On the Road: Trends to Watch

Fall is a busy time for storage announcements and shows. Here's what's ahead.

Fall is always a busy time for storage technology watchers. There are many announcements by vendors (though rarely any retrospectives to explain what happened to the stuff announced the previous Fall that was never delivered), final quarterly financial reports are released, and of course trade shows proliferate. Commencing in late September, this roving storage reporter kisses his wife goodbye, packs his best duds into a suitcase, and commences to wander the storage wastelands in search of something new or important to write about. This is already a jam-packed season.

The Network Storage University program I mentioned last month will be holding its sixth installment of a 13-city tour today. The program features a vendor-agnostic “state of the technology” keynote followed by presentations of various vendors regarding the burgeoning network storage infrastructure and their strategies for leveraging it to improve data protection. But the best part is the workshop at the end of the program, which challenges attendees to work in groups and to apply what they know and what they have learned to the task of improving the resiliency of the storage infrastructure of a hypothetical company.

In most cases, the workshop demonstrates to the vendors in attendance just how savvy their prospective customer actually is. There are always several insightful comments from the crowd that suggest to me at least that marketing hype is not succeeding and that users are getting a lot smarter about what works and what doesn’t. Go to http://www.networkstorageu.com/ to see when the free event comes to a city near you, then take half a day to check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

Also on the horizon as I write this: important storage conferences in Europe and Australia. We tend to think of the data explosion and the two towers of storage pain—provisioning and data protection—as a uniquely American phenomenon. After all, we consume most of the technology (and the perishable resources) in the world and generate most of the world’s digital information. However, we have no stranglehold on the storage pain.

Last year, at Forum Stockage in Paris, I was both enlightened and dismayed by my conversations with European IT managers who, one after another, talked about their storage problems. They echoed, in many cases, complaints heard in conference rooms and data centers throughout the U.S.: lack of standards, difficulties sharing data, mounting cost, and too much downtime. Many looked for encouragement that American storage technology would rescue them from the pit, stating that technology from the USA was preferred over technology from any other area (so much for the supposed ethnocentricity of the French).

Last time, FC SANs were the talk of the show—a new technology from the standpoint of most attendees. It sent a chill down your spine to see old brochures depicting cascaded configurations of 16-port FC switches being handed out by the same vendors who had promoted such strategies a few years before in the U.S.—to the eventual dismay of their customers here. Many early adopters had learned the hard way that small switch cascading was a dead-end strategy when their fabrics grew larger and larger and more and more ports were consumed by inter-switch connections. Now it seemed as though the vendors were dumping the remainder of their sales materials for these first generation solutions on the Europeans despite the fact that the architecture described had long been supplanted by second and third generation approaches in the States.

It will be interesting in the coming weeks to touch base with French acquaintances and to see how they fared a year later. In the intervening months, the Fibre Channel Industry Association has merged with SNIA, but unlike the situation in the U.S., it appears that the FCIA has emerged as the “alpha male” within the European SNIA organization. It will be interesting to see whether the French, with their fine appreciation of irony and satire, have managed to keep their sense of humor.

Sadly, Storage Expo, which follows Stockage in Birmingham, is not on my calendar this year. Its dates coincide with my favorite conference of all, Terrapinn’s Storage World Conference in Sydney, Australia. If there was just one conference I wish everyone could attend it would be this one. The reason is simple: the Aussies are completely intolerant when it comes to vendor hype. If a vendor begins making a marketing pitch for his products rather than offering a product-neutral discussion of an important technology trend or concept, the attendees simply get to their feet and exit the room. It is the funniest, and coolest, thing to watch and probably explains why Terrapinn’s show has never been usurped by the many offshore shows that have tried and failed to set up shop there. The show is among the finest and most informative on the planet. Check out http://www.storageworldweb.com/ for future conferences.

Finally, there is SNW in Orlando next week. For me, the highlight of the show is the semi-annual CTO roast. Tough questions are put to a subset of the brightest minds in the industry, and (if past years are any indication) the fast-paced Q&A ignites boisterous audience participation—a polite phrase for heckling. If you have the time, come on down to SNW Orlando on October 29 and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Fall SNIA is poignant for me because it is the first time that I will not enjoy the camaraderie of the fellow members of the Enhanced Backup Solutions Initiative. The little initiative that promised to break the logjam of vendor infighting and to produce reference models for real solutions in data protection was absorbed by SNIA this summer after having been subjected to a protracted membership blockade by powerful forces within the industry. I will continue to track, as an outsider, the group (which has now been reconstituted under the aegis of the SNIA organization) makes. The same players are involved, but one doesn’t sense the same grassroots enthusiasm that the nimble and independent upstart EBSI generated among the user community.

Finally, in December, the Computer Measurement Group will hold its annual conference in Dallas, TX. This is a fine forum for anyone who wants to get down and dirty with the protocols and interfaces that comprise the glue of the storage infrastructure: technology for technologists. Go to http://cmg.org/ for more information.

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.