David Hill

Network Computing Blogger


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IBM Turns IT into Storage Service Provider

One of the purposes of the cloud, whether that be private, public or a hybrid, is to provision some aspect of IT as a service. This service enables a non-IT professional (such as a departmental administrator) to provision an IT resource without involving an IT professional as an intermediary. This has a number of benefits.

For example, the non-IT professional does not have to wait on the priorities of the IT professional (as in needing support for an "A" priority task that may be a "C" priority to IT). In addition, such services let IT workers better use their own time on higher-value tasks that generate greater value for the organization.

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However, while businesses can certainly reap benefits from services, including enhanced efficiency (less time, work and expense to do a particular task) and effectiveness (being able to do more of the right things that add value), providing a service is not easy.

Storage as a Service

IBM has recently launched SmartCloud Storage Access, which lets an IT department provide storage as a service with a private cloud for its own users. IBM SmartCloud Storage Access is downloadable software that runs as a VMware-based virtual machine in a private data center.

Access is provided through a GUI-based Web portal that offers users self-service storage capacity provisioning and the ability to perform monitoring and reporting against specified service levels. This software interfaces with Tivoli Storage Productivity Center (TPC) or IBM's Virtual Storage Center (TPC already built-in) to do the actual work on a back-end storage system (either IBM's Storwize V7000 Unified or SONAS only, as the first version of SmartCloud Storage Access is NAS-only).

While non-IT professionals might use the service themselves, more typical users are administrators who have knowledge of a group's storage requirements. These might include a healthcare administrator whose group is responsible for medical imaging, a manager in an academic institution responsible for research projects that require a lot of storage or a person responsible for electronic content management in a large organization.

Now, non-IT administrators who use SmartCloud Storage Access will determine both the amount of storage that is desired and the necessary service level (using a typical Gold, Silver, Bronze framework that specifies the level of data protection).

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But what happens if an administrator specifies much more storage than needed (say, a petabyte) and always wants the highest level of service even if it is not really necessary?

For one thing, storage is not physically allocated until it is really needed (via thin provisioning), so IT won't need to rush out and buy tons of storage. For another, SmartCloud Storage Access includes an approval control process that ensures that authorized personnel only use the system within their limits of responsibility. In other words, there should be enough checks and balances built into the system to ensure that errors are not made and to limit negative consequences.

For IBM's new service to work, IT has to be very comfortable in accepting that decisions they once made are now being performed either automatically or through the use of a policy engine.

There's some risk in this. After all, if something goes wrong, IT would still be held accountable. The carrot, however, is that when IBM's SmartCloud Storage Access is part of their tool kit, IT administrators can turn their attention to more interesting, challenging and perhaps even more rewarding (as in higher pay) tasks.

Mesabi Musings

The biggest game in cloud is how to provide self-service capabilities that provide value to users without having to use IT as an intermediary. This reassignment implies that service users do not have to have specialized technological knowledge but can simply specify what they need according to relatively simple guidelines.

In essence, IBM's new SmartCloud Storage Access capabilities demonstrate that this model of storage as a service is now real. IBM's new offering is only in its first release. The company may have product development plans, such as supporting object storage, which would extend the capabilities of SmartCloud Storage Access beyond private organizations to public clouds.

IBM is a client of David Hill and the Mesabi Group.


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