The April 14 announcement of the new EMC V-Max storage array raises what I have long-held is the reckless abuse of technology terms to win over customer (and media) attention. In the press release, I note that ‘virtual’ appeared 36 times. I am trying to remember what my English teacher in elementary grade told me about the repetitive use of words. I guess not enough marketers are being shot for single-minded ignorance of English grammar rules. Anyway back to the story at hand.

Practically every major storage, server and system vendor announcement in the last 18 months have “virtualization” as a central message. Everyone is riding on the bandwagon of “do more with less”. The technical promise is optimization or better utilization. The financial promise is less money.

The problem is too much marketing hype is creating confusion.

The technical definition of virtualization is the abstraction of compute resources. Wikipedia lists six different types of virtualization depending on what the “resource” is. The layman’s definition of virtualization doesn’t really exists. It depends on what the base technology is. If you are saying, it’s about the operating system, then virtualization means running many operating systems (for example Windows) on a single physical hardware. If you think applications, it is running many different applications on the same OS. If it’s data storage, it is having access to data no matter where it is physically¬†stored.

Confused? I know I am!

Anyway, EMC – arguably the dominant data storage vendor today (for now) – launched their latest storage array on April 14 (US time) with virtualization almost literally as the adjacent label to the product. The new Symmetrix V-Max is a humongous array that promises pooling, migration, management, functinality and asset re-use all from one single product. (more…)

Three months ago I had an opportunity to meet an ex-SUN storage evangelist – Robert Nieboer – who spoke elonquently about the concept of Open Storage. According to Nieboer, Open Storage suggests that you buy standard, commodity products like controllers and hard disks, and install an “Open Source” operating system that includes storage resource management, and you get a storage subsystem that will perform pretty much everything that a similarly configured storage solution from IBM, EMC, HP, HDS, NetApp or Fujitsu, but at a fraction of the cost – 10% to be precise.

Certainly at 10% of the costs of a convention storage solution from mainstream storage vendors, you’d wonder why there is no mad rush to get into the open storage bandwagon.

I took the opportunity to broach the concept of open storage to three CIOs. The response were unanimous – “no, thank you!”. Why?

Michael Leung, CIO for China Construction Bank (Hong Kong branch), notes that banks are probably some of the most conservative businesses on the planet. Highly regulated, all activities are monitored and audited. Every piece of technology the bank is using has likely got the auditor’s seal of approval. Any changes to the type of infrastructure would warrant long meetings, supported with lengthy documentation, with auditors. Its ok to pay through the nose as long as CCB complies with set standards and regulations.

Like Leung, Raymond Ngai, Head of IT Infrastructure for the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC), meeting government regulatory requirements is just as important as keeping data secure 24x7x365. The Jockey Club sites on 35TB of data housed across the main data center and the disaster recovery (DR) site. Like CCB, the Jockey Club likes to stay with old and reliable (I prefer to call it predictable).

One head of IT who bucked the perception was Thomas Lee, Computer Operations Manager at HACTL (Hongkong Air Cargo Terminal Ltd). Lee says HACTL is constantly on the lookout for IT solutions that would deliver significant ROI. Certainly if you can save 90% of your storage budget, that warrants a label of significant ROI. But you have to pay attention to the fact that HACTL’s business isn’t as highly regulated at CCB or HKJC.

Apart from SUN, none of the other major storage vendors in Asia (EMC, IBM, HP, NetApp and Dell) have an open storage story to tell. Why should they? Such a story could potentially cannibalize their “open but proprietary” storage offerings. SUN is not invulnerable either. IDC ranks SUN as 5th in terms of storage sales, with double-digit growth – like everyone else. Much of this growth is attributable to SUN’s storage business derived from OEM partnerships with Hitachi, LSI and Dothill.

Certainly SUN’s proposition that storage should not cost as much as it does today has it merits. The question that CIOs and business managers need to ask is ‘whether the technology is mature enough today to warrant taking the plunge.’

The likely answer is ‘no.’

It will probably take a few more years before open storage becomes a viable solution for mission critical applications. Like Linux and the open systems platform, early adoptors can take the opportunity to test the solution either on development platforms or applications that live on Tier 3 storage platforms.

Today the verdict is out – open storage is not ready for prime time. But like the probervial Gartner Hype Cycle, the technology will reach a point where it becomes mature enough to consider. Until then, stick with the tried and tested, albeit expensive and proprietary solutions available from everyone else.

For more on Open Storage, check out the following sites:
SUN Open Storage
OpenStore
DotHill Open Storage
SGI Open Storage