Rethinking Storage Networking at SNW

By Drew Robb

About five years back, Storage Networking World (SNW) was a very different beast. Packs of vendor PR and marketing staff roamed the corridors, and journalists fought a rearguard action at the door of the press room to avoid constant interruptions. These days, locating a PR contact takes some effort. Gone, too, are advertorials masquerading as sessions. Although vendor presentations are commonplace, they are limited to one slide at the end mentioning their products and booth number.

User presence is way up.

“Overall attendance has recovered to pre-recession levels and our total number of storage end users is at highest ever levels,” said Ellen Daly, senior vice president of events at IDG. “About 80 percent of attendees today are end users compared to not much more than 50 percent in the past.”  

The unofficial theme of the day appeared to be the need for traditional storage to change its ways and be ready for a more virtualized and cloud computing based model. Julia Palmer, manager of storage engineering at GoDaddy.com, stressed the heavy use of analytics to not only determine where you need to improve bandwidth, capacity and service levels, but also to find out how slow you can leave certain areas and still get away with it on application performance. She uses Dtrace for performance analytics across the organization that spans 47 million domain names and five million active hosting accounts with an annual growth rate of 75 percent.

“We are achieving 70 percent utilization rates and have a ratio of 4.5 PB per storage administrator compared to 500 TB per admin average for the industry,” said Palmer.

She discussed the importance of drilling into the details of workloads to know its characteristics so service can be allocated appropriately.

“You don’t use a hybrid car to cross the Sahara or a jet to travel half a mile to work, but most people don’t think that way about IT,” she said. “They want things that they don’t need and end up with a high cost per IO or per GB.”

IBM Watson’s performance on the “Jeopardy” quiz show was showcased by Dr. Krishna Nathan, vice president of storage systems development at IBM in his briefing on big data.  It took many years of development work in the storage of big data and analytics to get Watson up to the level of champion “Jeopardy” players. It achieved that goal by being able to crunch through vast amounts of data in tiny periods of time.

“Data without smarts isn’t very useful,” said Nathan. “There is a new market emerging around how we process and analyze big data.”

That consists of ways of predicting patterns rapidly combined with the latest Internet technology. This approach, he said, is now entering the enterprise storage networking space. And there will be major repercussions. Storage will have to evolve to provide better efficiency, higher performance, smoother integration and much larger scale. One example given was the fact that out of 1.2 zetabytes of existing data, 75 percent is a copy. Compression and deduplication are necessary to solve this issue.

“Deduplication followed by compression gives the best benefit in efficient storage,” said Nathan. “That allows us to store more so we can analyze more.”

Doing More With Less

The new poster child for doing more in IT with less is Flextronics International, a company with 27 million square feet of manufacturing space at 130 locations in 30 countries. While most companies spend 2 to 4 percent of income on IT, it pays out less than 1 percent. Yet this supports two major data centers, more than 400 TB of storage, and more than ten thousand servers and networking devices.

The company decided, for instance, to move HR from decentralized to a centralized model to eliminate spreadsheets and a lot of labor-intensive tasks. Conventional wisdom, and management backing, pointed to an established package software which owned 70 percent of the market. The company even had a small and successful implementation of that HR suite in one office. But the price tag would have colossal. Instead, Flextronics partnered with a small Software as a Service (SaaS) vendor to create a simpler, more useable and faster application. It saved more than $15 million.

“Anyone can find a great bottle of wine for $100,” said Dave Smoley, CIO Flextronics International. “The real skill is in finding a great bottle for $10.”

This article was originally published on April 06, 2011