IT on Tap: How Realistic Is the Storage Utility Concept? Page 2


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Getting There from Here

In the same way, you may soon be able to tailor your storage costs by choosing service levels of redundancy, availability, latency, throughput, application feature sets, and so on. As an example, perhaps you have a budget of $x, so you consult with a storage utility rep to see what type of storage plan will get you the most bang for your buck. Before such a utility model develops in storage, however, standards will have to become better accepted in the industry.

Let's use e-mail as an example of how standards eliminate plumbing complexity. Ten years back, competing email systems hung together poorly and interoperability challenges were prevalent.

Today, regardless of the mail software you are using, whatever hardware platform you are on, and from wherever you are connecting to your mail server, you just send and receive. Email now universally runs on the same simple standards — SMTP, IMAP, and POP. Standards transformed e-mail into the “killer app” of e-business because it is universally demanded and seamlessly delivered to the user.

Similarly, network technology has standardized to the point that it is rarely visible to anyone outside of IT. Networks took about 30 years to get up to the sockets level whereby the routers and switches are now cloaked in invisibility.

“Storage doesn't have that long to evolve,” states Mark Bradley, Storage Architect at Computer Associates (CA). “It has to quickly move out of the proprietary software band and into standards-based interoperability.”

Industry standards would appear to be most immediately relevant in the areas of discovery (finding out what is there) and enumeration (specifying exactly what, where, and in what quantity it is). By standardizing these areas, we would arrive at the basic protocol requirements to build on.

Fortunately, over the last six months we have seen the development of industry-standard interfaces for SAN discovery and enumeration of Fibre Channel fabric at the API level. That is gradually being expanded to cover NAS, iSCSI, bus-based storage, etc. Once accomplished, the next level will be complete control and command at the API level.

“We have the same basic stack as networking but many variables like Ethernet, fabric, and SCSI,” says Bradley. “We must integrate these so we can manage across all platforms to encompass proprietary software point products for storage management, backup, SAN management, and so on.”

The good news is that the various vendors are actively working to build the bridging pieces between their various applications so they can be viewed, if desired, on one screen. The ultimate goal is be able to associate a certain storage service to a specified QoS or an application, and have it automatically delivered — a function some vendors are calling dynamic provisioning.

Products are already arriving on the market with some basic dynamic provisioning capabilities. And within twelve months we will probably see a high degree of dynamic provisioning evolve between the various storage management systems vendors.

However, don't get too carried away just yet. CA's Bradley estimates that it could take a further 10 to 15 years before we have a truly common storage environment that duplicates the utility industry in terms of seamlessness and simplicity.

This feature originally appeared on Enterprise IT Planet.

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