Storage Soup


August 31, 2007  12:32 PM

IBM reports atomic storage progress

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

IBM has reported two discoveries in its ongoing work in nanotechnology, both of which have implications for data storage of almost unimaginably tiny proportions.

According to a Reuters report, scientists at IBM reported yesterday that they have determined how to move the magnetic orientation of an atom, a key step toward using atoms as tiny storage devices. Each atom has a magnetic field that needs to be stabilized somehow before it can be used as the basis for a storage system where “bits” are not magnetized particles, as they are today, but atoms themselves.

IBM scientists in Zurich also announced that they have successfully “switched” the polarity of molecules, another key to computing on an atomic level. Currently, computer systems rely on the ability to “flip” magnetic particles to represent the ones and zeros of binary code. Being able to do the same with molecules, or even atoms, could eventually lead to microscopic computers, and breakthroughs in density on the order of 30,000 movies on an iPod, according to the researchers.

IBM’s not the only organization currently working on theoretical physics that’ll give you an ice-cream headache. Research revealed in July from the University of California Santa Cruz could lead to similar breakthroughs in the stabilization of magnetic fields on conventionally-constructed disk drives, the better to prevent data corruption. Industry experts pointed out that this research is most likely to be used for near-term density breakthroughs.

This research also represents a crucial piece of the puzzle for IBM’s atomic equations — figuring out the polarity of the individual bits or atoms is only half the battle. How those atoms or molecules or bits behave as a group on the surface of a drive is also a hurdle to be overcome before you can carry around a whole Blockbuster Video in your iPod shuffle.

August 31, 2007  12:20 PM

Storage vendors planning to bask in VMworld spotlight

Beth Pariseau Maggie Wright Profile: mwright16

It is not often that a non-storage conference distracts from the normal round of storage conferences such as Storage Decisions and Storage Networking World, but that may be the case when VMworld kicks off on September 11. What makes this event unique is that multiple storage vendors are planning to use VMworld as their venue for new product announcements or, in the case of startups, as their coming out party.

Selecting VMworld as a product or company launching point does not so much diminish the value of  other storage conferences, as it reflects the growing importance that VMware is taking on in corporate boardrooms. Storage vendors know that companies are going to need more virtualization technologies, not less, if they adopt VMware, so these vendors see VMworld as a perfect opportunity to share in VMware’s spotlight.

There are only a couple of small problems with storage vendors piggybacking on the VMware express. VMware as a company is already nine years old, founded in 1998. Also, VMware has had a functioning product since 1999 with VMware’s recent ESX server operating system product release, now in its 3rd generation.

IT managers should exercise some caution because, while VMware offers for savings in server consolidation, IT managers can not automatically extend VMware’s savings and benefits to complimentary storage technologies. VMware has spent years developing its technology and building a user and knowledge base. Products from these storage companies may not have reached the same level of maturity.

The good news is that storage virtualization went through a similar round of hype about five to six years ago. Some of the companies that survived that round, such as DataCore Software and FalconStor Software, now have much more mature products that are still around and in use in mission-critical environments.

VMworld is acting as a demarcation point in the future of storage management. Virtualization is no longer something that companies can ignore or minimize – it is critical to the future of enterprise storage management and storage vendors recognize that sharing in VMware’s spotlight will likely pay huge dividends for them in the coming years. However, IT Managers still need to verify, before they spend big money on complimentary storage virtualization technologies, that these products can technically and financially deliver on their promised benefits.


August 29, 2007  11:31 AM

Seagate: We are not for sale

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

A recent New York Times report touched off speculation last week that Seagate was about to be bought out by a Chinese company, rumored to be Lenovo, “raising concerns among American government officials about the risks to national security in transferring high technology to China,” according to the Times report.

The Times report was based on an interview with Seagate CEO William D. Watkins, in which Watkins is quoted saying there are no plans to sell the company, but that ” if a high enough premium was offered to shareholders it would be difficult to stop.”

