iWave Raises The Flag For Storage Automation

One of the fascinating things about the IT industry is its role as an ongoing incubator of innovation that impacts the lives of individuals, organizations and society. Now, if Raymond Kurzweil is to be believed, that trend will continue with no foreseeable end in sight. One hotbed of IT innovation is automation, particularly storage automation. And iWave plans to be a trend setter in storage automation.

David Hill

December 27, 2011

9 Min Read
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One of the fascinating things about the IT industry is its role as an ongoing incubator of innovation that impacts the lives of individuals, organizations and society. Now, if Raymond Kurzweil is to be believed--I agree with him, as you can easily tell--that trend will continue with no foreseeable end in sight. One hotbed of IT innovation is automation, particularly storage automation. And iWave plans to be a trend setter in storage automation.

In fact, iWave highlights another fascinating thing about IT: that innovation is not the exclusive province of big IT vendors; small IT vendors have the opportunity to play major roles, as well. Now, big IT vendors have larger financial resources that enable them, if they wish, to tackle any number of projects simultaneously. Those with ongoing research capabilities may tackle larger projects and those that last for a long time (that is, many years) without delivering a real product. Moreover, large companies can risk failures as long as those projects that hit it big more than compensate for all the ones that failed to deliver sufficient value.

However, even though smaller companies cannot engage in a similar wealth of projects, and failure of a product development project may mean their own failure, they still have at least one advantage: They can tackle innovative projects without worrying that they might cannibalize existing profitable products or businesses. Moreover, smaller companies may be more nimble, as they are not encumbered by the organizational constraints and restrictions that often exist in larger vendors.

Now, storage automation, which iWave is targeting, is an especially important area. But before we see what iWave is doing, let’s review what automation is all about.

IT goes through terminology fads that represent (sometimes) major trends. ("Cloud" and "big data," anyone?) Another of the fashionable terms that is bandied about in what seems to be an indiscriminate fashion is "automation." As an industry analyst, I take briefings from vendors large and small (and these briefings often serve to provide information for my writing). An executive from a large, well-known vendor recently used the word automation as if he and his company had just created the term and as if his company's products delivered all of the benefits of automation. Unfortunately, he could not explain how his products were automated and what benefits they actually delivered.

The word automation as it pertains to IT has been around for many years. In fact, 2012 marks the 60th year since the term was reinvented in a book entitled simply "Automation" by John Diebold, an early IT management guru whom I am happy to say that I knew personally (although many years after he had written "Automation"). As John talked about in a later book, "Making the Future Work":

  • "First, you mechanize what you did yesterday.

  • Second, you find that the task changes; the technology revises what you do; not just how you do it.

  • Third, you find that as a result of that transformation, the greatest change of all occurs in society."

    Reread those three statements a few times (recognizing that the verb "mechanize" has to be in an electronic world context) until you release how profound and prescient a thinker John was. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think that he would say that almost everything IT does today is some form of automation (as software applications simply automate what would otherwise be manual processes). Further, automation in the IT industry is, as a result, always a work in progress with no end in sight. In fact, you could say that automation is one means of measuring IT progress--what stage are you at in applying automation and where do you need to go? That means that a vendor can claim some connection to or benefit from automation, but how far that automation has progressed and what it delivers is the important thing.

    One high-level worry about automation (or robotics, which is an instantiation of automation) is that it will take jobs away or lower the skill levels that are necessary to complete a job. On the whole (not select instances), that hasn’t been the case, as the benefits have outweighed the negatives.

    A lower-level concern is the loss of control. What you had planned for the automation to accomplish may result in different outcomes that significantly alter a job or process. That is why automation often has to be introduced with training wheels, so to speak, before it is allowed to ride by itself. Note that at some point you have to let go and see where the process takes you.

    Now, on to iWave. As pointed out, automation in the electronic world tends to be a work in progress rather than a well-defined endpoint. A lot of work has been done by many to advance the state of storage automation, but iWave appears to be doing some interesting work in that arena that should attract our attention.

    But first, a word about the company. No, it is not owned by Apple, even though a lower case "i" starts its name. Instead, iWave is a part of the Hall Financial Group. So, although it is a small company of fewer than 50 employees, iWave has access to financial capital rather than having to deal with the vagaries of trying to obtain venture capital whenever the need arises.

