Best of the Fall Trade Shows

From panel discussions to workshops (where you can ask your own tough questions), this fall's trade shows offer a wealth of information and perspective from vendors big and small.

Anticipation is swelling as I write this because the new fall trade show lineup is about to roll out. It began in New York at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center with TECHXNY: a juiced-up version of the PCEXPO of old. I had the opportunity to share chairmanship duties for the Network Storage Reality Check day (September 17) with Mark Ferelli, editor of Computer Technology Review.

Everything was there: a great agenda filled with presentations and panel discussions featuring big and small vendors. But the difference between this venue and many others was the focus of the event. Vendors were put on a short leash in terms of time for self-serving advertisements. Instead, their product pitches were subjected to hard questions and critical dissection from both the panel and the attendees. The result: attendees walked away with a better sense of the real capabilities and limitations of technologies they were considering for their own use and the vendors left with a clear idea of what users want and need. That, to me, defines a good event.

Interestingly, the last panel of the day, featuring eight panelists convened to discuss the state of the art of storage provisioning and management, took a somewhat dismal turn. The panel was comprised mostly of management software guys who pointed their collective finger at the one hardware guy at the end of the long table—Tom Solomon, CTO for XIOtech—to explain that everything that could be done to manage storage had mostly been done already. In their view, climbing any higher up the ladder toward the holy grail of allocation-optimized and utilization-optimized utility storage would require a reversal of the thinking of storage hardware vendors, who were collectively blamed for impeding any real movement toward universal management.

Solomon did a yeoman’s job of trying to defend his wares, and I actually found myself believing him when he said that priority one at XIOtech was to address their customers’ needs. Having spoken to many XIOtech customers in the past, mostly at medium-sized organizations, they have been universally satisfied with their purchases from the array-maker and loyal in the way that Saturn drivers are to their preferred automobile manufacturer.

The company’s latest Magnitude 3D technology for clustered storage is an excellent, albeit very proprietary, one. Companies that are growing storage rapidly but lack the coin (or the need) to purchase high end arrays from other vendors would be very well served by the XIOtech offering in terms of immediate investment value. I’m not so sure about the value to companies with heterogeneous storage infrastructures, however.

Anyway, the panel laid bare the fundamental barrier to heterogeneous storage management: proprietary array and controller designs that reflect the Howard Stern-like goal of every array vendor to be the “king of all media.” References to SNIA’s Common Information Model (CIM) management approach actually produced a chuckle. Clearly CIM, it was remarked, was like most API swap arrangements: temporary tactical responses to shifting vendor market positions. Enthusiasm around CIM had clearly nose-dived with the removal of EMC as a threat in the management space. The panel asserted, rightly or wrongly, that EMC’s WideSky middleware initiative had largely failed—or, at least, nobody was terribly concerned about it anymore. With the specter of WideSky and a single vendor dominance off the radar, none of the vendors felt any urgency to embrace an “open” alternative like CIM. That pretty much leaves users back where they were before: with limited storage management tools.

The end users in attendance confirmed that they still manage their storage the old fashioned way, with a quiver of arrows representing a bunch of disparate management software tools acquired over the years or written in house. Everyone had a mixed storage environment featuring different vendor arrays and different deployment topologies. Growing and managing such environments remained a headache.

The following day provided an extremely well-attended event: the Network Storage University mini-conference on Data Protection and the Intelligent Storage Infrastructure. This was the first installment of a 13-city “tour” for the latest NSU, which costs nothing for attendees and rewards them with a book, a free lunch, and a concentrated dose of vendor thinking on the subject of networked storage and data protection. Check out http://www.networkstorageu.com to see when the event will visit your area and, if your time permits, check out the show.

The NSU format was different from the Reality Check, because it is a free (i.e., vendor-sponsored) event. Following a “curmudgeony keynote” by yours truly, multiple vendors took the stage in succession to explain how their hardware and software can be combined to provide some cost-efficient data protection alternatives beyond simple disk mirroring or tape backup. This was followed by a scenario-based workshop in which you can puzzle out how burgeoning security and data protection technologies might be applied to an increasingly networked storage infrastructure to make a difference in protecting your most critical and irreplaceable asset: data. It is a highly informative event, and according to the folks I spoke to afterwards, a great way to get all the information about new data protection approaches in one concentrated dose. Hope to see you at one of these going forward.

Finally, we are preparing for the fall installment of Storage Networking World in Orlando, FL. Despite my lack of kindness to this show in the spring and my criticism of its content as repetitive of what I had seen at previous shows, they have invited me back to lead my “CTO roast” panel. No one has told me which CTOs have volunteered for the grilling this time around, but it is always illuminating.

If you can make it to Fall SNW, which occurs the week of Halloween, you should also try to make it to a panel on burgeoning data replication and mirroring solutions. Politics precluded me from chairing this one, which I think is the most important topic for discussion in the wake of viruses, weather events and other disasters of late, but I will be in the audience myself awaiting the open mike and the opportunity to ask a few pointed questions of the vendors seeking to introduce the next big thing in data protection.

See you at the shows!

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.