Top 10 requirements for tomorrow's storage systems

The focus will be on availability, manageability, application integration, and heterogeneous interoperability.

By James B. Rothnie

With the "Internetization" of everything, IT organizations are becoming dependent on technology infrastructures that are not yet capable of carrying the load reliably. The issues extend to all elements of the infrastructure: networks, storage, servers, and software. Storage is the fulcrum for solving many of these problems because it is the place where the information resides.

The following list describes the top 10 requirements for future storage systems to play a key role in ensuring a robust global information infrastructure.

1 - Perpetual availability

IT organizations need storage systems that never come down, for any reason. Today, we often hear high-availability systems described as "five 9s," meaning that they are available 99.999% of the time. Five 9s is not sufficient for two reasons:

  • 99.999% uptime means five minutes of down time per year.
  • This metric does not include planned downtime. Typically, planned outages for reconfigurations and upgrades of computer systems involve much more time than unplanned outages.

When a system is serving millions of users, planned downtime is as bad as unplanned downtime. Just as it's unacceptable for a public utility to announce, "no electricity between midnight and 6 a.m. on weekends," it's critical for computers and storage systems to remain online at all times. This covers upgrading systems software, swapping out hardware elements, and keeping systems online while they are replaced entirely.

2 - Automated, easy-to-use management

In increasingly complex IT environments systems management is difficult and error prone. Indeed, recent well-publicized systems outages-mainly involving Internet companies-have stemmed from upgrades and expansions that could not have been smoothly managed by human beings.

Today's systems management squeeze has been exacerbated by a shortage of people to effectively operate and maintain this complexity. And, this serious IT skills shortfall will continue over the long term.

What's needed is management software that automates the routine tasks of administering storage systems, based on operating policies set by users.

3 & 4 Cluster and backup/ restore application integration

Because storage represents only a portion of a complete system, many other elements, including servers and software, can fail. Storage systems can play a key role in permitting users to ride through these outages by integrating effectively with cluster products and backup applications.

5 - High-speed file sharing

Historically, file sharing has been a small-scale data-handling task; for example, engineering departments shared common files with the design team, or workgroups shared document files through shared storage devices.

With Internetization, hundreds of thousands of users can potentially share the same data objects at once, and the objects can gradually change. Online stock tickers, news, and weather data are examples. This creates a requirement for file systems that scale enormously in terms of shared-access capability.

6 - Sharable systems and quality of service

The internet has led to the rise of application service providers (ASPs), outsourcers that provide the systems, products, and know-how to process customers' applications and data. The ASP model is built around the economies of scale inherent in these operations, making it cheaper for several customers to share the ASP resources rather than for each to operate alone.

To make sharing effective requires customer isolation: Problems that arise in Customer A's operation must not affect Customer B. In communications systems, where shared services are common, the term "quality of service" is applied to the ability of a service provider to guarantee that each customer receives the level of service paid for, regardless of what might be happening to other customers. Storage systems need to be able to deliver this same level of customer isolation.

Of course, this capability is not only of interest to ASPs. Many corporations also want to be able to provide a similar level of isolation among applications.

7 - Heterogeneous access

Heterogeneous hardware and software is here to stay. This creates the obvious need for systems that work together, smoothly and dependably. Storage networking technology must interoperate with every server and every connectivity element. Although this is another demanding requirement, users should be able to assume that the storage systems they purchase will be compatible with every element of their current IT infrastructure, as well as those they may add in the future.

8 - Application integration through APIs

As storage systems become a core element of the infrastructure, the advanced functions they provide must be integrated with database systems, backup systems, ERP, e-commerceellipsewith whatever systems are ultimately delivering value to the customer. This requires that storage systems employ a stable and open collection of application programming interfaces (APIs).

9 - Open standards

Closely related to the API requirement, users demand that open interfaces be used wherever applicable. This gives users the best opportunity to choose best-of-breed solutions for every element of the IT infrastructure.

10 - Common management of multiple locations

Think of your local discount retailer, banker, or broker. Their outposts and many hundreds of thousands of others are scattered throughout the world, with local on-site systems and storage reflecting operations in each location. A large problem for these IT organizations is effectively controlling and protecting data at these outposts, often many miles, time zones, and languages away from the main office. Storage systems need to manage this dispersed data, as if the entire global operation were a single logical data center.

Underlying all of this is the realization that storage is no longer merely a collection of peripheral devices captive to a single server. Storage has become the central organizing element in an IT architecture because it's where the key resource-the information-resides. To serve effectively in this central role, storage systems need to be perpetually online, highly manageable, interoperable, open, and network accessible.

James B. Rothnie is senior vice president, product management, at EMC Corp. (www.emc.com) in Hopkinton, MA.

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James B. Rothnie
Senior vice president, product management, EMC Corp.


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This article was originally published on October 01, 2000