Where Does the Intelligence Go?

Industry brains talk intelligence in storage devices but come up with better questions than answers

May 14, 2004

3 Min Read
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LAS VEGAS -- Adding intelligence to storage devices goes beyond putting virtualization capabilities in SAN switches, according to a panel of industry executives here at the Networld+Interop tradeshow.

Other than that, there was little consensus within the group, which raised more questions than answers while discussing what intelligent applications users want, where they should go, and what problems they can solve.

Some panel members appeared concerned that the issue has turned into a debate on virtualization, at the expense of specific applications that it enables such as data replication, mirroring, snapshotting, and resource management.

"Originally, virtualization meant a single pool of multiple storage islands. Now we've turned virtualization into intelligence," said Christopher Croteau, Intel Corp.'s (Nasdaq: INTC) director of business development for storage.

Turning intelligence back to its broader definition raises the question: Haven't we been here before?"Isn't this similar to the applications that reside on a PC?" asked Ed Chapman, senior director of product management for Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) storage technology group. "You like some of those applications, and some you don't like. The bigger question is, are the applications that sit on top going to be able to provide you with the tools you need?"

"Haven't we already had this conversation with RAID?" asked Bob Rumer of Vitesse Semiconductor Corp.'s (Nasdaq: VTSS) strategic storage marketing group. "Now we have software RAID, host-based RAID, RAID silos. You can't expect to walk out of this room with one answer."

The major question about intelligent features is where they should reside. A recent Byte and Switch Insider report, "Storage Virtualization: For Real?" concluded that the switch was the best place for virtualization, but many believe intelligence should go in servers, storage arrays, or other hardware (see Report: Switch Is Best for Virtualization and Notes From Underground).

"Storage has been intelligent for a long time," said Mark Spowart, president of intelligent software vendor StoreAge Networking Technologies Ltd. "Arrays are very intelligent. The issue is, when SANs were invented, you had a different place to put intelligence. There are a lot of places where it can reside. You want to make it appropriate to what application your user needs."

That includes tape libraries, according to the tape library vendors, which point out that snapshot, mirroring, replication, and monitoring can improve the backup process."Intelligence basically needs to be everywhere in a SAN," said Hossein ZiaShakeri, VP of advanced engineering at Spectra Logic Corp. "Yes, we can have intelligent libraries, and we started on that path five years ago."

Although StoreAge's software resides mostly on switches, Spowart agrees that intelligence can go on tape libraries.

"Instead of doing full backups, you take snapshots every day and restore quicker," he said. "Remote mirroring and rapid recovery are bookends around traditional tape backup."

As with every new technology, implementing virtualization in storage networks will bring about new challenges. Some of these have nothing to do with technology, as Cisco's Chapman pointed out: Since virtualization is supposed to make it easier to mingle storage tools from different vendors, issues such as support and certification get murky. For example, IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) recently announced that its SAN Volume Controller can virtualize EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) Clariion arrays.

Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch0

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