Recently, at an analyst meeting, EMC’s president of information infrastructure products (Pat Gelsinger) gave an overview of EMC’s virtual storage vision. It’s all about the cloud and virtualization, and how both technologies carry us on a journey to a “storage from anywhere world”. As Pat spoke, nothing particularly new was in his pitch: cloud this, virtualization that, but then he drifted off into new territory….
Sometimes I wonder if perhaps I’m drinking the wrong Kool-Aid, smoking the wrong (medically approved!) ganja or just need my meds adjusted. Pat describes a global vision but lacking any detail or justification, I’m at a loss for what EMC is talking about. Sure, I get the grand scheme – make a storage container in the sky accessible to all on earth, anytime, anywhere. An aggregation of all storage into one big, dare I say it, cloud.
But at the heart of my nature I’m a practical guy. Sure, go ahead and give me all the lofty platitudes. Dream of rainbows and sunshine, but in the end I want to know where the river runs, what’s the implementation plan and how will “what-ever-it-is” make my life better? The SXSW festival – movies, music, and social interaction technologies - is in full swing here in Austin, TX – those folks know fantasy and how to spin rainbows. For the rest of us who live on terra firma, things are not so simple.
(Kudos to the cartoon author – this cartoon originated back in the 70s)
It would be easy to give EMC a hard time, not for their vision but their lack of practical detail. But I’d rather not go there - it’s way too easy to throw stones at big, new ideas. I have every reason to believe that Pat and his colleagues are pretty smart and not likely smoking the ganja in their strategy meetings.
Soooo, I’ll take the high road. In fairness, Pat did point out 3 practical obstacles for his data-storage-everywhere vision – latency, bandwidth, and consistency. All these challenges revolve around the speed of light and the virtual time travel necessary to deliver a responsive storage system.
Miracles happen – engineers do it all the time.
But apart from the speed of light problem, there’s some other pressing issues that need attention, if not outright miracles. For instance, it would be great to see more work done on refining a services-based management model. No one in an enterprise setting should need to select what RAID level to use.In fact, none of the inner workings of a storage system should be exposed at all.
Some progress has been made.
IBM’s XIV, Pillar Data and Netapp (to name a few) are all on the services abstraction path for disk array management. That’s a good thing, excepting that their individual paths are not always convergent.
And, before going off to conquer the world, let’s get the local storage in a datacenter federated, aggregated and homogenized. I can hardly count how many clients I talk to with all manner of storage in their data center. Not only do they have multiple primary data systems but also a sundry of systems for backup, archive and long term storage. Heck, the vendors selling storage virtualization appliances feed on such scenarios – no one sets off from scratch with storage virtualization – they use it as a band-aid to recover from years of collecting a variety of storage platforms.
but I rant, pufff…
As Pat explained, we are all left to speculate on his vision, with some more revelations to come at EMC World. I feel like a carp being reeled in.
I can certainly speculate how a system might handle latency, bandwidth and consistency on a worldwide basis. But I won’t. EMC threw up/out the possibility – now it’s time to get practical and let us mere mortals in on the magic.
Until that day, here’s what’s most interesting about all this fantasying: the need for EMC to push its products ever further away from the (what’s becoming commodity) hardware. Except for the most extreme performance machines, storage is looking more like software packages loaded on commodity hardware. The advent of clustered commodity storage (CCS) is an early harbinger. CCS requires assembly by IT personnel, but it’s all about the software. The hardware it lies on is important to be sure, but let’s face it, hardware can be had from any number of sources.
So where is EMC trying to take us storage folk? Pat knows for sure but here’s my take:
To a land where the hardware is buried so deep it is no longer visible. Where data service, service level agreements (SLAs), and quality of service (QoS) are the lingua franca and no one needs to know what RAID stands for. And for good measure a virtual storage container distributed across the globe letting virtual machines, applications and data services live where ever it is convenient.
I like the vision, I’m worried about the details. Am I just blowing smoke?
Posted by Gene Ruth