And the Winner is ... the Best (and Worst) in Storage

Jon Toigo takes a look at the storage industry's hits and misses during the past year.

In keeping with the theme of this issue of Enterprise Systems, I proudly present my selections for the best (and worst) storage products of 2001-2002. Presentations were made at a recent press event and gala held at an undisclosed location for security reasons, which probably accounted for the low turnout.

The pre-show festivities lacked the glitz and fashion of the Oscar and Emmy presentations. Most attendees wore golf shirts emblazoned with their corporate logos and many reported that they were attending the banquet to take advantage of a free meal and a day off work. A few Compaq folks were handing out resumes in anticipation of the great pink slip party that will likely accompany the HP merger.

By the time the awards were to be made, the tension was palpable. Here, then, are the categories and the awards:

Best Storage in a Leading Role:
Clearly, determining a winner in this category was a tough decision. Different storage platforms are suitable for storing data from different applications. Good array products include IBM Shark (now that some of the software is available), EMC Symmetrix, and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) Lightning. Improving technology within Network Appliance Filers also make these NAS platforms quite database-capable. For file-based storage, there's nothing like NAS, whether from NetApp, Procom Technology, or the many other vendors in this increasingly crowded space. This time around, however, our award goes to Maxtor MaxAttach, not necessarily because it's the best all-around platform, but because its original implementation of IDE/ATA hard disks in an enterprise-class platform challenged the industry to develop low-cost, high-volume storage platforms based on inexpensive disks. By offering 1.9TB for less than $30,000, MaxAttach threw down the gauntlet and put to rest, once and for all, the criticism that only big iron arrays could withstand the rigors of enterprise-class workloads.

Best Storage in a Supporting Role:
Tape and optical have heretofore been the dominant forces in secondary storage. SuperDLT from Quantum still lords over all comers in this space—even Linear Tape Open (LTO). LTO tape sounded like a good idea in the late 1990s—a vendor consortium offering interoperable products to avoid single vendor lock-in—but this past year the problems with a technology-by-multi-vendor-consortium approach began to show. Similarly-named products from HP, IBM and Seagate have shown design differences that cut to the heart of the technology's value proposition. Tapes from one Ultrium drive won't necessarily work in another Ultrium drive. While we're told that these differences will be ironed out, monolithic SuperDLT continues to carry the day in the tape world.

Optical products from DISC and Spectra Logic are also enjoying a resurgence based on the rise of storage fabrics that rejuvenate the old Hierarchical Storage Management (HSM) formula that never quite translated to the world of distributed computing. We will be monitoring this development closely.

The award in this class, however, goes to Quantum's DX 30. It's among the first of the tape emulating disk platforms designed to expedite backups by writing streaming data to a virtual tape device (a disk platform). We're looking to Avamar Technologies, a small company still in stealth mode in Irvine, Calif., to write a new chapter in the book of secondary storage.

Best Storage-Area Network:
Unfortunately, because all current "SANs" are based on Fibre Channel, which cannot be used to create a network, there were no qualified candidates from which to select a winner in this category this year.

Best Storage Products based on a Non-Standard or Yet-to-be-Released Standard:
This award is shared among all Fibre Channel Switches boasting FC-SW2 Compliance as well as all iSCSI storage components.

Best New Storage Acronym:
ICKI. Coined by Steve Sicola, chief technology Officer at Compaq, ICKI stands for Incredibly Complex or Kludgy Implementations, which, according to Sicola, should be avoided in all storage platform designs. Good advice.

Best Storage Product Marketing Phrase that You Will Never Hear:
From Avamar Technologies, "Un-suck tape."

Best Storage-Vendor-Booth Giveaway:
Soft little fuzzy cubes from Yotta Yotta, which, when smacked together or thrown to the floor or at a wall, actually say the words "Yotta Yotta." This is basically all that the storage startup has actually created with the tens of millions of dollars in venture capital and angel funding obtained since its formation in the late 1990s.

Storage Company Whose Initiatives have been Most Directly Responsible for the Success of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA):
EMC Corp., whose announcement of the Fibre Alliance in the late 1990s drove all competitors to embrace SNIA in the first place, and whose announcement of WideSky and AutoIS management software last year found competitors embracing SNIA's Common Information Model (CIM) initiative at Storage Networking World last Spring.

Most-ICKI Storage Management Software Product:
Veritas SANPoint Foundation Suite. Users complain that any truly useful component of this "suite" requires the installation of several useless components.

Least-ICKI Storage Management Framework Product:
(Tie) BMC Software's Patrol, for its refreshing dose of commonsensical and application-centric management modules, and Fujitsu SOFTEK for its visionary efforts in the realm of policy-based management.

Best Management Software for Managing Storage Management Software: Bocada's BackupReport, the best manager of backup/restore software that we've seen to date.

Best Storage Resource Manager for Emerging Networked Storage:
No surprise to us, Tek-Tools Storage Profiler is the best of the best in this category—probably because it comes from a bunch of network guys who had to learn storage.

Best Fibre Channel Switch:
Vixel InSpeed, which puts the FC switch where it belongs—on a chip inside the array.

Most-Hyped Storage Interconnect Protocol:
Fibre Channel 2. (iSCSI is a close second.)

Most Important Storage Advice: Again, from Compaq's Sicola, a simple warning:
"Be wary of the Doppler Effect." What is the Doppler Effect? "It is the tendency of a stupid idea or technology to sound more intelligent when explained very quickly."

Biggest Growth Trend in Storage:
No, it's not data growth or capacity growth or vendor proliferation in the storage resource management software space. The biggest growth in storage over the past year has been in the number of analysts hanging out shingles as storage experts. So much advice, so little hands-on knowledge.

Best Storage Column:
Your guess is as good as mine.

The past year has dealt a financial blow to many in the industry, but this has not dissuaded companies with new ideas from continuing to develop them into next-generation storage technology, or companies with old ideas from continuing to re-tool their market spin to make them seem fresh and relevant.

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.