Can we blame only storage vendors?

One of my job's most interesting aspects is keeping a dialogue open with vendors' reps, which happens mostly through formal meetings springing from a new announcement or from a "Mario-you-absolutely-have-to-hear-this" kind of urge.

Usually, once the message has been delivered, everybody hurries back to his or her own agenda, but sometimes a momentary break in the schedule opens the opportunity for more informal conversations.

It was during one of those rare moments that a senior officer at one of the largest storage companies asked, "Mario, what do you want from storage?" It was, indeed, an open-ended question that triggered some thoughts.

A few years ago, the question would probably have been very different, perhaps meaningless. Going back to my early years on mainframes or open systems, storage was hardly an entity of its own; rather, it was just another class of "peripherals" that applications used to store data in a more permanent way than computer memory allowed.

In fact, storage was then strictly under the OS control. Any changes to the amount or characteristics of the storage assigned to a system was under close OS supervision and awareness. What we wanted from storage then was just reliability: the OS and its running applications would take care of, or be responsible for, everything else.

Networked storage has changed that tight relationship, removing storage from OS dictatorship and opening the way to an exciting range of possibilities, such as separate administration, consolidation, and a more efficient use of storage resources.

The benefits deriving from that schism are undeniable, but unfortunately so are some disadvantages. Interestingly, the results from a recent survey published by the SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association ) indicate that the majority of storage users are demanding better management tools (47 percent) and better interoperability (43 percent), which should give vendors a clear indication of the major difficulties in dealing with networked storage.

The ongoing SNIA SMI (Storage Management Initiative) project that proposes a set of standards for storage administration will provide -- in time -- some relief, but let's note that storage vendors do not hold all the answers nor they can provide all the solutions.

Many idiosyncrasies of dealing with networking storage originate just inside the OS or the application because those vendors have not followed the storage fast-evolving pace close enough. For example, although most storage systems offers easy tools to dynamically expand or reduce the amount of storage assigned to a volume, as of today no OS can elegantly handle a shrunken volume, and only a few can acknowledge the additional space made available by the storage system.

Maybe the new frontier that we need to address with storage should start right at home, devising new standards that foster better control of those remote storage resources from inside the OS and our applications.

What do you think? What do you want from storage?

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