Year in Review: New storage standards make headway

This year, the iSCSI data transfer standard was approved by the IETF, Bluefin became the storage management initiative specification -- and EMC bought BMC. (Actually, they only bought BMC's Patrol, but it seemed a pity to spoil a nice play on words.)

This year, the iSCSI data transfer standard was approved by the IETF, Bluefin became the storage management initiative specification -- and EMC bought BMC.

(Actually, they only bought BMC's Patrol, but it seemed a pity to spoil a nice play on words.)

Other significant goings on in the storage world in 2003 include the further development of storage virtualisation, the release of intelligent switches for SANs and the emergence of ILM (information lifecycle management).

ILM came to light this year when several vendors started to tout it and while most agree it's a sound concept, some in the industry say it's half-baked and needs more development.

The ILM concept is that storage should be managed in a policy-driven, automated way from creation to destruction. Tougher regulatory requirements in the US make ILM, with its focus on deleting data once it's not needed and storing it cheaply if it doesn't need to be accessed in a hurry, an attractive concept.

EMC took a step down the ILM path last month when it announced a partnership with OuterBay Technologies to offer OuterBay's LiveArchive software, which allows users to pinpoint inactive information in databases and relocate it to other storage media according to policies set by the user.

An EMC executive said LiveArchive "fills a hole in our ILM strategy", but another EMC figure, earlier in the year, said "we don't think anyone is doing it well -- we don't think we're doing it well, at least not yet".

At the Storage Networking World conference in October, EMC's chief technology officer appeared more bullish on ILM, saying it is "truly a revolution", but described it as a strategy, not a set software array.

Not all end-users are convinced of ILM's merits, at least not in its present form.

A senior executive at MasterCard had a message for vendors pushing ILM: "come back to us when you have something meaningful that will serve a business need and demonstrate a purpose".

Another technology criticised in years past as needing more work is iSCSI, basically storage over IP.

However, when the international enginnering task force this year approved iSCSI as a draft standard, iSCSI emerged as a serious alternative to fibre channel, the traditional SAN data transport technology.

Microsoft effectively gave iSCSI its blessing last month when it qualified iSCSI products from 14 vendors including Network Appliance (one of the first to put out iSCSI-capable gear), Cisco, Intel and McData.

ISCSI's advantage over fibre channel is that can move data straight from storage devices across existing ethernet LANs, saving users money and resources.

(In June, Microsoft released its iSCSI software initiator, server-based freeware that allows the server to search for storage devices over iSCSI).

However, iSCSI won't be killing off fibre channel any time soon, says IDC Australia storage analyst Graham Penn.

Earlier this year, he told Computerworld "for organisations that have already installed fibre channel, iSCSI won't push it out of the data centre within the next five years. Big SAN users are locked into fibre channel for the next five to eight years."

However, iSCSI will see huge growth among users still using direct attached storage, Penn says. "When iSCSI is available, organisations will be able to use their inhouse IT staff to install it."

In the future, switches will be able to handle both fibre channel and IP, he says. "It's about adapting the best technology for what the business has."

On the software side of the storage arena, vendors pushed further towards interoperability, with the Bluefin open standard prototype being relabelled the Storage Management Initiative Specification, aka SMI-S version 1.0.

The re-naming happened in April and at Storage Networking World in October SMI-S was promoted, with EMC, Veritas, IBM and HP pledging to put SMI-S interfaces in hardware and software products to be released next year.

SMI-S will allow provide storage administrators with a unified management framework, allowing them to create and delete zones and volumes and monitor switches, array controllers and host bus adapters.

At the high end of the storage spectrum, Brocade and Cisco announced plans to shift intelligence off SAN servers and devices and into the fabric itself.

The move is linked to another ongoing storage development, virtualisation, in which storage is viewed and administered as a single entity, rather than seen in terms of space on each device.

The benefits of intelligent switches for SAN users big enough to be able to take advantage of the Brocade-Cisco technology would be to remove the need to run virtualisation software on every server, with it running on SAN switches instead.

Network World US quoted the lead developer of a project that is putting US Geological survey maps online as saying intelligent switches "will make sense only for the biggest, most complex SANs".

McData also announced plans for smart switches and several other vendors pointed out they already make gear that does virtualisation outside the network.

Several vendors put out virtualisation related products and virtualisation gained traction.

Other developments include the expansion of pay-as-you-go storage services from EMC and other vendors.

While such schemes have been available for several years, EMC's new offering, OpenScale, represents an advance in the automation and audit of metered storage.

IDC's Penn acknowledges that the idea of metered storage isn't new and says applications such as OpenScale are only likely to be taken up in larger organisations.

Storage metering will be simple in homogenous envrionments with one vendor's products, "but doing it on a third party's equipment won't be so easy, because there are changes and intergration involved."

If intelligent switches and metered storage represent developments at the big end of the storage world, moves to make storage easier for small to medium sized organisations include the release of less expensive NAS gear from Iomega and the further development of SATA (serial ATA) technology, an interface standard for controlling and transferring data from storage appliances and servers to client applications.

There was some consolidation in the vendor community, with EMC making several acquisitions including Legato, Astrum and BMC's Patrol.

IBM furthered its play in storage by announcing Piper, a storage migration appliance it says will simplify the replacement of old storage arrays.

The SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) set up an Australasian branch in November, but there appears to be little interest from New Zealand storage market players.

A significant storage project in New Zealand this year has been the NZ Defence Force's storage and server consoldiation project, part of its move to a unified IS environment.

NZ Defence Force CIO Ron Hooton says EMC was selected in October as the supplier, both for hardware and management software.

"We had some EMC storage before, which we replaced. It'll run in the centres in Porirua and Auckland where we're consolidating data from around the country."

The kit has been delivered and is being installed, with a view to being fully operational in the first quarter of next year, he says.

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More about BMC Software AustraliaBMC Software AustraliaBrocade CommunicationsCiscoEMC CorporationHPIBM AustraliaIDC AustraliaIETFIntelIomegaLegatoMcDataMicrosoftNASSNIAStorage Networking Industry AssociationVeritas

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