Since then, Seagate has released a statement through news wires clarifying (repeating?) that there are no plans to sell the company, to a Chinese buyer or anyone else. Ironically, this now has some in the industry eyeing Western Digital as the possible acquisition target for a Chinese company. Might it have been Watkins speaking generally or hypothetically?

I have to admit I’m scratching my head a little about the supposed security threat–even in the original Times report, two contradictory statements about it follow one another. An anonymous industry executive is quoted as saying “I do not think anyone in the U.S. wants the Chinese to have access to the controller chips for a disk drive. One never knows what the Chinese could do to instrument the drive.” But a paragraph later, it’s noted that “China, however, still lags in basic manufacturing skills like semiconductor design and manufacturing.” So…do they have the means to commit dastardly acts of international espionage or not?

Even if it’s not this acquisition, this time, everyone knows China is a fast-rising power in the global economy. And they already make quite a large proportion of the products Americans use every day. It seems from my view that at least one instance of this type of acquisition is inevitable. Also, from my point of view–which I will admit is not one of experience in constructing foreign policy–it’s probably better to learn how to work with the situation than against it.

What are your thoughts?


August 23, 2007  7:51 AM

WhatIs.com features ILM

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Our esteemed colleague and zeitgeist-chaser extraordinaire, Alex Howard of WhatIs.com, has put together a nice post, including podcast, about that most time-honored and mysterious of storage industry questions: What is ILM? Opening a can of worms, to be sure, but Alex does a commendable job creating a definitive resource.  

Even if you already know what ILM is, download the podcast anyway, have it at the ready, and simply press “play” for those less expert in the nuances of storage technology (like, say, when upper management wants to know what “ILM devices” you have in place). It could save you loads of time.


August 21, 2007  8:36 AM

Here comes the digital media bullet

Beth Pariseau Maggie Wright Profile: mwright16

Businesses and their storage departments have so far largely dodged the digital media bullet – other than maybe workers tying up network bandwidth while watching video over the Internet. It certainly has not resulted in massive storage growth and management problems though that is already changing in some verticals.

In industries that use digital media, such as oil and gas, real estate development companies and certain government agencies, they are already feeling the pain of digital media.

It is not uncommon for these companies to store digital images on tens if not hundreds of TBs that require hundreds or thousands of disk drives. This creates storage management problems ranging from how to best grow their storage infrastructure to data protection to managing the tedious but necessary task of  replacing failed disk drives.

The rest of the business world has so far largely dodged this digital media bullet though it may soon hit them in an area where they least expect it: video surveillance. Video surveillance is already standard practice in most businesses in high security portions of the building with video surveillance stored on VCRs or digital video recorders (DVRs).

The emerging generation of video surveillance technology eliminates the need for these one-off technologies, moving cameras and storage off closed networks and onto corporate networks. Using network-attached cameras, video surveillance software captures video and streams it across Ethernet networks to network-attached storage allowing companies to deploy network-attached cameras almost anywhere.

Though it is impossible to predict the scope to which businesses may adopt it, expect companies, even small and midsize businesses, to increase video surveillance for no other reason than to protect themselves against future lawsuits. Yet, right now, this technology raises more questions than it answers. Where will the cameras be deployed? How many to deploy? Who will determine video retention periods? Is it worth keeping a second copy of video as a back up? How can one know if the captured video is authentic? Who will manage its storage growth?

Video surveillance is still reserved for small segment of the market. But, with it no longer difficult to deploy or requiring dedicated staff to manage it, it will likely take only one well-publicized incident of where a company could have avoided a million dollar settlement to spark its corporate adoption. And, its adoption will usher in a new generation of corporate network and storage management challenges.


August 17, 2007  11:47 AM

Iron Mountain’s CEO, users, debate data security

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

A report surfaced last week in ComputerWorld that Iron Mountain will be adding a security system called InControl to its delivery trucks that are carting around sensitive data. This week, I’ve talked to some users about how they feel about the program and also caught up with Iron Mountain’s CEO, Richard Reese, to talk about Iron Mountain’s point of view on security and chains of custody for the data it transports. In both cases, I heard some interesting comments.

