The Hype Leader

Which new storage technology wins the award for being the most over-hyped - solid-state disks, cloud storage/computing, or Fibre Channel over Ethernet?

April 29, 2009

5 Min Read
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For a conservative industry filled with cautious and risk-adverse professionals, storage sure does like its hot trends and latest and greatest technologies. I sometimes get the impression that industry vendors are so filled with hot air that they might float away. Everything is a "first" or an "only" or a "breakthrough" or the fastest or easiest or most cost effective. It makes me think about the Hype Cycle that Gartner spelled out many years ago. And that makes me ask: Which is the most hyped new storage technology of 2009 -- solid-state disks, cloud storage, or Fibre Channel over Ethernet?

But first, some background: More than a decade ago, respected research and analyst firm Gartner described what it called the five phases of hype -- generally used in talking about technology. First is a trigger or a breakthrough or product launch or some event that generates attention. Next comes a wave of publicity and commentary and overblown promises that eventually end up producing excessive enthusiasm and impossible-to-meet expectations. That leads to the third stage, disillusionment and lots of chatter about a "failed technology" or an "unwanted product" or some other dismissive label. People stop talking about it, the press stops writing about it, and most people forget about it. After that things settle down and vendors and end users begin to make advancements and gain a better understanding of the benefits of the new technology. Gartner called that the "slope of enlightenment." Finally, once a technology has proven itself, it enters an era of productivity. Those five stages are generally referred to as the Hype Cycle.

I would argue that we are probably in the first or second stage of hype when it comes to SSDs, Cloud Storage, and FCoE. All three are getting tons of attention, and the rhetoric has become a bit extreme, especially for SSDs and Clouds. I have lost count of the number of times that I have read, or heard somebody say, that "this is a game changer." The hype for FCoE is a bit more reserved, probably because FCoE is made up of two technologies that many IT managers are already familiar with -- Fibre Channel and Ethernet. But some of the predictions that say FCoE will take over and rule the data center end up sounding more like hype.

As for SSDs and clouds, well, everybody knows that they are going to change life on this planet as we know it and bring peace and prosperity to all living human beings and kittens and puppies. Future storage systems will be made up of big, fast flash storage and slow and cheap SATA drives. Nobody will need anything else. And if you don't like that idea, then you must be one of those folks who are going to stash all of their data in the cloud on storage owned and managed by somebody else. After all, it isn't like this data is so important that you need to handle it yourself. I've heard that they will put an end to external storage systems since there is no reason to spend tons of money on them if you can stick all of your data and applications on super-fast, SSDs or put it all in the cloud so you no longer have to even think about it.

Don't get me wrong. I do think that all three of these technologies are important and have the potential to bring about major changes in the way we handle and store information. But after covering technology for several decades, I know that technology transformations take time and mainstream IT managers are slow to migrate to new systems and architectures -- especially during a recession. Me, I'm still waiting for broadband over power lines, a "game changing" technology I first covered in the 1980s.I will confess to being part of the problem and personally contributing to the hype cycle. As a tech reporter, I still get excited when I hear about cool new stuff that is going to improve the lives of IT managers and storage administrators, help companies operate more efficiently, and improve American business, education, and health care. And sometimes that excitement is reflected in what I write. Even industry analysts, who are often more jaded and cynical than I am, can get caught up on the hype.

Of course, it is easy to do that when your main job is merely to write about the hot new thing. Fortunately, those of you who have to buy, deploy, integrate, and manage the hot new thing seem a little more resistant to the hype -- perhaps because it could cost you your job if you mess up. A long period of testing is the best way to weed out the true advances and breakthroughs from the pretenders, and that seems to be standard operating procedure in enterprise data centers. That is a good thing.

As for the vendors, they are in the middle of intense competition with dozens or hundreds of rivals to gain mind share and market share, so it isn't surprising that they might go overboard in describing how their technologies and products and services are going to transform the data center as we know it. Perhaps industry consultant Jon Toigo said it best in a recent a recent blog post: "Why dont we get a clue and stop chasing every gol dern hype curve?"

That's good advice -- for me and everybody else. In the meantime, until we all come to our senses, let me know what you think about SSDs, Cloud Storage and FCoE -- hype or real advances?

And join InformationWeek and Byte and Switch on Wednesday, March 25, for the Innovations in Storage Virtual Event. The doors open at 10 a.m. EST. Sign up now (registration required).0

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