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Impressions Of N+I And SNIA.

May was a busy month for me. Networld + Interop (N+I) and the Storage Networking Industry Association were conferences that found their way onto my trade show schedule. N+I followed a few days visiting tape drive manufacturers in Boulder.

I'm told that this year's N+I may have been smaller than many of the earlier shows. For me, this was a pleasant surprise--unlike Comdex and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) shows, and most shows I've attended in Las Vegas--N+I was easily contained in the continuously expanded Las Vegas Convention Center and Hilton facilities.

Storage Area Networks (SAN) and Network Attached Storage (NAS) products were scattered throughout the facilities with its highest concentration in the North Hall. The close proximity of many vendors' booths was no accident--live demonstrations of SANs connected over fibre helped show that SANs using products from various suppliers can, and do, work.

Crossroads Systems seemed to be running SANs in a number of locations. The most prominent demonstration combined a Crossroads router, VERITAS software, and ATL tape libraries into an active, online SAN.

A meeting with HewlettPackard reaffirmed the company's commitment to LTO and reaffirmed the impending release of the company s DDS4 drive. It is clear that the company plans to implement DDS5 and that the technology is on its way toward making that next step on the DAT roadmap actually happen.

One button restores, a technology that features a bootable tape drive, is an important recent offering from HP. Using one button restore when a failed system is restarted enables the user to select to automatically restore the complete system, or failed drives and directories that are stored on tape. From a personal perspective, this would be great--I've had little trouble backing up my systems--however, I've had tremendous trouble loading and running the necessary drivers in DOS for running my restore software. One button restore may get around the chicken and the egg problem of having to restore from Windows--but not being able to load Windows without first restoring the system.

A Bad Omen?

Trade shows are a popular venue for announcement of new products or technologies. Although the message is often lost in the noise, the decision to make an announcement at a trade show is one that is rarely, if ever, accidental.

The Linear Tape-Open (LTO) Program, a consortium founded by Hewlett-Packard, Seagate, and IBM chose N+I to make what it considered major announcements. The first announcement was that Fuji Photo Film Company Ltd. Of Tokyo had signed on as a provider of tape cartridges in the Ultrium format. According to LTO spokespeople, the addition of Fujifilm was an important step for LTO because it will enhance the global presence of LTO.

LTO also unveiled its logos for Ultrium, Accelis, and LTO. Apparently, a considerable amount of thought had gone into the design and approval of the logos, although to me the logo for Ultrium, in particular, seemed to be somewhat off the point. The Ultrium logo includes what might be interpreted as a piece of tape twisting below the word "Ultrium." If Ultrium media were to twist like the tape in its logo, the drive wouldn't work. LTO also announced the launch of a new website, www.lto-technology.com.

More significantly, LTO also announced that an independent testing lab had been selected for verification of compliance with LTO guidelines. Products that have passed the testing will be allowed to display the appropriate logos, assuring the user that approved media will work in approved drives and that data written by one manufacturer's drive can be read in drives made by the manufacturers of any other approved drive.

Although it may be an uphill battle to get organizations using DLT or another tape technology, having the immediate competition of three LTO drive manufacturers and a variety of media manufacturers may provide LTO with a competitive advantage over DLT that will appeal to some companies. Further, the newer technologies incorporated into LTO and an aggressive roadmap for future versions may take some of the gloss off of DLT.

I'm not one to believe much in omens. In the past, I've seen a number of companies throw huge parties to celebrate their success, only to nosedive into oblivion in the following months. Franklin Computer held a bash at Comdex in 1983--shortly before losing a patent infringement suit to Apple Computer. Although the company didn't completely go away, it got out of the computer business and reinvented itself as provider of small data appliances. In 1985, Commodore had a party celebrating its first billion dollar year--its first and last.

The LTO Program intended to host a presentation of the Cirque du Soleil's "O" (get it) at the Bellagio. The press and special guests were invited to attend a performance. However, "O" was cancelled due to technical problems with the stage. The culmination of a celebration of LTO failed to happen. If I believed in omens, such a problem might be somewhat difficult to interpret--could it mean that LTO might also have problems getting off the ground? Could it mean that, based on the failure of companies that successfully announced success, such a failed event would mean tremendous success? Or could it have nothing to do with LTO's ultimate fate?

The End Of Trade Shows?

I had an interesting meeting with one vendor who felt that N+I might be a victim of its own success. Ethernet networking has become plug and play, and a virtual standard. The world is connected over the Internet.

Years ago, when N+I was a young show, and before Ethernet and the Internet were as significant factors as they are today, shows like N+I were essential, If you wanted information about vendors and products, and wanted it all in one place, trade shows were the best way to find it. However, the same information can usually be found over the Internet--and is available any time you want it. The role of the trade show as a source of information may be in steep decline.

Conferences, too, may be facing some challenges. Although many people go to trade shows for the conference programming, it may be inevitable that the presentations will eventually be presented live over the Internet. Missing will be the subtle interactions between speakers and audience that can only be captured live, but a "conference at the desktop" may have compelling benefits that make time and travel commitments required to attend trade shows and conferences much less attractive.

SNIA

It was my pleasure to moderate the user panels on the last day of the Storage Network Industry Association (SNIA) meeting on May 20. A two day conference finished off days of meetings by SNIA technical and organizational members.

It was clear that, while SNIA is an organization attempting to define standards for storage networking, it is not operating in a vacuum. Technical people from member organizations got a chance to mingle with the ultimate users of SANs who attended the conference.

The panel that I moderated was composed of such actual users. An event like the SNIA meeting clearly demonstrates why meetings can't replace some conferences over the Internet.

The users described their company's system architectures and storage implementations. In some cases, their hopes for the future, and actual concerns relating to storage and storage networking were presented. During breaks, it was obvious that the opportunity to bring users into the same room as engineers and system designers was a valuable one--and that real world concerns of SAN users may help refine the direction that future designs will take.

The issue of standards (or lack of standards) for storage networking was an important one recognized by the SNIA. Plans for a SNIA-operated, independent testing laboratory were announced. The goal of the lab was to assure interoperability of the various components of networked storage systems. The basic model calls for support by vendors with donations of equipment and operating, funds. It was noted that the cost of creating such a lab, using this model would be compelling, with the actual cost for each vendor being orders of magnitude less than the estimated $25 million for a company to develop its own test centers.

If there's a common thread in all of the above, it is this: Data is crucial to any organization. The industry is actively working towards ways to increase storage capabilities, improve performance, and define standards. The emergence of organizations like SNIA, the emergence of new technologies like LTO, and the demonstration of devices and software successfully interoperating clearly indicate the commitment towards meeting future storage requirements.
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Title Annotation:Industry Trend or Event; Networld + Interop and Storage Networking Industry Association
Author:Brownstein, Mark
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Jul 1, 1999
Words:1432
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