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There’s been very little happening on the home front since my return from points East. It’s been almost four weeks, filled with little more besides work, sleep, and watching the final series of The West Wing.

Of The West Wing, all I will say is: those critics who claim the quality declined in later series’ are blowing bubbles; sure, things changed, quite radically, but it reflects the reality of what happens in the US Government (Executive Branch) in an Election year. Each Presidential term is a real roller-coaster ride, from which only some of the characters climb off at the end, having earned the privilege of walking away in the certain knowledge of a job well done. Highly Recommended.

It’s happened before that I’ve gained new insights on a topic by writing about it here; it’s at least as useful to talk about it, to a bunch of people who may have a different take on the subject. That was the case last month, when I gave two weeks of consecutive training courses to my company’s new recruits in Bangalore, on our Storage product line. Some of them had worked for our competitors, and it was fun to see the contrasts between product ranges that came out.

Sometimes it was “oh – our stuff couldn’t do that” or “we charged for that, you gave it away free”. On other topics, they had experience at an “Enterprise” level that I just don’t, and customers with Enterprise budgets. On at least one occasion my natural response, to a question like “why doesn’t this product do X?”, was something like “sure, it’s possible, but why would you want to, here? It would be hard to manage, and cost too much”.

Technological advances have a way of turning last decade’s impossible in to last year’s unworkable, then in to this year’s impractical, and next year’s you-should-be-doing-it-already. Without going in to too much detail here, one of the topics of contention in our discussions was that of “storage virtualization”. I have a certain take on it, from my work on our mid- and low-end product ranges, that is focused on the nuts-and-bolts of how getting spinning metal platters to do what the customer needs. The first difference between a standard PC and a Server is the use of multiple disks, how they need to be arranged to work, quickly and reliably, without costing the earth. Beyond that you get in to dedicated external Storage systems, which is where I make my living.

There’s another level beyond that, an additional layer of virtualization that hides the complexity from the customer and allows them to treat storage as a utility (like electricity or water), but that comes at huge financial cost, without actually removing the underlying complexity. I would use a vehicle analogy; modern cars, with all their engine management and monitoring, can run reliably for longer than old cars can. That is fine when they’re working, and a real problem when they go wrong, since the driver doesn’t have the knowledge or tools to fix it any more. There are people who do, but they’re expensive, even with service contracts, and that leaves you at the mercy of the service personnel.

Worse, this dumbing-down of the end users leaves them unable to make fully-informed decisions about their next purchase. My company has Storage customers who are the technological siblings of SUV-driving Yuppies in cities; they fall for the sales pitch and a misplaced conception of safety. Others buy the equivalent of a VW Golf from us – great for its purpose, but these customers then turn round and complain to us that it doesn’t perform as the sales pitch said, after they pour diesel in the petrol tank, and load up the back seats with a ton of cement. They have a service contract, so we must fix it. Right?

Anyway, to get back to the main point: I’m going to have a go at writing up my ideas on Storage, starting with the most basic abstract view of what it is and isn’t. There are so many storage types, real and virtualized, and while it can be confusing, you can cut through it all with a solid grounding in the fundamentals. What I write will appear under the “storage” heading under Pages, not as blog entries in the usual way, though I will refer to them at times. It won’t be quick!

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Written by brian t

January 27, 2007 at 8:55 pm

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