Lessons Learned from SNW 2013

I picked up on two important trends at SNW 2013, including the role that IT can play as an internal broker for public cloud services, and the reasons enterprises are moving cautiously on emerging technology.

David Hill

April 30, 2013

6 Min Read
Network Computing logo

The ancient Chinese saying, or curse, "May you live in interesting times" certainly applies to data storage. Traditional storage is being rocked by trends such as the cloud, big data and BYOD that affect the information infrastructure.

The recently concluded Storage Networking World (SNW) conference in Orlando put on by Computerworld and the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) covered these as well as storage-specific topics, such as the future of solid state devices (SSDs). The need to stay abreast of what is happening now and over time is clear, as we are still in a learning curve. That said, businesses have to start making decisions today that get them started in the right direction. That was one challenge that faced the attendees.

And that challenge is a lot different than say five years ago. At that point, storage was internally focused on issues such as better management of storage area networks (SAN), deduplication and information life cycles. While traditional subjects--such as data protection--are still topical, and newer ones--such as storage hypervisors, object storage and SSDs--demand attention, the storage world now has to embrace trends that extend beyond core storage technologies.

Where SNIA Is Coming From

SNIA plays a broad role in helping the storage world cope with and live up to both storage-specific and storage-impacted trends. For those of you who might not be familiar with the group, SNIA is a not-for-profit organization that includes about 400 different companies.

SNIA is heavily weighted toward storage vendors, but others can join. That includes industry analysts. For example, even though I have not participated as much as I would like, I am a member of a few of SNIA's sub-groups, such as the SNIA Data Protection and Capacity Optimization organization.

While at SNW, I had a good discussion with Wayne M. Adams, chairman of SNIA. Now, SNIA sponsors meetings for experts. For example, it recently had a Non-Volatile Memory Summit and will have a Storage Plumbing and Data Engineering Conference (SPDEcon) in June. SNIA is also heavily involved in the development of standards and holds plugfests, which are cooperative, in-depth engineering test efforts. These include plugfests around the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), which is a more mature specification, and Cloud Data Management Interface (CDMI), which is an emerging standard. Enterprises benefit from the interoperability of products that conform with these standards.

[ Join us at Interop Las Vegas for access to 125+ IT sessions and 300+ exhibiting companies. Register today! ]

But SNIA is not just about storage vendors and experts. Adams pointed out the wealth of SNIA-supported educational activities for storage professionals. These include activities at SNW meetings themselves, such as Hands on Labs and Tutorials, as well as e-learning for storage certification training. Anyone can also take advantage of the free materials, such as presentations and white papers that are available at the SNIA website.

Each semi-annual SNW meeting also focuses on the business storage professional. SNW is a partnership between Computerworld and SNIA. Computerworld is actually the producer of the show and has had a long-standing working relationship with SNIA. Keynote and breakout sessions feature a balance and blend of customer case studies, which ground attendees in the real world; analysts who bring a broad view of trends and how those trends will impact individual businesses; and SNIA volunteer professionals (typically from storage vendor firms) who educate attendees about particular technologies from a vendor-neutral perspective.

Next page: Two Lessons from SNW Spring 2013I took away two major lessons from the SNW Spring 2013 event. First is IT's role in brokering shadow IT. One reason why enterprises are moving to the cloud is what many refer to as "shadow IT," where organizations within companies (such as business units or departments) build, develop or use IT solutions without either the knowledge or the explicit approval of the official IT organization. A common example is Salesforce.com, as well as other software-as-a-service (SaaS) cloud applications.

While this results in local optimization (as the local perspective of the using organization gets time-to-value and cost benefits that IT could not deliver so quickly or seamlessly), it may not be a global optimization (the whole company's perspective). This may result in problems, including security risks, compliance violations, the inability to integrate the data with other internal systems, and the inability to use the isolated data as a source in big data analyses.

Although he did not specifically mention shadow IT, Brian Comp of Orlando Health talked about it in his keynote address. Rather than responding negatively to shadow IT activities, Orlando Health instead realized that IT could serve a brokerage role. That way, non-IT organizations could continue to benefit from their efforts, but those efforts would fit into the broader perspective of the whole organization so that everyone would benefit and risks (such as security and compliance) would be mitigated.

Orlando Health also realized that moving more to IT as a service through an internal cloud approach with elasticity and scalability would not only make the brokerage process more effective, but would also cut costs and meet the needs for innovation (such as vendor-neutral archiving) that are being demanded of healthcare organizations. By proactively embracing IT as a service, Orlando Health was able to comply with the new health law, as well as get ahead of the cost savings curve.

The second thing I took away was the high interest by enterprises in emerging technologies, though companies are still doing a lot of tire-kicking.

I participated in sessions on emerging technologies, including big data, object storage, flash storage, the cloud and data protection. There are understandable reasons why companies are proceeding cautiously in these areas. Although the technologies have some well-defined use cases, IT pros need to understand how the technology would fit within the constraints of their environments. In addition, the markets may not have matured to a level to which IT pros are comfortable, and, unless there is a really compelling reason, most IT professionals avoid being early adopters. A fourth reason is simply information overload: Changes in the technology landscape are happening so quickly and constantly that IT professionals need time to absorb everything and try to make sense of it.

Mesabi Musings

Storage is exciting today. Not only are there storage-focused technologies, such as SSDs and object storage, that require attention, but storage has a critical role to play in the hot overall IT trends, such as big data and cloud. But "exciting" also means that not everything is known. This can result in complexity, not only in terms of individual technologies but also in terms of trying to understand how everything fits together.

One approach to moving forward in business is first to explore (that is, gather information) and then to exploit (take advantage by making decisions) what one has learned. In any event, SNW should have helped attendees in the exploration process as they move closer to exploitation. Even if you did not participate, SNIA has resources that might prove to be useful to you in your own exploration and exploitation processes.

About the Author(s)

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights