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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 attendance at other industry events, SNW once again experienced its highest ever attendance. 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, as storage is one of the healthiest IT sectors right now.
As an example, "there's been a 13 percent increase in storage systems spending in Q3 2003 compared to the previous quarter," says 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," says Nancy Marrone-Hurley an ESG analyst.
"Before Windows Server 2003, Windows didn't work well in a SAN," confesses Charles Stephens, Microsoft's vice president of enterprise storage. "Now it has good integration features and has become a solid SAN citizen."
Windows Storage Server 2003, the new Windows NAS platform, has also done quite well since its recent release, despite only being available from OEMs. Current customers include Continental Airways, British Airport Authority, Wyndham Hotel, AGFA, Police Service of Northern Ireland, and Draft Worldwide.
Overall, however, vendor pronouncements at SNW were relatively subdued. Most press releases focused on tactical and incremental changes. Probably the biggest news concerned the updated Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) developed by SNIA, which is being tested by vendors and demoed at version 1.1.
"The function of SMI-S is to create a highly functional, secure, and interoperable management interface for multi-vendor storage networking products," states Shelia Childs, chairperson of the SNIA.
SNIA announced during the conference some of the latest advances to the long-awaited specification, including security, performance monitoring, and policy management additions.
SNIA also organized a series of events on SAN management and interoperability to highlight the importance of the initiative, with several vendors announcing their adoption of the specification during the events.
"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), during the conference. Invio has incorporated SMI-S into its Storage Practice Manager product.
Essentially, SMI-S is a set of APIs 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.
Out on a LIM (Or Is It ILM?)
SNIA also handed out various awards over the course of the week. The prize for "Buzzword of the Show," though, would have to go 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," predicts 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 exactly is it? ILM is the latest attempt to solve the problems caused by having hundreds of applications on dozens of platforms consuming terabytes of information on disk, and even larger volumes on tape. This complexity affords no easy way to match the value of specific information to the types of storage resources managing it.
Though varying significantly in its description from vendor to vendor, EMC grandly defines ILM as a strategy for proactive management of information that: is business-centric and policy-based; provides a single view into all information assets; spans all types of platforms; and aligns storage resources with the value of the data to the business at any given point in time.
"The ILM buzz is similar to that surrounding virtualization 18 months ago," says Duplessie. "It basically encompasses 'cradle to the grave' management of information, 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, typically involves 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. Beyond the fanfare, EMC has a roadmap in place for achieving ILM but admits the strategy is still a work in progress. Duplessie estimates it will be at least 18 months before ILM moves beyond the hype and shows some merit in the real world.
Power to the User
One final development bears mention – the apparent rise of user power. This seems to represent a backlash against poor support and overhype (à la virtualization and now ILM). SNIA, for example, recently announced it is sponsoring an initiative called storagenetworking.org, which appears to have been established to help form Storage Networking User Groups (SNUG). These groups will function as information exchange and educational forums 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 challenged the audience to force vendors to solve issues 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," says 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 the ASNP.
"ASNP has a strong infrastructure, expert resources, and a professional staff that will bring users together," says 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."
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