The Iron Mountain updates, which come as the result of a $15 million investment over the last 18 months, will not require an additional fee, according to Reese. Bundled under the InControl umbrella are products, services and processes including more extensive background checks on employees and an employee training program on chain of custody procedures.

Reese also said the company has added on-board computers into the majority of its North American truck fleet. The computers will detect common human errors through sensors in the vehicle–a driver using a vehicle retrofitted with this system can’t start the truck if all doors aren’t locked and alarmed. If the system fails and the door somehow comes open anyway, an alarm will sound in the truck cab. The truck will also only allow one door to be open at a time if there are multiple doors on the vehicle, “so you can’t put the box [of tapes] down on the sidewalk and then go behind an open door and lose sight of it,” Reese said.

Drivers will also be given RFID fobs to keep on their keychains, so if they fail to lock the doors while making a delivery, an alarm will go off. Hand-held GPS-enabled scanners will report the whereabouts of shipments back to users through a Web portal that was already in place. The scanners will also alert drivers immediately to inconsistencies so that errors in shipment routing can be corrected more quickly.

Going forward, the program will be expanded to cover Iron Mountain’s international businesses. Right now retrofits have begun in the UK, and Reese said the company is studying legal regulations in other countries before it figures out how to roll out InControl everywhere.

The customer view of this depends on who you talked to. Dwayne Suizer, VP/Director of Technical Operations for First Independent Bank, said looking into the details of the plan put his mind more at ease. “At first, I thought they were just going to be able to track the trucks, but as I read more and understand how the driver proximity works and the dual ignition systems, it seems like these are all great steps forward.”

But another user, who declined to be named for legal reasons, said it’s “‘too little, too late’ for Iron Mountain.  Many companies have been affected by Iron Mountain’s losses of tapes in transport mishaps and the seemingly-avoidable fires at two of their UK facilities last year.  Two fires, so closely together, could be seen as unlucky or ill-prepared.  It’s up to Iron Mountain’s customers to choose.”

Meanwhile, Reese’s response to the criticism that InControl is a day late and a buck short is that it’s only been in the last 18 months or so that data privacy laws have necessitated this type of control over data.  “If you go back 2 to 5 years, customers were more concerned about driving down the cost of transportation than data loss–they could make three or four copies of a tape and if one got lost in transit, it wasn’t a big deal. Now they’re changing their own inside operations as well to deal with the new privacy regulations, and we’re trying to take on the same burden.”

Reese also said that there are premium services Iron Mountain users can pay for to have things like point-to-point dedicated routes for their deliveries and two drivers in order to guard against theft, and that Iron Mountain had, until the addition of InControl, been pushing its customers concerned about data security to purchase those extra safeguards. “They just wouldn’t do it. They preferred the common carriers.”

Not everybody’s buying it. “I see RFID tracking and a rigorously-enforced chain-of-custody as standard requirements for today’s off-site storage vendors.  RFID tracking can be implemented inexpensively,” said the user who spoke on condition of anonymity.

So why did it take several instances of data loss and destruction for Iron Mountain to begin this grand security scheme? “Let me be clear that there will be other instances,” responded Reese. “InControl will also not be 100%. Any process that involves humans will have errors, and customers also need to understand where their high-risk data is and apply the right solutions. Especially for this baseline service which we just improved radically at no additional cost to customers, I’m not going to guarantee perfection.”

Suizer did have one suggestion for better security: RFID tags in each tape shipment box, an idea Reese said is good in theory, but is “not technically or economically feasible.” RFID tags’ antennas “need to see the sky”, he said, in order to communicate. “Once they go in the loading dock somewhere, the tracking is useless.” Passive RFID tags, which don’t contain batteries, have a much smaller transmission range–5 or 6 feet–than active RFID tags, but the Catch-22 is that active RFID tags require batteries, which are not long-lived. “RFID is not a cure-all,” he said.