    That need arose at least twice in the past couple of years as iWave acquired Newmerix in June 2009 and Enigmatec in April 2010. Now, iWave cannot be considered a software startup, as it was founded in 1993 and has what would seem to be a solid customer base that includes OEMs. (iWave can publicly acknowledge only Unisys.)

    Still, small companies tend to stick to their own knitting and not worry about acquisitions. But companies that can make acquisitions that integrate in a complementary manner can move forward faster without having to reinvent the software wheel.

    This point explains iWave’s ability to start off with a base of data center orchestration and first extend to cloud service management before adding storage automation to its evolutionary mix. In point of fact, the company’s storage automation is powered by iWave Orchestrator, which uses iWave accelerators. These accelerators provide workflow and adapters, which is software that enables bi-directional communications with endpoint applications.

    Now, the technological and commercial drivers for storage automation are well known. The projected continued huge growth in the need for storage accompanied by the fact that IT operating budgets are not growing commensurately leads the charge for increased storage efficiency or "doing more with less." Central to that is that storage administrator skills are in short supply and not likely to increase sufficiently under business-as-usual conditions. To top it off, as cloud computing takes off, storage will be a necessary part of that process and storage as a service will be a large part of the overall IT-as-a-service cloud endgame.

    iWave has introduced the iWave Storage Director as its means to provide automated enterprise storage. That includes benefits such as cutting down provisioning time of storage from days to minutes, discovering and reclaiming unused storage, and enabling storage administrators to use more of their time on higher-value-added activities than simply doing routine tasks that had to be done and done right, but can now be automated.

    iWave’s Storage Director has what the company calls an open and extendable architecture. At the base of the architecture, iWave abstracts the IT infrastructure, including the physical environment (such as servers, storage, and networking), the virtual environment (such as VMware ESX and Microsoft Hyper-V) and what it calls ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) service support applications (such as service desk, event management systems, and change and configuration management).

    On the next level up are storage workflows managed by the iWave Orchestrator, including storage provisioning, storage administration and storage (space) reclamation. The very top level is a service invocation that includes the iWave Storage Director itself, as well as the customer interface portal and all the middleware glue such as standard APIs, including Web services.

    Is all this complex? Actually, yes. Take, for example, provisioning. Thin provisioning has been a boon in helping the provisioning process itself, but does not address all the workflow and management issues that are necessary for true provisioning. For true provisioning to occur, the request to provision has to be captured, security has to be configured, and the application that uses the storage has to be taken into account. Automating storage provisioning requires workflow and change management to be put in place.

    In addition, enabling the ability to make changes if necessary should help alleviate an organization’s concerns about the of loss of control. For example, with policy-driven automated changes in place, there is always the chance that what you expected to happen actually doesn’t. Corrections need to be done. This is the job of storage remediation, which allows you to correct policies that are aren’t functioning as intended.

    All in all, iWave automates an "end-to-end" approach to the storage process, meaning that everything from the host server (including the application), the operating system and, if used, the hypervisor to the fabric network switches to the storage controller and, finally, to the actual spindles on the disks are taken into account. This is necessary because the user experience (including performance, such as response time, and viability) in using storage depends upon all of these components. Storage automation then is not only about storage, but also about everything else that can affect the user and IT operations related to the storage experience.

    As an illustration using private storage cloud automation, iWave Storage Director offers a catalog of automated storage services, provides storage consumers with a self-service portal, and provides support capabilities for DBAs and developers, such as help for provisioning an Oracle database.

    Automation is really what IT is all about, although IT users don’t always think through the lens of automation. But although virtually every IT vendor talks about how its products are automated, the actual degree and effectiveness of those automation solutions vary. This is true with storage automation, as well. Now, iWave would probably admit that it doesn’t have all the answers to storage automation, but what it does have is a solid architectural foundation and demonstrated customer successes.

    A couple of fundamental architectural principles can be seen in iWave’s solutions. The first is an end-to-end approach, where end-to-end means that all the hardware and software components of the IT infrastructure that affect storage automation are taken into account. The second is that storage automation is part of an overall workflow and change management process. That is not easy to implement, which is why storage vendors have been working on bits and pieces of the process for years.

    As a result, iWave’s Storage Director can and should serve as a benchmark against which other vendors’ products can be compared. The net result of this process should be that the enterprise will end up knowing what storage automation is, what kind it needs and which products meet those specific requirements.

    At the time of publication, iWave is not a client of David Hill and the Mesabi Group.

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