Guy Bunker, the chief scientist of Veritas Software cheerfully admits that the company is the Switzerland of storage. No, he doesn’t mean that the company sells chocolates and cuckoo clocks as a sideline but that it retains an air of studied neutrality to some of the heated arguments taking place in the storage world.
It seems strange even talk about any controversy within storage. For a long time, storage was regarded as a boring topic – the preserve of IT specialists who found coding a bit too exciting. As Bunker says, “File systems and volume management have always been thought of as boring but necessary. You automatically assume that they’re there.”
But all that has changed in the past few years. As Bunker points out, the rise of the Internet and the corresponding rise of the 24 hour business has meant that the nature of IT and networking has completely changed. “Business has come to rely on information systems – in fact, they’re the business now. And people have to keep those systems up and running,” he says.
Businesses are well aware of how crucial these systems could be to the smooth-running of the company. Bunker explains that in 1993, well before 9/11, there had been another bomb in the World Trade Centre, causing extensive damage, Bunker says that 75 percent of the companies affected by that attack have gone out of business since then. Although, he also explains, UK businesses have always been more acutely aware of the need for disaster recovery, owing to the extensive terrorist activity over the years.
New technology developments
Bunker says that one thing’s for certain, life’s not about to get any easier for storage managers. New technology is set to lead to some new headaches. As Bunker points out, there going to be some astonishing developments in storage. “In 2005/2006 you’re going to get a terabyte on a disc, the personal terabyte, - how do you manage the data on that?” he asks, although, he says, that new paradigms are being developed to deal with just this issue.
It’s not just a question of technology. Managers are going to have to change the way that they work. The advent of the 24-hour business means that there going to have to fundamental changes to the way that businesses handle storage. “In the old days, back-ups used to be done overnight, but in the 24 hour business world, when do you do the back-ups. There’s no good time to do them, so how do you do it smarter?
And, he asks, what technologies do you employ? “Do you transfer data from server to another server that’s got a tape-drive attached? Do you attach more tape libraries for servers? Do you put them in a SAN? Do you start sharing tape drives? Or do you mirror your storage or back up on a different server? There’s no one way that it has to be done,” as it all depends upon the environment.
Users are much keener to learn the nuances of storage, however, As evidence, he cites the fact that the courses that Veritas runs are completely full.
One technology that Bunker does see as making waves in the future is the use of block level incremental backup (BLIB) where only changes that have been made since last backup are saved – and as he points out, leading to a considerable saving in time and money.
One way in which storage is moving forwards is in the slow acceptance of the importance of standards. “Storage has managed to escape having a number of standards – unlike in networking where there were a number of standards competing for attention. In storage, you just had SCSI. Now with the advent of SANs we are finding that standards are becoming an issue.” Progress is being made on this front, with groups such as the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) whose members include Veritas pushing towards vendor neutral standards.
Of course, users within the IT environment have tended to avoid heterogeneous systems but it’s been harder to do this within the storage world. “Part of the problem has been the way that kit has been rebadged,” says Bunker. “A customer would go out to IBM, HP or Sun and would be stuck with whatever the vendor was offering for their operating system – this year it could be a rebadged Hitachi box and next an EMC box. So, even without trying, people were ending up with heterogeneous storage environments – it proves to be a problem as people need a different piece of software to manage every different vendor’s product.
Most of the debate around storage at the moment seems to be focusing on the conflict between the iSCSI proponents and the Fibre Channel people. As Bunker points out, the two sides spend a lot of time sneering at each other, ignoring the fact that there’ll be room for both. “However, you can’t run iSCSI until you get one gig or 10 gig Ethernet, but on the plus side, your network management tools will work right the way from Ethernet to Gigabit Ethernet.”
Another debate that has shaped the storage industry is that of virtualisation. Bunker says that to a certain extent, this is now old hat, but there are still too many vendors using the word in different ways, leading to user confusion. “At Veritas, virtualisation is what we’ve done for the last ten years – the trouble is, everyone jumps on the bandwagon and warps the word and says that their way is best.” Again, there is no single correct answer, it all depends upon the environment, hence training is becoming increasingly important in order to understand all the options that are out there.
It’s not only technical issues that are concerning managers. One area that they are going to have to deal with administrative – charging could be a real headache. “How do you charge for the amount of storage being used within an individual group,” asks Bunker. A new set of tools to help managers with this exact question is due for release this year – without knowing who is using what, it is difficult to justify the ROI for new and existing hardware. And storage managers shouldn’t be too gleeful at the thought of the cost of storage coming down. Bunker wryly points out, “as the price of storage comes down, the amount of storage used and therefore the cost of managing that storage will go up.”