SNIA Academy's presentations hit the storage target

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Written By: Peter Williams
Published: 29th May, 2008
Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

It was good to see the Storage Network Industry Association (SNIA) Academy finally make footfall in the UK, with its all-day event last Tuesday in London.

The Academy has been staged in locations around Europe since 2005, and the emphasis is on education, especially about the latest storage technology, and the trends, challenges and issues. The material throughout the day was high quality and hit the major topical themes those involved with IT storage would want to hear more about. So well done SNIA.

I can only skim the surface here and it is only my take anyway. So my apologies to those I fail to mention (or even hear, as there were break-out sessions running in parallel and I could not attend everything).

Jon Tate, SNIA Europe UK committee chair, opened the proceedings by saying the Association had been in transition since 2004–5, emphasising not just storage but also information—an obvious move since all stored data is information and, increasingly, decisions on storage need to be made based on what the actual information consists of.

Then followed a very sobering presentation from Ann La France, worldwide legal counsel for Squire, Saunders and Dempsey, who knows a thing or three about the thorny subjects of compliance, and data protection versus freedom of information. One of her themes was data retention (backed by the EU data retention directive of 2006). She pointed out that the best solution to protect against data breaches was to delete the data after the minimum time period. The average cost of a breach, with the loss of unencrypted data was estimated at £45–£70 per record—just in lost business and administration—while the loss of consumer confidence was unquantifiable, she said.

The two opposing forces pulling against one another were privacy encouraging an early purge and governments wanting to access personal data because of national security concerns—with the UK government currently in breach of EU directives in this! In the middle sits regulatory compliance requiring certain information but also demanding security including deletion. Frankly, nobody much is deleting anything at present, and La France thought many were ignoring the problem hoping it would go away. Meanwhile the storage mountain grows.

It might have been useful to put La France in a panel debate alongside Nick Baker of Sun Microsystems, whose theme was ‘best practices for long-term retention of digital information'. He qualified this title with the word ‘preservation'—pointing out a major problem of retrieving long-held data. SNIA had carried out a 100 year archive survey. Frighteningly, 68% of the companies contacted have data they say needs retaining over 100 years rising to 83% over 50 years. 53% even said they had data needed in perpetuity.

In some cases this longevity stemmed from requests by government. So shouldn't governments defray the costs? (Oh, that means the tax-payer pays; perhaps I should retract that.) Preservation, said Baker, was a bigger problem for semi-structured or structured data; for instance, Oracle objects and tables relate to each other so metadata is needed to describe the information stored to make it genuinely discoverable.

Apart from a regular technical refresh involving migration to latest software versions there was the matter of physical and logical migration as formats became out of date. Baker emphasised that logical and physical should not be mixed—and, he said, only some 30% were doing this correctly on disk while nobody was for tape or optical. In other words this was: "record to tape and lose."

SNIA's answer was a ‘holistic approach', not stove-piped with silos of uncorrected information, which required an understanding of what an object was in every case. The metadata format had to be correct and an audit trail maintained from the original object with an archive object versionary needed.

He also put in a plug for SNIA's XAM emerging standard for metadata (which I have previously covered and believe has longer-term potential).

Despite this, it all sounds expensive and time-consuming to me. Worse, said Baker, it was at the bottom of the IT hierarchy so lacked adequate funding, therefore should be pushed back to business as a serious risk.

Among some of the other main items was John Rollason (SNIA UK committee and NetApp) covering every aspect of storage virtualisation and how to use it effectively and Bill Bolton (SNIA UK and Brocade) giving us just about all we should ever need to know about Fibre Channel, its history and clear road ahead. Mark Galpin of Quantum's overview of de-duplication technologies highlighted major differences in de-dupe approaches, while Steve Collins of Pillar Data Systems covered various current trends in data protection and restoration technologies, not least CDP.

The final presentation of the day, by Sol Squire (SNIA Europe Nordic Committee and Data Islandia) on building a green data centre, was full of practical tips for data centre managers, overwhelmed by their challenges. Not the least of these was spending a little money on data centre sensors so as to plot the power flow in the data centre. "60% of cooling is wasted; measure what you have," he said.

Illustrating the point he told of data centre managers identifying the flows then strategically placing a shower curtain to save 40% of the cooling bill at a stroke! On a similar theme of heat output versus cooling, he said (perhaps to the consternation of some company security managers), "You can open a window in the data centre." (The ultimate alternative of building a new data centre when resources run out has an average cost £20m.)

Squire also advocated investigating renewable energy. (Iceland, where he is based, runs on 100% renewable energy, but only has 300,000 population.) He also recommended having small realisable goals as little things had greater effect down the line. Then, he said, "hopefully our grandchildren will still look up and see a blue sky."

Finally, couple of points from two vendor-specific break-out sessions I attended, are worthy of a mention.

Trevor Kelly, EMEA systems engineering manager for 3PAR, was discussing thin provisioning. In the course of this he cited a recent Glasshouse Technolies' survey of 350 host systems in 12 large companies - which showed storage utilisation still below 30%. Frankly, with the virtualisation and other technologies now available and the green impact moving up the agenda, this is now an unacceptable waste of resources.

Meanwhile, Rick Terry of IBM provided interesting - nay, alarming - slides about how disk areal density improvements which had for decades kept pace with Moore's Law for computer chips - were now tailing off. So, he predicted a disk price crunch as it was going to be more difficult to get larger capacities - and, with the huge data capacities now needed, small error rates extrapolated to more frequent failures. So, he said, "A 1PB (petabyte) drive fails every 10 days."

Maybe there's an overall message on the day: Try and tackle the storage mountain itself and do some serious data deletion. That way, all the other issues and concerns will reduce in size and cost.

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