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Hardware enables next-gen storage: next generation storage software will require specialized hardware.

A great deal of interest exists in next generation storage services--applications such as virtualization, virtual tape, continuous backup, asynchronous replication, policy-based storage management and Information Lifecycle Management. These next-generation storage services are pushing multiple fronts in the quest to improve data protection capability, reduce the management headache for storage solutions, and bring data storage to the next level. The key to these advances is not only new software, but also the underlying hardware where these applications will perform critical functions. This article will cover some of the key hardware building blocks and capabilities that are empowering OEMs to deliver a new generation of storage software, and attempt to characterize the key needs of OEMs as they tackle adding next-generation storage services to their solutions.

OEMs: Planning for Next-Gen Storage Advances

The next-generation storage services attracting the most immediate interest by OEMs are automated storage provisioning, disk-based backup, virtual tape, continuous backup, asynchronous replication and policy-based management. These solutions all aim at making life for storage administrators easier by increasing a company's disaster recovery and data protection coverage, and helping control the rising appetite for storage. In a recent study published by research firm TheInfoPro, the firm's Technology Heat Index showed that disk-to-disk backup, replication management, and policy-based management all ranked in the company's top 10 "hottest" technologies. Clearly, end-user demand is growing for these solutions and some of the key technologies that are emerging to meet this demand are:


Continuous Backup: This involves capturing a highly granular log of all changes to a storage system. Continuous backup enables the capturing of minute changes to critical data-bases and offers the potential of drastically reducing the exposure of data to corruption and errors. The ability to recover data at any point in time is key to reducing the window of vulnerability to data integrity.

Virtual Tape: This technology increases backup throughput and eliminates the latencies associated with both backup and recovery by inserting a disk between the actual data and tape, all without affecting existing backup software and backup methodologies.

Asynchronous Replication: Asynchronous replication solutions are bringing scalable and cost-effective enterprise-level backup capability into the midrange market, helping enterprises to drastically reduce exposure to disasters and other data protection problems.

Information Lifecycle Management: ILM is a combination of technology and polices, where data is moved between different classes of storage to where it best belongs, using advanced policies and software to determine how to classify and handle data based on usage and value.

While point solutions for these services exist today from independent software vendors (ISVs), OEMs intend to provide solutions that span across the needs of their enterprise customers. These solutions need to be fully integrated with an OEM's existing product line and management software. OEMs are searching for ways to make all of these distinct next-generation storage services complementary to an OEM's overall solution portfolio. The challenge OEMs face is that, while it may be easiest to deliver point solutions targeted to select markets, most customers prefer solutions that offer commonality in both the infrastructure and management umbrella. Providing a comprehensive offer that spans across these next generation storage solutions becomes very difficult without a common delivery approach. This is where specialized application hosting hardware comes into play.

The Hardware Component

Purpose-built hardware is already playing an increasingly important role in enabling a variety of next-generation storage services, by accelerating software operations and enabling greater software functionality. There are a number of companies (big and small) marketing hardware products that enable wire-speed data movement, a key component of services such as virtualization, replication, SAN routing, and other data protection technologies. In addition, a hardware platform can act as the common layer where all of these next generation services can co-exist and interoperate.

This trend is a natural evolution--one that was followed in the Ethernet networking world, as software functionality moved from hosted services into specialized devices such as routers and firewalls. Current products allow for low-level data movement and manipulation at the wire level (typically Fibre Channel or iSCSI) usually at wire speeds and with a minimum of software intervention. The great advantage of this approach is that functions previously bound by CPU performance or the inability to keep up with the rapidly increasing speed of communications protocols can now be accomplished without impacting the network. Application hosting hardware makes it possible for software providers to concentrate on the true value add of their software (policy-based management and advanced functionality) by relieving much of the performance pressures and complexity of data movement operations.

The natural next step where hardware can further enable software is by providing the infrastructure necessary for next generation services. A common hardware platform can help OEMs provide a standard platform for their storage applications. A number of large vendors have already announced their plans for deploying their software solutions across a wide range of infrastructure equipment, in an attempt to ensure cohesiveness of their software offerings. A common hardware platform can make this task easier.

OEMs are also finding that it's important to make sure that they can deliver these solutions in the way they'd like, and in multiple form factors. For some, this delivery mechanism may be as embedded silicon within their storage array; for others, this might be better deployed as an appliance. It even makes sense to deploy this in such areas as switches and as network-based blades. Hardware can help support all of these form factors by also providing the same capabilities across a range of products.

Keeping an Eye On the Ball

A critical issue for all OEMs adopting hardware as a common platform for their software is making sure that crucial, market-leading intellectual property and competitive advantage is kept within control of the OEM--and that whatever hardware functions are needed match the entire range of their needs. Value added features and advanced functionality are key competitive advantages that allow OEMs to assume market leadership and stay ahead of the competition. To that purpose, it's important for OEMs to determine what functionality to rely upon third-party vendors for and which functions are better kept in house.

It's clear that functionality such as network data movement make sense to outsource; there are only so many ways to move data through a network, and data movement is a commodity. However other functionality, such as integration with key products, user interfaces, and management software, should be kept within the OEM. It is important that vendors of hardware platform technology understand this and act as complementary partners to the OEM by adding incremental value.

Evaluating Hardware Platforms

As OEMs move toward using hardware as a common platform for software or for accelerating their next generation storage software efforts, there are a number of factors worth considering.

One aspect of using hardware platforms for enabling software is that it inevitably requires porting of existing software solutions onto the platform. By leveraging hardware to enable software functionality, advantages are gained in terms of performance and scalability. However, porting to any hardware platform requires an investment of time and resources. Because of this, OEMs need to assess the time and resources necessary to port their software applications to a given hardware platform. Some solutions will offer a real time-to-market advantage over others.

Another key aspect is flexibility in form factor. Storage OEMs deploy their solutions in different ways. Flexibility of form factor is important when trying to leverage hardware across product lines. OEMs need to select hardware approaches that can be leveraged across all of their intended deployment methods, whether in the network, within the array or in another form factor. This is not a trivial decision. For example, storage virtualization is currently marketed using several deployment methods including on intelligent switches, purpose-built platforms, storage routers, generic appliances, and integrated into storage arrays. To date, no single form factor dominates over any other as a preferred deployment model. So, it's important that the OEM determines its deployment approaches and chooses a technology that can support them all.

Finally, as OEMs look to tap hardware solutions, understanding which operating systems the solution supports, and how many ready-to-use components are available are key factors in the time to market and success or failure of next-generation storage software solutions.

As OEMs start to put into place their comprehensive plans for next generation storage services, they are finding that it makes sense to look at hardware technology for accelerating and enabling advanced software functionality. Hardware will be a key contributing element to enabling next generation storage software and, if used correctly, can be highly complementary to the needs of OEMs.

Benjamin F. Kuo is marketing manager at Troika Networks, Inc. (Westlake Village, CA)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Storage Management
Author:Kuo, Benjamin F.
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Previous Article:Virtual tape: a solid citizen in an ILM world.
Next Article:iSCSI: changing the storage landscape.

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