Opinion: Shifting shape

Squeezing every ounce of performance from a storagenetwork keeps the brightest minds in our industry searching for that perfect combination of softwarecode, processor power, and I/O. But a surprising amount of increased performance can be tapped by simply changing the shape of what a storage system or component looks like.

The server industry illustrated this idea perfectly with server blades. By changing little more than the form factor, vendors were able to deliver thin,densely packed blades loaded with advantages not found in traditional server architectures.

Similar changes are taking place across the storageindustry and below the water line of the bigarchitectural debates such as file vs. block storage,or Fibre Channel vs. IP. Take the internal SCSI cable,for instance. After encountering signal-loss problems during Ultra SCSI 320 performance tests, the minds at Adaptec thought outside the storage box and, instead of chasing the problem at the high end, simply changed the flat, ribbon-shaped cable into a more compact,round form factor. The result: increased performance and space-saving simplicity. Who would have figured?

Same goes for the evolution of ATA drives to Serial ATA. With higher-frequency data traffic comes the increased threat of electronic interference and other"noise" that can cripple performance. Rather than apply a complex filter, Serial ATA vendors took the low road to solving interference problems by simply changing the shape of the cable and adding insulation.

Clever.

Struggling to cope with fitting the advanced read/write head of its O-Mass optical storage tape product into the tape cartridge itself, Tandberg Data could have spent years filing down the size of the read/write head while attempting to maintain O-Mass' 96-track capability. How did they avoid such a delay in getting to market? Why, they simply gave the tape cartridge a convertible top that pops up and opens to allow the optical read/write head to do its thing. Brilliant.

Heavyweights such as IBM and Dell have also discovered that simple changes in shape can yield tremendous advantages in storage. Both companies are separately tooling their own storage "brick" systems, which could hit the market as early as this year. These systemsare designed to snap together similar to Lego toys,allowing administrators to add or subtract storage capacity as easily as snapping on another brick.

Each brick hosts a microprocessor and storage disks,and adjusts itself automatically to different load and performance requirements. And with storage bricks, a simple change in shape not only increases storage throughput via a tighter coupling of storagecomponents but also introduces the possibility of self-managing storage devices that require little or no attention past the responsibility of remembering to add another brick when needed. Absolute bliss.

What shape is your storage in? E-mail us at dan_neel@infoworld.com and mario_apicella@infoworld.com.

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