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

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Storage and other parts of the IT landscape may well be trending towards a model similar to that offered by the utility industry. In other words, picture a scenario where you pay your monthly bill for services used and don't have to pay any attention to the internal plumbing. If you want to alter your service, you just make a call, tell an operator your request, and they proceed to set you up with a different kind of service plan.

But just how realistic is this vision? Is it a distant dream or a near term reality? And most importantly, how do we get there from here? This article looks at the utility concept for storage and offers some answers.

Industry analysts seem to agree that there is a definite trend towards storage and network management functions becoming far more closely integrated and better automated. This is an essential building block on the road to utility-like storage.

“This reflects industry revolution towards integrating new technologies and domains with mainstream enterprise management,” says Dennis Drogseth, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates. “Vendors are looking to find more effective ways to normalize and organize data, as well as to broaden access to multiple types of management applications through partnerships, standards, acquisitions, and other approaches.”

Certainly, a utility-like model would be desirable — seamless service availability for the end user without the need to have to deal with the nuts and bolts of everyday storage management. Much like attaching any type of electrical device to the mains — you just plug it in and it works. On the other hand, that analogy is probably too simplistic; there are, after all, many more variables in storage and IT than exist in electricity.

A better example, then, might be telephony. Today, phone service is a relatively simple utility, despite the immense systems and networking complexity running behind the scenes. You can choose your options, such as local and long distance rates, digital, analog, mobile or not, etc., but the basic infrastructure is simply there for the user, and it (usually) works.

If you want more rollover minutes or unlimited long distance, you simply place a call, a telephone operator makes a few clicks, and hey, presto!, your service has been changed. Neither you nor the phone operator had to do anything difficult, because a large team of behind-the-scenes telecom staff has automated everything to the point where the complexity is completely masked.

Page 2: Getting There from Here

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