Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We need standards for SSDs

The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) recently announced that it has formed a Solid State Storage Initiative (see SNIA launches SSD initiative). In addition to the SNIA's normal activities such as evangelizing, proselytizing and cheerleading, the SSSI will contribute to standards relating to solid-state disk (SSD) drives.

What we really need here from the SNIA are standards that users, integrators and OEMs can use to compare SSDs, as well as SSDs vs. traditional hard disk drives (HDDs). At a minimum, this standard, or standards, would address performance, providing apples-to-apples metrics to enable comparisons of vendors' performance claims.

But in the case of SSDs, the metrics would have to go way beyond that. For one, they would have to include capacity and price. This would approximate what we get from the Storage Performance Council's SPC benchmarks.

However, the SSD metrics should also encompass durability/reliability and even power consumption. I doubt that it would be possible to come up with a single metric that measured IOPS/$/GB/watts, but the industry will desperately need at least a series of metrics to enable users/integrators/OEMs to make sense out of the nonsense that currently dominates in marketing materials.

Friday, October 24, 2008

When will we see FCoE?

Continuing on my Fibre Channel over Ethernet musings . . .

I don't think we'll see any appreciable adoption of FCoE in the end-user community until at least 2010. Products, or at least prototypes, exist today from vendors such as Emulex, QLogic, and Cisco, and each of those vendors has promised to provide me with FCoE customer contacts within the next month or two. If that happens, InfoStor will certainly report on it, but don't hold your breath.

TheInfoPro research firm recently concluded a survey of Fortune 1000 storage managers that included some questions about FCoE adoption. Almost three-fourths (73%) of the respondents did not have FCoE in their plans (vs. 84% six months ago), 21% had it in their long-term plans, and 2% in their near-term plans. About 1% said they had FCoE products in pilot and/or evaluation stages, and another 4% said they were currently using FCoE (although I find that hard to believe).

One thing that might stall adoption is somewhat political, or territorial, in nature: Who would be in charge of the FCoE infrastructure -- the storage or network professionals? FCoE is Fibre Channel, but it's also Ethernet.

On a somewhat related note: Which vendors will succeed in the FCoE market? Those of us in the storage biz might assume it will be the vendors with a lot of Fibre Channel expertise, such as Brocade, Emulex, QLogic, etc. in the area of FCoE-based converged network adapters (CNAs). However, I'm told that there are dozens of other vendors -- including existing NIC vendors and start-ups -- gearing up to enter the CNA space. The same question would apply to FCoE-enabled switches.

This could be an interesting battle brewing.

For more information on FCoE, see:

Q&A: Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE)

And for the Fibre Channel Industry Association's view, see:

FCIA makes the case for FCoE

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

FCoE vs. iSCSI, take 1

The emerging Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) standard promises to bring back the good old days of the raging Fibre Channel vs. iSCSI debates. Or does it?

First, a little history. When the FCoE concept was first hatched about two years ago, naysayers -- and sometimes the press -- jumped all over it: FCoE was a "last ditch ploy" by Fibre Channel "bigots" to stem the "inevitable tide of Ethernet" taking over all types of data center traffic, including storage via the iSCSI protocol. The rhetoric ran rampant, but then it died down into more politically correct statements such as "Fibre Channel and iSCSI are complementary, not competitive."

I actually bought that for awhile, in part because I (and many others) didn't think that iSCSI would ever be considered for enterprise data centers (which is where FCoE would play). As such, iSCSI would eventually dominate at the departmental level and at SMBs while Fibre Channel, or FCoE, would dominate in data centers as companies moved to converged networks, or whatever you want to call them.

Then along came 10GbE (10Gbps Ethernet) which, once it gets cheaper, all of a sudden makes iSCSI seem feasible as the kingpin storage protocol for data centers. Then again, I don't see data-center managers (or at least the storage managers) giving up on all the Fibre Channel equipment, software, and expertise they've accumulated.

It does seem clear that data-center managers will eventually have to make a choice between FCoE and iSCSI, assuming they're moving to converged networks. Hence the controversy and all the early promotional activity from the FCoE camp.

Another possibility is that FCoE will be used as an interim "stepping stone" technology on the path to a true converged network with one physical layer transport for all traffic.

Yet another possibility: The real competitor for FCoE is not iSCSI but, rather, the status quo. In this scenario, data centers keep their Fibre Channel SANs for storage and their Ethernet LANs for everything else -- and never the twain shall meet.

Maybe I just have FCoE on the brain because of some of the company I kept at last week's Storage Networking World show -- which included Brocade, Emulex, and QLogic -- but in my next blog I'll look at some of the lingering questions/issues surrounding this nascent technology.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The hottest technologies at SNW

In my last blog I promised to reveal The Hottest Technology at last week's Storage Networking World (SNW) show but first, the runners up.

5. Solid-state disk (SSD) drives. There was a lot of talk about SSDs at SNW (mostly in the context of the raging SSD-vs.-HDD debate), but there weren't many product introductions at the show, although Intel did announce production shipments of its new line of enterprise-class flash drives, which will eventually spur further price erosion in this yet-to-get-hot market.

4. Cloud-based storage. Again, a lot of talk, but few vendors. The only cloud storage vendor I met with was Nirvanix, although this services category is expected to grow rapidly over the next couple quarters. For more on this subject, see "What is cloud-based storage?"

3. Storage efficiency technologies, most notably data de-duplication and thin provisioning. Data de-duplication for secondary storage is becoming widespread, but there was a lot of talk at the show about data de-dupe for primary storage from vendors such as NetApp, Storwize, Ocarina Networks, and there will be much more to come.

2. Server virtualization. This is clearly the dominant IT trend, but there are so many storage technologies focused on optimizing virtual servers that it didn't quite make the top of my list.

And the winner is . . .

Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). This is admittedly an odd choice because, in terms of end-user adoption, FCoE may be years away, but

For one, FCoE was the topic of the only major press conference at the show (hosted by QLogic, Cisco, NetApp and VMware).

Two, a number of vendors made FCoE product -- or at least product certification -- announcements at the show (albeit prototypes in most cases), including EMC, NetApp, Brocade, Emulex and QLogic.

And three, FCoE will provide controversy (as in 10Gbps iSCSI over Ethernet vs. Fibre Channel over Ethernet) for years to come.

I'll address the controversial side of FCoE in my next blog.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why trade shows? Because we need the eggs

Greetings from Storage Networking World in Dallas! My colleague Kevin Komiega and I are knee-deep in dozens (seems like hundreds) of meetings with vendors (hey, end users are hard to find at this show). We're covering product highlights on the InfoStor home page, which we'll (hopefully) wrap up over the next day or two, but for now I have a brief respite for reflection on trade shows.

Although the conversations with vendors center on their products and PowerPoints, the meetings invariably start or end with general chit-chat about the show itself. The vendors consistently complain about lack of sales leads, booth traffic, hotel logistics and high prices, yet they're strangely and consistently upbeat (perhaps because I'm usually talking to marketing managers or CEOs and they're always happy). When I ask them how they can justify the costs associated with these shows in light of the above complaints, I often get the rare blank stare.

In trying to figure out why vendors (and editors, for that matter) continue going to trade shows, I'm reminded of the Woody Allen lines at the end of Annie Hall.

This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, my brother's crazy. He thinks he's a chicken." And the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" And the guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs."

Well, I guess that's pretty much how how I feel about trade shows (and relationships). They're totally irrational and crazy and absurd, but I guess we keep going through it because most of us need the eggs.

In my next blog I'll explore The Hottest Technology at Storage Networking World.