Judging by last week's event, it's little wonder that storage is one of the few IT bright spots. Drew Robb reports on some of the highlights.
Based on the success of last week's Storage Networking World (SNW) conference in Orlando, Florida, the future of the storage world looks fairly bright. Despite a continuance of tough times for IT in general and faltering attendances at other industry events, SNW experienced highest ever attendance once again. Over 2500 attendees and 109 vendors visited the show organized by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) and Computerworld Magazine.
According to an on-site survey, half the attendees represented companies in the $1 billion-plus revenue range. They were treated to meals, drinks, entertainment and vendor freebies more reminiscent of trade shows in the late nineties. And for good reason. Storage is one of the healthiest IT sectors right now.
"There has been a 13 percent increase in storage systems spending in Q3 2003 compared to the previous quarter," said Steve Duplessie, an analyst with Enterprise Storage Group (ESG).
Without taking center stage as such, Microsoft's influence was noticeably stronger than at previous SNW events. The company quietly announced that 75 storage vendors have integrated Virtual Disk Service (VDS), Volume Shadow Copy Services (VSS), Multipath Input/Output, Storport and other Microsoft storage technologies into their products. Thus in a short period of time, the company has moved from the periphery to the storage core.
"Microsoft has added a number of storage-centric features to Windows Server 2003, making this platform much easier to use in networked storage environments," said Nancy Marrone-Hurley an ESG analyst.
Windows Storage Server 2003, the new Windows NAS platform, has done quite well since its recent release. Available only from OEM's, customers include Continental Airways, British Airport Authority, Wyndham Hotel, AGFA, Police Service of Northern Ireland and Draft Worldwide.
"Before Windows Server 2003, Windows didn't work well in a SAN," said Charles Stephens, Microsoft's vice president of enterprise storage. "Now it has good integration features and has become a solid SAN citizen."
Overall, however, vendor pronouncements at SNW were relatively subdued. Most press releases focused on tactical and incremental changes. Probably the biggest news concerned the Storage Management Interface Specification (SMI-S) developed by SNIA.
"The function of SMI-S is to create a highly functional, secure and interoperable management interface for multi-vendor storage networking products," said Shelia Childs, chairperson of the SNIA.
SNIA organized a series of events on SAN management and interoperability to highlight the importance of SMI-S. Several vendors announced their adoption of the specification.
"By leveraging the SMI-S standard, we can focus on developing functionality that provides the greatest value to our customers instead of having to concentrate our efforts on integrating with disparate infrastructure interfaces," said Tad Lebeck, CTO of Invio Software (Los Altos, CA). Invio has incorporated SMI-S into its Storage Practice Manager product.
Essentially, SMI-S is a set of API's that improve integration and enable storage management software to operate regardless of the vendor hardware and software in use. It solves the problem of multiple vendors and multiple device types that attempt to communicate to management tools using such methods as Telnet, CORB, C, C++, Java, XML, SNMP, TCP/IP etc. SMI-S simplifies this bowl of spaghetti with one agreed upon interface between the devices and the management applications.
Page 2: Out on a LIM (or ILM)
Out on a LIM (or ILM)
SNIA handed out various awards over the course of the week. The prize for Buzzword of the Show, though, should have gone to Information Lifecycle Management (ILM). Trumpeted loudest by EMC, vendors were falling over themselves to discuss the ILM capabilities of their various offerings.
"In the next three years we will see more change in the storage industry than in the past decade due to ILM," said Mark Lewis, executive vice president for open software at EMC. "Information Lifecycle Management will result in the optimal management of information throughout its life, from creation and use to archiving and disposal. It isn't just hype, it's a revolution."
Sounds great. But what is it? ILM is the latest attempt to solve the problems caused by having hundreds of applications on dozens of platforms consuming terabytes of online info, and even larger volumes on tape. This complexity affords no easy way to match the value of specific information to the type of storage resources managing it.
Though varying significantly in its description from vendor to vendor, EMC grandly defined ILM as: A strategy for proactive management of information which is business-centric and policy-based, which provides a single view into all information assets, spans all types of platforms, and aligns storage resources with the value of data to the business at any given point in time.
"The ILM buzz is similar to that surrounding virtualization 18 months ago," said Duplessie. "It basically encompasses cradle to the grave management whereby you get the right information to the right device or media at the right time."
Sound a bit like Hierarchical Storage Management (HSM)? True. But HSM is single threaded. It typically involved one large server or mainframe and focuses on objective measures like access.
For example, if certain data hasn't been accessed in a specific time period, it is automatically moved to another type of media. ILM goes further with this same concept, taking it onto the network to cover the entire infrastructure and adding subjective as well as objective criteria.
New regulations, for instance, largely negate the old HSM time stamp criteria. Data that may not have been accessed for years may now have high value due to the potential penalties for not retaining it. Thus subjective and legislation-based data categorization can be accomplished with ILM. And regardless of where the data resides, it can be managed and located from one console.
Of course, much of this is theoretical. Behind the fanfare, EMC talks about a roadmap to achieving ILM. Duplessie estimates 18 months at least before ILM moves beyond the hype and shows some merit in the real world.
Page 3: User Power
One final development bears mention – the apparent rise of user power. This seems to represent a backlash against poor support and overhype (a la virtualization and now ILM). SNIA, for example, has just sponsored an initiative called storagenetworking.org. This organization appears to have been established to help form Storage Networking User Groups (SNUG). These groups will function as an information exchange and educational forum for end users.
ESG's Duplessie touched on a similar vein, discussing the poor results reported by users concerning vendor support. When he asked the audience whether support was better two years ago or today, most chose the former. He enjoined the audience to force vendors to do things for them and leverage their dollars better.
"Cut through the vendor noise as currently everything sounds the same," said Duplessie. "Make vendors solve the problems you actually have rather than trying to sell you solutions to problems that don't really exist."
Another new user group, the Association of Storage Networking Professionals (ASNP), voiced a similar refrain. An ASNP party drew over 100 people and early indications are that this organization has struck a chord.
"Within less than a month, the association has qualified 734 new members," said Daniel Delshad, executive director of ASNP. "The response clearly validates our role in the marketplace as a user resource for education, to meet with peers and to voice real issues"
A positive sign – smaller user forums are merging with it. The Minnesota Open SAN User Group, for instance, has folded its operations into ASNP.
"ASNP has a strong infrastructure, expert resources and a professional staff that will bring users together," said Michel Thorsen, founder of that Minnesota group and now a regional director for his local ASNP chapter. "The storage industry needs a strong end user-only voice to meet the challenges of storage management."