SNW Wrap-up: Business First, Technology Second, Cloud the Enables

By Drew Robb

Storage Networking World (SNW) just wrapped up in Santa Clara, California, with a stronger attendance highlighting what looks to be signs of recovery for the storage sector in general. The overall impression from the show was one of business taking high priority over infrastructure plumbing. While cloud messaging was everywhere, the keynotes focused on business agility with storage as an enabler of this.

Michael Schrage, research fellow for the MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, placed on exclamation point on this theme with his presentation on the future of agile infrastructure. He told the storage vendors that being a technology company was no longer enough. Similarly, having a job description of supporting infrastructure was a dangerous stance for storage managers to adopt as management views this as little more than overhead.

He pitched a shift to process orientation and the alignment of IT initiatives towards facilitating improved business processes. Movements such as virtualization and cloud computing, he said, were just avenues to achieve this.

“The cloud is the greatest medium for rapid experimentation and test in the history for the world,” said Schrage.

He pointed out that IT tends to be threatened by the ease of the cloud. Inaction internally has already led some business managers to experiment and test ideas out in the cloud. Success there leads them to view external providers as a better option than the internal IT department.

He urged the storage community to be willing to embrace experimentation. Reason: whatever experimentation is done, that project then has to be scaled up to fit within an enterprise environment.

“Storage already owns scaling,” said Schrage. “If the storage or IT manager now adds in the experimental side, it can move from the back office to the front office.”  

David Scott, senior vice president and general manager of HP StorageWorks, delved into the cloud’s impact on storage. Storage as used today, he said, was designed 20 years ago so it doesn’t really fit with today’s virtualized, cloud-rich, social media world. Therefore, changes in architecture were necessary.

Instead of applications unique to storage silos, disparate IT infrastructure elements, predictable workloads, IT driven timelines and a preponderance of structured data, the new methodology should be established around virtualization and utility-based IT, convergence, unpredictable workloads, instant response to the demands of the business and an explosion in unstructured data.

“You have to get out of legacy storage into simple, agile, efficient and integrated infrastructure elements,” said Scott.  “Storage has to incorporate IT-as-a-Service and be able to handle unpredictable workloads, rapid provisioning, dynamic service levels and all at low overhead.” 

The road ahead for storage networking, he said, could be summed up by several elements. The first one is convergence of compute, storage and networking resources.  Federation, too, needed to play a part, to permit data to be virtualized and geographically distributed yet addressable as a single entity. By autonomic management, HP is alluding to the autonomic nervous system which adjusts body functions on the fly with no need for user involvement. Scott envisages this becoming the norm for storage configuration, provisioning, tiering and load balancing.

Miki Sandorfi, chief strategist at Hitachi Data Systems, continued the forward looking, cloud-covered theme. He defined the cloud as any service delivered by IT that provides self service, pay-per-use and is dynamic in scale. He warned that cloud storage has had its problems in terms of outages and security issues. It is up to the users, therefore, to do his/her homework and really find out how the storage is provisioned and safeguarded.

Interestingly, a traditionally array-oriented vendor like HDS is breaking into cloud services. Like EMC, it looks to be promoting ways to facilitate the cloud while providing the underlying hardware. But it is taking a heterogeneous approach.

“Our cloud product works with NetApp, EMC and other storage gear” said Sandorfi.

Ralph Loura, CIO, the Clorox Company, though, voiced his distaste of the hype around the cloud and didn’t even like using the term. However, he is using the technology in his company’s ongoing IT makeover.

From aging PC’s running Windows 2000 under 6000 desktops and a ton of old applications including Lotus SameTime, Clorox has moved to virtualized desktops and applications like Exchange and SharePoint delivered by a Software as a Service (SaaS) provider.

Loura ran into problems when it came to customizing SharePoint in the cloud.

“Cloud-based customizations are more complicated than in regular IT,” said Loura. “You are attempting to change software that is hosted in someone else’s cloud which has many more companies using it who don’t necessarily want it changed.”

This article was originally published on April 07, 2011