same cloud/virtual/big data/software-defined mantra. Occasionally, a vendor will try to separate itself from the pack with some head-scratching terminology like this beauty from Hitachi Data Systems: "business-defined IT." It seems to me that IT has managed to hang around for about 70 years only because business defines its mission. Who else would? But I give kudos to Hitachi for bravely declaring that somewhat obvious fact.

If you're a beleaguered IT manager -- or worse, a beleaguered storage manager -- these song-and-dance routines only serve to make your work tougher. As a public service, I'll provide some helpful translation for a few of the most misleading terms being bandied about.

Cloud enabled. This one's tough, but I think it means that the product being described as "cloud enabled" could be a cloud, that is, if it had to be. Or, maybe when it grows up, it'll become a cloud. Vendors using this term want you to think you're looking at a cloud product when you're really regarding something that might -- with the proper amount of rigging, nipping and tucking -- eventually link to a cloud service or cloud software layer. Caveat emptor: The rigging, nipping and tucking will likely be left up to you to figure out.

Big data. This one is a classic, on its way to becoming a true IT icon. The way vendors toss around the term, big data has come to mean more data than you have today and can reasonably anticipate handling in the near future. So it's all about how the amount of data we tend to hang onto is growing at an unprecedented rate, right? Not quite. The term originally referred to data that was dimensionally big, like huge video files. Then it morphed into lots of files. Now it means, well, it seems to mean just about everything. But if your company has millions (billions?) of bits of data that it must somehow correlate to squeeze out its hidden intelligence, then you probably have a bona fide big data issue. If you just have a lot of data and no place to put it, then you probably have an old-fashioned capacity issue.

Software defined. This one is too easy, and has been my favorite whipping boy for a while, so I'll simply say that software has always defined everything in computing. Hardware just is; software does.

Convergence. This is one of my favorites because it comes right out of the IT playbook circa 1985. Since the minicomputer and then the PC came on the scene, IT has been like an accordion player at a polka party. First it squeezes the bellows in, centralizing all computing resources for efficiency and cost savings, and then it expands the bellows and decentralizes IT for efficiency and cost savings. Today, we have convergence that features single-rack bundles of storage, compute and switching, with maybe a hypervisor added to the mix. Tomorrow, we'll have the opposite when deconvergence becomes the rage.

Virtual. I defy you to find one product description from any vendor for any product that doesn't use the word virtual or a version of it. I'm particularly enthralled when applications are referred to as virtual orvirtualized. Does that mean they don't actually exist? The online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines virtual as "being such in essence or effect though not formally recognized or admitted." The next time a vendor uses virtual to describe its product, ask them to tell you what's not real about the product.

I think I've only scratched the surface here, so please drop me a line and share any strange storage language you've heard when shopping for storage gear. Now I've got to run. There's yet another vendor on the line with a converged cloud-enabled, software-defined system that is going to solve all my big data problems -- virtually, of course.

About the author:
Rich Castagna is editorial director of TechTarget's Storage Media Group.

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