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Another Reprint for the Dutch Challenged

by Administrator on January 26, 2009

As my regular readers know, I write for Storage magazine in the Netherlands as well as a bunch of other pubs.  I routinely reprint my column there here for those who don’t receive (or read) the Dutch pub…

The latest:

Web Services Equals Better Storage Management

W3C standards around web services have been adopted by most major software houses, both to facilitate the integration of software application elements on a common web page or PDA screen, but also as a mechanism for requesting infrastructure services – hardware resources and software functions – in a common manner.

Using standard web services requests, Oracle, Microsoft, VMware and others have their proverbial hands outstretched to the infrastructure, requesting server, network and storage resources to accommodate data provisioning and protection needs. However, hardly any infrastructure components are answering.

The reason? Few hardware vendors – especially storage array makers, who seem dead set on embedding more and more “value add” software functions on array controllers at the expense of unified management and ultimately their consumers’ IT budgets – have taken any sort of steps to enable their products to play in an web services standards-based ecosystem.

The exception is Xiotech with its ICON web services-based management system. The brainchild of VP of Engineering, Ken Krutsch, and Director of Product Management, Eric Lomascolo, ICON is more than a storage management utility for the company’s Emprise arrays. It is a web services-based approach that makes operational status, performance metrics, provisioning, and configuration changes of the company’s storage products transparent. This may ultimately pave the way to the allocation of these resources to applications either automatically or via an intelligent policy engine.

Wedding Xiotech’s ICON management system to the Intelligent Storage Element (ISE) platform that the company acquired in December 2007 from Seagate’s Advanced Technology Group, Xiotech has set the stage for an entirely new model for building storage. They seem to get the core elements of what businesses need in these challenging economic times: sensible, purpose-built infrastructure that can be managed in a unified way and with fewer bodies, and across which data can be provisioned automatically with the resources and services that it needs.

Xiotech gets my nod for best technology initiative of 2008. They are approaching the storage infrastructure with a service based architecture that stands current industry thinking on its head. Instead of joining lots of “value add” functionality to the proprietary array controller – the embedded systems thinking of the last ten years that caused leading storage companies to create “one-size-fits-most” storage stovepipes – the company instead has deconstructed the storage array, building the fastest and least expensive FC array in the market, and creating an ecosystem of partners who can add value around their highly manageable storage building blocks.

In the process, they are attacking the key issue of tech cost-containment by reducing the acquisition price of storage so that it reflects the ever declining cost of disk drives themselves. Disks are doubling capacity every 18 months while dropping in cost on a per GB basis by 50 percent every 12. However, this dynamic is not reflected in the obscene year-over-year price increases of most array products. Vendors have been masking the declining disk cost trend by adding a lot of software value-add to prop up their array prices, and we are forced to pay 100 percent of the value-add software licensing fees despite using only 10 percent of the functionality added.

By contrast, Xiotech lets us select best of breed value add functions from third party vendors and to build just the storage platforms that we need today. In effect, they are putting the consumer’s top line growth ahead of their own. That’s deconstructionalist thinking whose time has come.

Of course, cobbling together a bunch of components exposes us to the issue of finger pointing if something breaks. That’s the argument you will hear from stovepipe vendors who claim to “pre-integrate” their hardware and software functions on the controller (too often sacrificing performance in the process).

Their caution would be spot on were it not for ICON and web services. Web services standards are Xiotech’s ace in the hole: all ecosystem partners have or are planning web services hooks of their own, creating a plug and play interoperability bus and unified management story that has never been seen in the storage realm.

Other development efforts, including the soon to be launched C-4 Project (c4project.org), strive to create a policy-driven data management model that can leverage web services-managed storage to manage data better. Imagine being able to establish routes for new data that expose it to the desired services (encryption, compression, de-duplication, continuous replication, backup, etc.) on its way to primary storage destinations, and then to migrate it over time to appropriate archival media until it can be safely discarded. The times are ripe for this kind of change in how we build storage.

Web services are key to undoing the unmanageable stovepipe architecture that has corrupted distributed systems storage. Watch this space for further developments.

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