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Managing Storage In The New Internet Economy.

Business strategies based on calculated and gradually inclining growth are quickly giving way to a new model: the Vertical Leap. As market forces, competitive strategies, and customer buying patterns dissolve into a mist of unpredictability, companies are reinventing themselves to handle virtually instant growth and change. Sustained success and perhaps even survival will come to those with the infrastructure and expertise to navigate through multiple and successive Vertical Leaps.

Internet "" businesses serve as the most obvious example. During their first year, it's not uncommon for Internet businesses to find themselves managing more data than some of the world's largest banks. Sometimes without warning, Web sites accustomed to handling hundreds of hits an hour are threatened with implosion by hundreds of thousands of hits, simultaneously.

More traditional businesses face equally daunting challenges. Now, virtually overnight, markets change, historically loyal customers flock to the better deal, mergers and acquisitions either derail or invigorate growth, and new technologies rock stable markets like an earthquake. For example, the day after Citibank moved in with ATMs, banks across Japan were forced to deal with around-the-clock competition. Within 24 hours, these businesses were blind-sided by a competitive dimension for which they weren't prepared.

The ability to vertically leap multiple levels rather than move gradually through one business model change at a time rests squarely on a solid yet agile information infrastructure with several key attributes. First, the infrastructure must be information-centric, focusing on and ensuring that information is accessible and available all day, every day. Second, it must be virtual: omnipresent, yet unobtrusive, adaptable yet capable of hiding complexity. Next, the infrastructure must be future-oriented, balancing structure and flexibility to meet unexpected and constantly changing requirements, while providing a solid foundation for ever growing information flows within and outside the enterprise. Finally, it must be instant, making the access to, recovery of, and management of information fast and efficient.

Infusing these attributes into your company's information infrastructure will transform it from being a mere blueprint for connecting existing information technologies to a dynamic web of information, tying together your intellectual capital, knowledge tools, core technologies, and external data sources (customers, suppliers, and partners.) This new information infrastructure will enable you to move from horizontal connections, from always playing catch-up with new application requirements, and from analyzing what has happened, to proactively and accurately assessing future needs, to being always prepared, and to leaping vertically and confidently into uncharted vistas.

So where do you start? The most important decision in the creation of this new infrastructure is the storage platform, the dynamic source of constantly flowing information that keeps the web of intellectual capital, tools, and technologies alive and growing in value. Following are a few guidelines for selecting storage that can serve as a key component of the new information infrastructure.


How many languages does your storage platform speak? Is it seamlessly communicating with any technology (servers, hubs, and switches) that you have today or, even more important, that you may acquire in the future? A vendor concerned with the interoperability of its products typically performs testing, using its own interoperability laboratory or that of a qualified third party. Interoperability labs for storage product vendors, for example, should be testing not only device performance, but also compatibility with the widest possible range of servers, host bus adapters, switches, and hubs, and should be able to report in-depth results to an interested customer. As a rule, products should be tested to at least 150 percent of their performance ratings and across a sufficient range of application and I/O loads to produce meaningful capacity and interoperability measurements.

Related is the quality of the staff performing the interoperability tests. Vendors need to offer experienced intellectual capital: personnel who possess a keen understanding of, and deep ability to service and support, the complex technologies with which vendor products are being tested. The best vendor is one that has the shortest learning curve and the highest combined years of experience when it comes to testing products for interoperability with emerging technologies.

Levels of investment in engineering can be deceptive. Some companies include acquisitions of other vendors as part of their engineering investment. This may or may not suffice as an indicator of the vendor's knowledge and skills in a particular technology area. Look at the vendor's research and development expenditures: interoperability testing should comprise a significant percent of the R&D budget.

These guidelines suggest that the future connectivity capabilities of technologies acquired today have a great deal to do with the vendor, rather than the specific product that is being acquired. The vendor's investments in expanding and testing the interoperability of its products may provide a more accurate indicator of whether or not the vendor is future-oriented and will make an effective partner in realizing strategic business technology objectives.


