Viewpoint: The changing shape of data storage

In this straitened economic climate, storage managers are interested in expanding storage capacity as data volumes continue to grow; however, the snag is that such initiatives increase the operational cost of the storage infrastructure.

Adding storage capacity to cope with data growth is a short-term strategy, which will lead to complexity and management tangles - and, ultimately, higher operational cost.

Improving storage performance can be achieved through methods that result in low utilisation rates. This, in turn, drives the storage capacity expansion and operational costs higher. So can IT administrators really avail themselves to alternative strategies?

So-called 'hot' storage technologies enable enterprises to achieve what they aim for, while at the same time reducing operational cost, and increasing storage efficiency. This is a timely development: storage is reaching a new phase of maturity, where storage resources need to be used as efficiently as possible, and where strategies of increasing capacity without addressing operational cost or underutilisation are just not viable. This is true for enterprises that have put such efficiencies aside to achieve increased performance - a trend that will continue into 2010. 

There are many technologies on the IT market which help to tame data growth, and that support solving the storage efficiency challenge. Cloud storage, for instance, is shaping up as the future architecture for storage deployment; storage-as-a-service is the first step in this direction.

Cloud storage is, in essence, a way of architecting storage infrastructure by using standard building blocks, in which management is automated to a large degree, and efficiency is key.

Uptake of solid-state storage (SSD), meanwhile, is limited, as it is still at least than ten times more expensive than conventional disk-based technology. Storage administrators evaluating SSD technology need to keep in mind that it is just a point solution, which actually emphasises the need for intelligent storage tiering.

With another storage tier available (tier zero) at a high cost, storage administrators will not be able to resort to the redoubtable 'keep everything on primary storage' approach. By having a robust software layer in place to manage storage tiering, information lifecycle management (ILM) can at last be implemented, and its benefits (lower cost and better data management) can be achieved.

Arguably, SSD will most likely drive in mixed environments, where a limited number of SSDs is in the same enclosure as a large number of SATA drives, bundled with automated storage-tiering software.

To architect a future-proof storage environment, good old-fashioned management principles still apply: consolidate and standardise storage infrastructure, deploy storage virtualisation software for cost effective data retention, and invest in a solid storage management layer. Enterprises can thus take advantage both of new innovative technologies, which most likely will be point solutions to start with, and maintain a solid management layer based on the old model.

Jingle balls all the way

This third instalment of the E&T 'Buzzword Bingo' guide is timed for readers who may be exposed to corporate claptrap at celebrations and functions over the festive season. Buzzword Bingo, you'll recall, is where you prepare a list of IT industry buzzwords, and tick them off as they crop up during a speech or presentation. In past issues we've noted bingoistic techno-clichés such as 'legacy', 'ecosystem', 'outcomes', 'silo', 'leverage', 'next generation', 'future proof', 'customer-centric solutions', and 'paradigm shift'.

Though it's not new, I've heard 'Layer Eight' used a lot at conferences recently - it's jocular jargon used to refer to a conceptual 'user' or 'paolitical' 'layer' at the top of the OSI seven-layer model of computer networking. IT strategists are fond of introducing light relief into turgid presentations by mentioning the problems caused by that pesky Layer Eight, and assuming that everyone knows what they mean; however, it's highly likely that many greener delegates assume that Layer Eight refers to an actual part of the OSI stack, and factor it into their technology plans accordingly.

'DNA' is an appropriation that has to some extent replaced the older buzzterm 'hard-wired', possibly because the notion of 'hard-wired' technology is itself being replaced by wireless. The term is used by vendors in the context of a product's innate design: "Scalability is built into our solution's DNA". The role of DNA molecules is the storage of information, so in this respect, using DNA as a simile is not offbeam; but it is also over-used by marketers as though it is a quality guarantee. Next time some IT glibster mentions their product's DNA, ask them: "What does 'DNA' stand for?", and stand amazed if they actually do reply "Deoxyribonucleic acid".

In computer science, coupling is the degree to which program modules rely on each other; but in a world of enterprise mashups and service-oriented architectures, it is important for systems to stay loose, and maintain a glancing interface-to-interface touch on each other. 'Loose coupling' is one of the more respectable buzzwords, as it describes an important aspect of how computers interoperate. However, it is also vague enough to be slipped into a product presentation to add techno-cred without too many listeners feeling confident enough to query its relevancy.

Wikipedia defines 'disruptive technology' as innovation that improves a product or service in ways unexpected by the market, in terms of price or applicability: it 'disrupts' the status quo, upsets business models, and is maybe even a presentiment of an impending paradigm shift. Vendors speak warily of disruptive technologies, but as the term comes with a certain kudos they are also often inclined to slap the term on their own products. Legend tells of a vendor describing 'reinvigorated legacy systems' as 'the new disruptive technology'.


What are the IT buzzwords that annoy you? Email them to for inclusion in next year's Buzzword Buster.

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