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It's been apparent now for a couple of years that something has shifted in the land of storage. Instead of focusing on their own turf, storage firms are boldly venturing into the broader IT space.
EMC is the standard bearer, having gobbled up the likes of VMware, Smarts, Acxiom and others. CA has followed suit with some acquisitions of its own as well as integration of existing storage and IT management and security products. And, of course, outsiders like Cisco and Symantec have muscled into the world of storage in recent years with their own visions of storage convergence.
"Networking and storage have become fused at the hip," says Mike Karp, senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates. "Also, any technology that uses messaging is becoming bound up with storage as well, as all the content typically has to be kept for compliance purposes. Things are not as simple as they once were."
Just about all enterprise IT, after all, has moved out onto the network, either on a SAN running over Fibre Channel, or on a TCP/IP network using iSCSI, NAS or evolving technologies such as Storage over IP (SoIP). Karp points to CA's acquisition of iLumen and Mimosa's Nearpoint product as a couple of examples of this trend. Both are CDP solutions for e-mail that allow instant retrieval of individual messages.
One company with an eye on convergence is CA. It already has enterprise-class products in storage, security and IT management, and is well on the way to integrating them all into a common, easy-to-manage system.
"IT is converging and becoming more interdependent, as we are seeing with voice and data, security and storage, and the Web and mainframes," says Mark Newberry, vice president of storage management product marketing at CA. "Our goal is to empower customers to realize the full potential value of IT through the effective management of all people, processes and resources across the enterprise from the mainframe to the Web regardless of platform, vendor or architecture."
CA is building solutions on a set of common services known as the CA Integration Platform. Newberry gives an example of how existing storage products can be married up with IT management tools. BrightStor SAN Manager provides SAN device health monitoring and configuration capabilities. When used with BrightStor SRM, the combined solution provides end-to-end application to disk spindle views, enabling the user to easily see the location of their file and application data in the SAN environment. These, in turn, can be integrated with Unicenter Network and Systems Management (NSM) to provide a single console to manage the entire IT infrastructure, from IP to SAN.
HP is pursuing a similar strategy. Thought it is perhaps behind CA in terms of the sheer breadth of software integration, it has the advantage of possessing a massive portfolio of server hardware and storage devices. HP's Adaptive Infrastructure is an effort to unite the disparate nature of IT operations to move away from the idea of having separate storage, network and systems staff each with discrete duties and responsibilities.
"HP is working to integrate all of this through common software and hardware architectures, and to tie end-to-end provisioning tasks together with automation," says Abbott Schindler, senior technologist at HP. "Our StorageWorks Division is actively participating in this strategy, and the result will be the kind of total IT stack integration."
The company has taken some significant steps to move in this direction. Perhaps most noteworthy was its migration from OpenView Storage Area Manager to Storage Essentials following the acquisition of AppIQ. In addition, HP has made storage and server management more unified via Systems Insight Manager. Further, the acquisition of OuterBay gives HP access to database archiving technology as part of its broader ILM strategy.
"Going forward, we expect that it will be increasingly important to understand and manage data in context- and content-aware perspectives," says Schindler. "HP is also evolving storage security strategy, which begins with securing data at-rest and device-level security."
Another big area of convergence and vendor warfare concerns making storage more intelligent. Instead of just having one large bucket of storage, vendors are adding functionality into storage devices to take care of tasks normally relegated to the applications.
Fred Moore, an analyst with Horison Information Strategies of Boulder, Colo., points to Cisco as one of the major players in this space. Due to its massive R&D budget, he says, Cisco is doing better than McData and Brocade in terms of adding functions such as replication and data protection.
"Cisco is the EMC of the switch world and has financial resources that Brocade and McData simply don't have," says Moore. "But get prepared for a war over whether the intelligence should be in switch or in other storage subsystems."
Sun Microsystems has already weighed in for this big fight. But James Whitemore, Sun's vice president and CMO for storage, believes that the battlefield has shifted. Instead of the traditional problem around how users should capture, store and retrieve data, the challenge has expanded to include how they should architect an environment that helps manage data as a shared, protected resource while keeping cost down, reducing complexity and complying with regulatory requirements. From a technology perspective, that leads to greater focus in identity management, security and virtualization. And that is leading to a new generation of integrated server and storage solutions as well as a focus on metadata and content addressed storage (CAS).
"What we're seeing today is a confluence of events driving a broader view of data and closer alignment between applications and storage," says Whitemore. "The primary driver is the massive growth of data and the need to manage and protect it as a core business asset."
Sun's acquisition of StorageTek is obviously a big part of what the company has done to build out its storage portfolio. This added tape virtualization, mainframe storage capabilities and a well established services capability to Sun's existing storage arsenal. The company is also leveraging Solaris and other Sun technologies to solve data management problems.
In the area of identity, for instance, it has integrated its Java System Access Manager software into Sun StorageTek Enterprise Storage Manager (ESM) software. This, says Whitemore, makes it easier and faster for organizations to securely access and manage data. Coming soon is device-level encryption within the Sun StorageTek T10000 tape drive, and a key management suite that protects data on tape against theft and fraud.
"We also recently previewed Project Honeycomb, a new type of platform that blurs the line between application server and storage by giving more flexibility in the way applications are deployed," says Whitemore. "Over the next several quarters you'll see Sun bring to market products that combine computation and storage and leverage a number of technologies from around the company."
While the vendors are rushing forth with a bevy of products and services that take advantage of converged architectures, the user community has been slow on the uptake especially when it comes to the combination of intelligence into switches and other devices.
Moore believes this is no longer a case of technological immaturity so much as it is bound up in a lack of resources. Since 9/11, he notes, IT has lost about 20 percent of its workforce. It takes staff to tie storage and systems together or move from the old complex system to a newer and apparently simpler model. Those staff just aren't available at the moment in most shops.
"It takes staff to rearchitect the storage environment and that's keeping the brakes on," says Moore. "To add in intelligence, you have to change your processes and most people don't have the resources to do it yet."
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