August 13, 2007  10:38 AM

Summer reading

Karen Guglielmo Karen Guglielmo Profile: Karen Guglielmo

Summertime is the best, obviously. BBQs, swimming and generally lounging around can’t be beat. Unfortunately, the weekend’s over and we’re all back at our computers pecking away.

Jo Maitland and I recently put together a summer reading roundup of the top 10 data backup news stories of the year with related expert advice. Some of the backup topics that we’ve been following this year include data deduplication, backup as a service, remote backup, tape transport and bare-metal restore.

Check out our Top 10 data backup news stories and tips now.


August 13, 2007  8:52 AM

SATA takes on a life of its own

Karen Guglielmo Maggie Wright Profile: mwright16

Companies tend to focus on the positive aspects of using SATA disk drives for a growing portion of their enterprise storage needs but as some companies are finding out, managing thousands or tens of thousands of SATA disk drives can take on a life of its own.

Recently, I spoke to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories (LLNL) which is a huge DataDirect Networks user. By huge, I mean they use multiple DataDirect Network Storage Systems with the total number of SATA disk drives in production numbering in the tens of thousands, possibly even up to a hundred thousand SATA disk drives. More impressive, LLNL uses these storage systems in conjunction with some of the world’s fastest supercomputers, including the BlueGene/L currently rated #1 among the world’s fastest computers.

The issue that crops up when companies own tens of thousands of disk drives — SATA or FC – is the growing task of managing failed disk drives. Companies such as Nexsan Technologies report failure rates of less than half of 1% of all SATA disk drives that they have deployed out in the field. Those numbers sound impressive until one begins to encounter environments like LLNL that may have up to a hundred thousand SATA disk drives in their environment. Using a .005% failure rate in that scenario, companies can statistically expect a SATA disk drive to fail about every other day, which is inline with LLNL’s experience.

This is in no way intended to reflect negatively on DataDirect Networks. If users were to deploy a similar numbers of disk drives from any other SATA storage system provider, be it Excel Meridian, Nexsan Technologies or Winchester Systems, they could expect similar SATA disk drive failure rates.

The cautionary note for users here is twofold. First, be sure your disk management practices keep up with your growth in disk drives. Replacing a disk drive may not sound like a big deal, but consider what is involved with a disk drive replacement:

  • Discovering the disk drive failure
  • Contacting and scheduling time for the vendor to replace the disk drive
  • Monitoring the rebuild of the spare disk drive
  • Determining if there is application impact during the disk drive rebuild
  • Physically changing out the disk drive

Assuming a .005% failure rate, companies with hundreds of disk drives will repeat this process once a year, those with thousands of disk drives once a quarter and those with tens of thousands once a week. Once a company crosses the 10,000 threshold barrier, companies need to seriously contemplate dedicating a person at least a part-time just to monitor and manage the task of disk drive replacements regardless of which vendor’s storage system one selects.

The other cautionary note is that the more disk drives one deploys, the more likely it becomes that two or even three disk drives in the same RAID group will fail before a recovery of an existing failed disk drive is complete. Companies, now more than ever, need to ensure they are using RAID-6 for their SATA disk drive array groups and, when crossing the 10,000 disk drive threshold, should consider the new generation of SATA storage systems from companies such as DataDirect Networks and NEC. These systems give companies more data protection and recovery options for their SATA disk drives.


August 8, 2007  3:31 PM

SNIA archiving task force springs into action

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) released the results of a survey of its members on long-term archiving, which indicated that yes, there is an archiving problem in the industry: of 276 “long-term archive practitioners” who responded to the survey, 80 percent said they have information they must keep over 50 years, and 68 percent said they must keep this data more than 100 years. 30 percent said they were migrating information at regular intervals. Around 40 percent of respondents are keeping e-mail records over 10 years. 70 percent said they are ‘highly dissatisfied’ with their ability to read their retained information in 50 years.