A second set of criteria for storage that renders the infrastructure capable of handling the Vertical Leap is suggested by the term "adaptive design." This specifies the product characteristics designed to facilitate implementation of the product within the company's existing infrastructure, and to enable "painless" evolution--through the use of standard interfaces--as other components of the infrastructure evolve.

Specifically, IT professionals should look to develop relationships with suppliers that provide products featuring self-tuning, automated performance monitoring, and automatic vendor alert capabilities. These capabilities contribute to reducing downtime and introduce a proactive management capability to the environment that may have been missing in the past. With the impact of the Internet on most companies, even planned downtime is a luxury that can no longer be afforded.


Another important strategic consideration when selecting storage is its use of embedded intelligence. Generally speaking, the more functions are controlled by local intelligence--intelligence embedded in the product itself rather than supplied through external software or hardware--the better the product will perform its tasks.

In the case of storage products, it is advantageous to have the intelligence for providing the mapping of data on a physical disk located on the storage device itself, rather than allowing external server operating systems to control the data map. This way, data can be shared between operating systems more readily and efficiently, conserving expensive server and network resources.

Similarly, by embedding the intelligence for controlling data replication (data copies within the storage device) and data movements (copies between storage devices) on the storage device itself, rather than using third-party software products to control these processes, several benefits may be realized. The resulting solution manifests both efficiency improvements and a reduction in the vendor dependencies for the IT shop.

The notion of embedded intelligence reaches beyond the realm of storage systems technology, of course. On storage network switches, for example, the use of "zoning" provides a powerful mechanism for ensuring fault tolerance and high availability and performance in I/O networks. The intelligence for zoning should be embedded on the switch itsell rather than being controlled through third-party devices and software.

For nearly every device, the embedding of device management capabilities on the device itself is already becoming standard practice within the IT industry. Embedded device monitoring and management capabilities are increasingly regarded as an excellent management strategy, vastly superior to the deployment of costly software-based monitoring and management framework products. This embedded intelligence contributes to a reduction in infrastructure management costs and increases overall IT availability.

Embedding intelligence on a device can also extend its useful life. With a modular product design, the intelligence components of IT products can be "swapped out" or "flash-upgraded" to keep pace with new interoperability requirements and help to ensure that the product remains current with evolving infrastructure technologies.

Another set of criteria for strategic product selection derives from an assessment of the attention the vendor has paid to product integration. In addition to ensuring a product's ability to interoperate with other products, vendors must also provide services and support for the integration of the product into existing networks and application environments.

At a minimum, the vendor should provide Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for popular software applications and middleware. Interface support for various network media connections, signaling methods, and management protocols may also be important.

In addition to this type of integration support, the storage vendor should offer consulting, support, and maintenance services that facilitate the product's integration with customized and homegrown application environments. Moreover, the vendor should be able to provide an upgrade plan that maps with changes that are already on the horizon for the infrastructure. Too many companies have learned too late that their acquisitions of "strategic" products actually introduced barriers to migration or consolidation plans, rather than facilitating them. The vendor should be apprised of these plans and should be prepared to answer the hard questions of how changes to other infrastructure components will impact, or be impacted by, its products.

The challenge confronting corporate IT decision makers is to select vendors, products, and technologies that factor the Vertical Leap as a way of business. This can prove a challenging task. In the case of storage technology, competing architectures are being championed by leading technology vendors. Trying to differentiate the initiatives from one other may appear futile, since vendors tend to use the same language to describe the ultimate outcome of their initiatives.

The smart approach is to apply the criteria suggested above to the products available from vendors today. Corporations that fully prepare for the Vertical Leap will do so through partnerships with best-of-breed technology providers that regard their R&D function as an extension of their customers' information infrastructure. Following the principles of adaptive design, embedded intelligence, universal connectivity, and solution integration, these vendors' products are key to building an information infrastructure that is information-centric, virtual, future-oriented, and instant.

Gil Press is director of market positioning at EMC Corp. (Hopkinton, MA).
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Title Annotation:Industry Trend or Event
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Aug 1, 1999
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