Linear Tape File System and Tape NAS: My Most Important Take-Away from IBM Edge 2012

by Administrator on June 8, 2012

I thought about this post a lot during the two hour slog home from Orlando, the site of IBM Edge 2012, and my offices in Tampa Bay on Thursday night.  Rain and drizzle made progress on I-4 even slower than usual, so I had some time to consider what I found most compelling about the show.

In truth, however, the choice of LTFS as the “most important take-away” was one that took little time to make.

First, a bit of background.  IBM Edge was a consolidation of IBM Executive Edge – providing your typical procession of on-stage presentations featuring vendor senior execs and product line managers and their hand-picked poster children from the user community delivering “how we did it” summaries – and IBM Technical Edge – a serious multi-day multi-session training agenda well attended by IBM customers who seemed happy to be un-tethered from their terminals and workstations to hone their skills – and Business Edge – a set of programs aimed at business partners.

This was a premiere event with hopes held high by organizers that it would become an annual fixture in the vendor event universe.  As such, it had its share of glitches.  My presentation room assignments, and those of a few other trainers at Technical Edge, were changed at the last moment on a couple of occasions causing a bit of confusion, and the big gala dinner laid out for attendees and “analysts” (as I was incorrectly labeled) was oversold due to an unanticipated swell of interest in the event by IBM customers (a good problem to have!), so I was delighted to give up my chair in exchange for an even more intimate and entertaining dinner in a hotel restaurant with Mary Hall and her fellow Social Media organizers that evening.  I’m sure that the next iteration of Edge will resolve some of these minor glitches that, as it turned out, made the overall experience of the show even more charming.

The real standout for me was that I had the chance to interact with many IBM insiders, whose candid commentary was truly refreshing, and with IBM customers, whose observations and insights were, frankly speaking, better informed, more probative and much less fettered by the “fan boy” mentality that I too often encounter at events sponsored by vendors like EMC or VMware.

The event provided a rare opportunity to chat with the folks inside IBM, including both management and operations, sales and marketing functionaries, who showed a great willingness to go off their comfortable talking points and discuss the less commonly articulated aspects of high level architecture, trade-offs between the perfect and the practical behind products and their feature sets, and the state of the market given competitive and economic forces.

This was most certainly not the same IBM I once fired from my data centers in the 80s (then rehired a few years later).  The troops don’t wear blue suits and march in lock step.  Diverse and sometimes self-critical views are no longer squelched.  Perhaps most importantly, the folks I spoke with manifested a palpable and sincere desire to help customers address their problems with products that reflect less what the vendor wants to sell than what the customer really needs.

This really impressed me after spending so much time observing the “Art of War” go-to-market strategies of other enterprise storage vendors who use the latest market analytics to paint targets on everyone’s back and practice focus group vetting of marketing messages and vision statements that are usually as meaningless as they are subliminally appealing.  I frankly worried that some journalists at the show might take advantage of the “open kimono” quality of the discussions to make trouble.  To my knowledge, no one has…yet.  That gives me hope that we might be able to bring the dialog around important dimensions of technology future back down to earth, eschewing the BS comparisons of one point solution to another in favor of more strategic solutioneering.

For their part, the customers and business partners at the show were an uncompromising lot that would scare the crap out of the industry’s more prominent woo peddlers.  They stated succinctly and directly what they liked and didn’t about IBM, its technology, its support organization and processes, and even the food at the event.  We saw a mix of mainframers, distributed IT mavens, cloudies and V-partiers — all seeking better ways to stand up infrastructure or workload.  Amazingly, they interacted with civility and respect for each other’s experience, skills, knowledge, focus and preferences.  (Contemporary US politics could learn a thing or two from this!)

At one lunch table, I actually heard a discussion between a couple of mainframers and two VMware advocates working out how to divvy up their workloads between x86 tinkertoys and Big Iron to achieve a more harmonious and holistic platform that delivered management’s key goals of cost savings, risk reduction and improved productivity and “agility.”  Refreshing was the absence of absolutism.

All told, this made for an energizing and mentally-soothing experience.  Humor was in no short supply, especially in free-for-all discussions with IBM brainiacs and much less formal tweet-ups and storagebeers in the Social Media zone.  I hope it is repeated at least annually.

Shortly, I will be posting a multi-segment video interview I conducted with three IBMer’s who are deeply involved in the development and “productization” of Linear Tape File System (LTFS) technology which, among other things, enables the creation of a Tape NAS storage solution that may well be a life saver for firms that are struggling with tremendous storage capacity growth demands with budgets (or utility power realities) that simply cannot accommodate the addition of Exabytes of new disk-based storage capacity.  I will defer my detailed assessment of this emerging technology in this post until I publish those video clips, except to make one point.  For all I learned about the new compression technologies, the PureSystems/PureStorage rhetoric, and the narrative that was being advanced about the all-important infrastructure management challenges at Edge, the standout in the show for me was LTFS.

Yes, LTFS is that important.  It is critical in fact.  More to come.

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