Day 2 at Storage Expo – Greening Up the Act

Exhibitions are like travel – one spends a lot of time seemingly not doing much at all, and its completely shattering. In the case of Storage Expo, “nothing at all” translates into presenting, listening to presentations, participating in meetings, walking between stands and just downright chatting, all in all very productive from an information gathering perspective but tiring nonetheless.

So what’s a-buzz? Admittedly I was looking through my own, undoubtedly biased “solutions not products” spectacles – there may have been interesting things being demonstrated in the hardware layer, but I confess they passed me by. It was the companies doing “joined up storage” that I found most interesting, such as Copan getting together with Data Domain to offer concentrated offline storage for deduped backups. I seemed to spend a lot of time talking to people about green issues as well, which prompted me to think even harder about the solutions/software side of the house.

Put simply, most storage hardware vendors are currently pretty shabby when it comes to being “green”. For all the talk about “our watts are lower than their watts,” which may or may not be true (but is probably a leap-frog thing between the vendors anyway), the whole notion of a constantly spinning mechanical device is never going to look good from a power consumption perspective – as companies like Plasmon (whose storage doesn’t have to spin constantly) are keen to point out.

It’s a bit of a cruel trick really, a bit like the printing industry might feel if it suddenly had to use paper from sustainable forests (hmm. not a bad idea. but anyway). Since that guy from M.A.S.H first invented the hard disk, the general principle has been, “let ’em spin” – which of course uses power. The more data your business generates, the more disks you need, and asking a disk storage sales guy to regulate the flow is going to be a bit like asking Cadbury’s to restrict the supply of Flakes to ice cream vendors. Tricky.

But, for all manner of reasons, we have arrived at a point where “get more disk in” is no longer the default answer. All those disks are keeping on spinning, using up power whether the data on them is being accessed or not. Result: almost overnight, storage hardware companies look like the bad guys and are trying to out-do each other and hiding behind the worse-er offenders.  

All of that is missing one fundamental point, however, which is to question whether or not the disks are required in the first place. For example: I was speaking a few months ago to an oil company that had 17 SAP instances, all on different hardware. We have organisations who have “keep everything” policies for data retention rather than spending the time to work out what they don’t need (or shouldn’t keep). There are database compression companies like SAND Technology and Sybase, whose products remain niche due to lack of market take-up.

All of this points the finger of blame at a point quite a bit higher than the hardware layer. Sure, there will undoubtedly be clever things that can be done within the SAN, such as dynamic storage provision into virtual pools, for example. However, to solve what is fundamentally a data management efficiency problem, requires serious thought right up the stack, in terms of clearer definition of what information the business actually needs, down through more intelligent application architecture, to better storage provisioning and resource management. Let’s not stop wagging fingers at hardware manufacturers, but while we’re pointing out the motes in their eyes, let’s also recognise the environmentally unfriendly and resource hungry logs in our own.

P.S. No, the guy from M.A.S.H didn’t really invent the hard disk, it was in fact named after a rifle. Who says there is no humour in storage.

Day 2 at Storage Expo – Greening Up the Act

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