IP Expo 2012: an oldie’s view

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Content Copyright © 2012 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

IP Expo was a chance for me to get a broad if brief snapshot of the business IT climate in 2012. On the surface, things looked fairly healthy – and record numbers apparently came through the door – but I sensed uneasiness among vendors and concern among their potential clients.

I was there, more than anything, to get the latest on storage and data protection, but over the years I have worked in many IT disciplines; so my interest is in the interplay between these and the genuine innovation that can result from lateral thinking.

For instance, a big noise this year was big data, for many only a curiosity so far: “I have a lot of data and it’s growing fast (whose isn’t?). But does that mean I must now classify it as big data?” Hadoop, that goes with it, is a great piece of open source software; but most end-users may have higher priorities regarding their stored data right now. So, by the end of my visit I felt: “I had had Hadoop oop to here” (but remember that we oldies can get a little jaded at the end of a long day).

I noticed a move away from purpose-built storage hardware (for which read “premium pricing”) towards bolt-on commodity boxes – belatedly following the trend for servers. That brings opportunities for more versatile software to achieve the greater scale-out and scale-up capacity and performance needed to match the ever-growing virtualised storage cloud market (about which there was also much noise). This approach featured in a debate involving Fusion-io founder and CEO David A. Flynn and is a trend likely to be good news for business customers hoping for a drop in hardware costs.

Fusion-io is also pushing the ‘commodity’ architecture boundaries by treating NAND flash as memory rather than a spinning disk substitute – and at a stroke eliminating most layers of logic including I-O scheduler logic for storage access (albeit introducing a new device type to recognise). Less radical is Nimble’s use of MLC flash and its Cache Accelerated Sequential Layout (CASL) to achieve turbo-charged storage performance.

Otherwise, there was less noise this year on flash/solid state disk (SSD) in general; Fusion-io arguably excepted, SSD is now part of the disk mix and has all but replaced 15k rpm spinning disk. The speed at which it replaces lower-spec drives is now down to cost- factoring in the much lower SSD running costs – a few years yet I think.

At the other end of the spectrum, tape seems destined to last forever. It is a frightening thought that, when (in my late teens in 1965!) I began working on mainframes, reel-to-reel tape drives were already well established for backup; disk hadn’t even appeared (but I bet some remember the C.R.A.M. random access device that I used back then). Sequential backup involved a rotation of tapes called “grandfather, father and son” (while, in the intervening years, I’ve progressed from son to father to grandfather!).

There was a major tape forum and I spoke to Brian Grainger, VP of Worldwide Sales at Spectra Logic, a long-established tape systems provider. He was very bullish about LTO’s future – a fifth generation coming with new density levels and speeds – and his company’s own modular and scalable systems approach. Tape will now support 10GbE transmission and, of course, it remains “green” as it needs no power when not in use.

Historically, many are heavily invested in proprietary vendor solutions. To extricate themselves, “helped” by their incumbent vendors, could itself prove costly and anyway carries an inevitable transition risk. Companies now also wrestle with the implications of workers deploying their own mobile devices – adding complexity to company IT security and data protection. Plenty of stands were offering solutions here (but I stayed focused on my core area so by-passed these).

Yet, any company committed to achieving a truly agile server-storage environment must eventually bite the bullet of this type of change or its infrastructure will end up tired and creaky (like me?). The message is, as ever was: do thorough research and plan your strategy carefully before you commit to the latest fashion. An event like IP Expo is good for picking up ideas to start your research (but not sign contracts).

I continue to enthuse over ATA over Ethernet (AoE) as a means of transporting data (arguably a protocol), about which I have already written a couple times; it’s in the public domain and also available in the Linux kernel. Yet, so far, only Coraid (the NAS server provider from where it emanated) is really exploiting its speed and simplicity for PB scale-out expansion capabilities. I spoke to Carl Wright, executive VP of worldwide sales, who recounted Coraid’s rocket-like growth right now (which is no coincidence). He also briefly discussed Coraid’s plans for policy-based automated orchestration of the whole virtualised cloud storage (using its Yunteq full stack orchestration acquired last year); this is also interesting stuff and I suspect Coraid is again ahead of the game.

Finally, whatever underlying storage technologies a company deploys, controlling the environment is often a headache. Here I’ll give a mention to Aptare. (I did Latin at school so think you should pronounce the “E” at the end – but moving swiftly on…) I met Nigel Houghton, Aptare’s EMEA regional sales manager, who described Aptare’s heterogeneous storage console that gives an end-to-end vision of the storage capacity for forecasting, auditing, compliance, and the ability to offer charge-back – for which expect increasing demand from cost-conscious executives. This type of software is surely handy if not a must for enterprises with mixed storage, and I am guessing it quickly pays for itself. Aptare includes agentless data collection from hosts, produces a logical and physical connection map, shows data space allocated but unused and high and low volume usage; how many businesses have that information at their fingertips right now?

I learnt much more at IP EXPO 2012 (for another day perhaps) and it was well worth a visit. So now, slippers on and feet up (I’m semi-retired you know); a little less noise now please.