A storage Thanksgiving message
By Jon William Toigo
With Thanksgiving just a few weeks away, it is a good time to reflect on the blessings that we have received throughout the past year -- especially those from the storage technology industry.
One that springs to mind is the universal adoption of a common storage management standard by all storage vendors. Unfortunately, however, this hasn't happened. While there has been a lot of lip service paid to the Common Information Management (CIM) model at Storage Network Industry Association (SNIA), no storage product vendor has actually instrumented its products with CIM support. Storage management in a heterogeneous environment remains a kludge -- the problem is addressed by a mixture of products from an assortment of software companies, none of which do very well the jobs we really need them to do: automating management tasks so that more storage can be managed by fewer people. Oh well, maybe next Thanksgiving.
Perhaps, then, for this holiday, we can comfort ourselves in the knowledge that real SANs have finally arrived in the market -- highly scalable storage platforms delivering full interoperability of heterogeneous storage and server platforms across a true network characterized by in-band management and native intelligence. (Whew!) Sadly, however, this is not the case. The plumbing wars continue. Fibre Channel still lacks the fabric services promised by the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) that would make an FC SAN look and feel more like a true network, and less like a switched set of point-to-point connections. On the other side of the fence, September has come and gone and the Internet Engineering Task Force's IP Storage Working Group has still not delivered a final standard specification for iSCSI-based SANs. Debates among designers published on the working group's e-mail reflector suggest that we should not expect a final iSCSI standard anytime soon. Real SANs remain a blessing for another year perhaps.
Vendors like BlueArc have been reporting operations-per-second test data to demonstrate how they outperform EMC, Network Appliance, and every other competitor. It would be nice if Intel's Iometer tool, which BlueArc uses in its testing, came with a comprehensive, real-world testing regimen and methodology to prevent its misuse by marketing types. Alas, in the absence of the following, such comparison testing is prone to error: (1) A certified "working set" that takes into account differences in storage product architecture, as well as real-world workload demands; and, (2) A disciplined testing methodology that ensures that tests are applied consistently and accurately across numerous platforms. In the absence of this type of working set and methodology, vendor-reported results should be taken with a grain of salt.
This is not to suggest that no blessings have been forthcoming this year from the storage industry. I, personally, can think of four...
Thanks for Avnet Enterprise Solutions' Storage Maximizer
First, Avnet Enterprise Solutions, a national reseller/integrator headquartered in Tempe, Ariz, is getting ready to roll out a new service called Storage Maximizer that we should all be thankful for. Storage Maximizer attacks storage costs by providing customers with a fixed-price contract that will enable them to purchase storage on an as-needed basis with just in time delivery on a fixed-term basis. It's the right idea at the right time.
The strategy addresses a clear-cut problem: How to scale storage in response to burgeoning data without shelling out big bucks for capacity that is not yet required.
For the past couple of years, most vendors have been selling companies more capacity than they needed -- citing the inevitability of storage growth to justify the purchase. Some have tried to sweeten the sale of oversized products by enabling customers to pay for just what they currently use. The customer is then charged to activate unused capacity as the need arises.
The gotcha in this strategy is that the customer must pay today's prices for storage that will not be used until a future date, when technology may have changed and storage prices will almost certainly have dropped.
Prior to Avnet Enterprise Solutions' innovation, this approach was the only game in town. Customer acquisition processes were simply not nimble enough to enable just in time storage purchases.
The Avnet Enterprise Solutions approach is a "future's contract" for storage acquisition that allows customers, aided by Avnet Enterprise Solutions, to add storage at the prevailing price at the time of deployment. It is a hedge against early obsolescence, product lock-in, and price inflexibility.
The Storage Maximizer service from Avnet Enterprise Solutions only supports Compaq storage products for now, but spokespersons for the company are aggressively pursuing the cooperation of other storage product vendors in the program. We can thank Avnet Enterprise Solutions for this innovation, which will surely be emulated by other reseller/integrators in time. For more information, check out Avnet Enterprise Solution's website at http://www.es.avnet.com/.
Thanks for the DAFS Collaborative
In the realm of storage standards development, we can thank the Direct Access File System (DAFS) Collaborative for finalizing the DAFS protocol on time and in full. Demonstrations of the protocol -- which enables high-speed block storage (e.g., database) operations to be performed efficiently on a NAS platform and also serves a file access method for use across a SAN -- have been made by both Oracle and IBM with their open systems database products, operating on various storage platforms.
Developed in just over a year by more than 100 engineers representing a diverse set of technology companies, DAFS serves as testimony to what can be accomplished when everyone works together.
On October 1, DAFS was turned over to the DAFS Implementer's Forum within SNIA to oversee its further development and integration with networked storage products. Hopefully, the momentum that drove the efficient development of the protocol will be sustained long enough for its potential to be realized in the form of NAS/SAN hybrid products that combine the strengths and offset the limitations both of current NAS and SAN technologies.
Thanks for Maxtor's MAXAttach: IDE/ATA dropping NAS price point
I also need to make mention of Maxtor Corporation's new MAXAttach NAS Arrays in the list of technologies for which we should be thankful. Maxtor's new NAS arrays provide 1.9T Bytes of NAS storage at a street price of $29K. That's a order of magnitude reduction in NAS storage costs and is directly attributable to Maxtor's use of PC-style IDE/ATA disk drives in the back end, instead of UltraSCSI or Fibre Channel drives.
Is the solution tough enough? Can PC drives be depended upon to do the heavy lifting of enterprise storage? I questioned this until I realized that my PCs are beaten up to a much greater extent than most rack-mount drives in the carefully controlled environs of a corporate data center.
Maxtor may well have raised the bar by lowering it. And in the process, they've made world-class NAS storage available even for companies that aren't listed in the Fortune 1000. Thanks, Maxtor.
Thanks for TechTarget
On a personal note, I am also thankful for searchStorage and TechTarget for supporting this column and for creating events like this Fall's Storage Decisions conference in Chicago. The storage industry provides no shortage of issues to discuss and debate, and searchStorage has provided a great format for consumers and producers of storage technology to mix it up. I, for one, am honored to be able to participate in the process.
And I am thankful for the kind words (and the flames, in a few cases) from my readers. Hope your turkey carves a lot more successfully than your LUNs this year. Have a good one.
About the author: Jon William Toigo has authored hundreds of articles on storage and technology and is our searchStorage.com resident expert on storage management issues. Toigo is also the author of storage books, including, "The Holy Grail of Data Storage Management."
- CIM schema available for review
Back in June 2001, Assistant News Editor Kevin Komiega reported in Quick Takes that the final CIM schema was available for review from the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF). Read more about it and check out the related links. See also "Cim 2.5 advances interoperability standards, IT managers say" (Computerworld)
- Is DAFS the future?
If you read the rest of Jon's column, you know one of the things he's thankful for is the work of the DAFS Collaborative. In our recent DAFS featured topic, you can read more about Direct Access File System (DAFS) -- where it's headed and what some think about its current direction.
- Links for Maxtor's MaxAttach
If you'd like to learn more about Maxtor's MaxAttach product mentioned by Jon Toigo, try looking through the searchStorage results returned on a recent "MaxAttach" search. You might also want to look up other storage vendors or products and see what you turn up in our storage-specific, Google-powered search engine.
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