One caveat is that the survey, which was sent to more than 10,000 members of the SNIA and associated organizations, was “self-selecting”, and though 80 percent sounds like a high number, the number of SNIA members concerned enough about long-term archiving to take a half hour to complete the survey was a much smaller percentage.

Perhaps more interesting were the vertical markets where the survey drew the most responses; according to SNIA they include education, manufacturing and chemical processing, power and energy companies and banking in addition to the obvious ones like libraries and government.

In response, SNIA’s 100-Year Archive Task Force (a name which conjures up an image of SNIA Ninjas crashing in through the window…) will be creating an archiving-infrastructure reference model and adding an archiving information field based on the Open Archiving Information System standard into its own standards including SMI-S and XAM.

Speaking of which, XAM proof of concept demos will be taking place at fall SNW, based on version 0.6 of the standard. This doesn’t jibe with what SNIA told us last October about the timing for the standard in a story for Storage Magazine–back then, those demos were supposed to be happening in San Diego this past April. Now, SNIA says that at the time of that story’s publication, the XAM Initiative hadn’t been officially launched. This, according to a SNIA spokesperson, has now officially, formally occurred as of Spring SNW 2007, and since that announcement, at least, the timing on proof of concept demos hasn’t changed. Hence, “there has been no delay” in XAM’s progress. (Clears things right up, doesn’t it?)

At any rate, whenever it actually gets here, XAM, which stands for Extensible Access Method Interface, would define a single access method for archiving devices like EMC’s Centera, Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) Reference Information Storage System (RISS) and the HDS HCAP product. The SNIA’s also calling for “self-healing systems” available today to be modified for use in archiving and storage, automating the migration process between old and new data formats. 

We don’t necessarily need the SNIA to tell us that archiving’s a big deal right now, and they’re certainly not alone in pointing out that, hey, all this technology’s great, but even a cave drawing kicks its butt when it comes to readability longer than a few months after its creation. However, there’s one aspect of long-term data preservation that isn’t addressed by XAM and other software-based standards: storage media itself.

SNIA reps say software’s a bigger concern now with new optical media that’s claiming a 30 to 50 year shelf life, but other experts feel that most storage media is further behind the long-term viability curve than that. From my point of view, I can’t help but wonder why more attention isn’t being paid to the development of new storage media in this industry, given the double-whammy of power and cooling and long-term preservation issues that have lately become hot topics. After all, even if every vendor adopted the XAM standard tomorrow, without better long-term media, there won’t be any data available for it to access in a couple of decades, anyway.


August 8, 2007  12:53 PM

Reyes verdict offers peace of mind

JoMaitland Jo Maitland Profile: JoMaitland

Greg Reyes, the former CEO of Brocade, was found guilty of securities fraud yesterday in the first criminal case involving the backdating of stock options.

For IT users, the result should offer some peace of mind that when you spend millions of dollars with a company, it is not going to get away with being so dysfunctional as to end up like Enron, leaving its customers and employees out on the street.

The conviction is also a signal to the rest of the industry that the buck stops with the CEO, no matter how busy you are. Reyes’ defense (if you believe it) was that he was too busy to know everything going on at the company and that others were responsible. Clearly the Judge didn’t buy it.

Reyes’ lawyer also argued that Reyes did not benefit personally from backdating options, which is absurd. A CEO’s compensation is inextricably linked to the financial success of the company on Wall Street. Hence the SEC’s unanimous vote last year in favor of tighter regulations around executive compensation.

Reyes is, of course, appealing the verdict, but it seems unlikely that the courts will take much notice. His sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 21 and he could get as much as 20 years in jail. It’s more likely he’ll serve a fraction of this time, but will face hefty fines.

If it was up to me, CEOs convicted of this type of offence would be restricted from ever running a public company again. I personally had several meeting with Reyes in the course of covering the storage industry, and he commonly gave the impression of being beyond reproach. He once abruptly ended a meeting as he was “too busy” and didn’t like my questions. I don’t get the impression from news of his trial that any of that has changed.


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