Nothing is designed to deliver miracles, especially data storage.

I got a serious ticking off from Mrs. PL in bed recently.  Wait, it’s not what you think!

I have been trying to get better about not bringing my MacBook Air to bed over the past few weeks reading storage blogs and industry analysis documentation …besides, Mrs. PL knows all too well the glow of a laptop or Blackberry screen and won’t hesitate to have a full and frank discussion regarding bringing ‘work’ to bed.  ‘But it’s not work, I’m reading an aeroplane blog!’ doesn’t cut ice with herself.

Soooo …there I was, thinking Mrs. PL had drifted off to sleep when I thought I would just flip open my MBA for a few minutes and listen to a little live Air Traffic Control from Sydney before falling asleep.

Now, as a bit of background, don’t go acting all surprised that a) I’m a geek, and b) I’m an aeroplane geek.  Indeed, I have blogged about this several times.  Equally, I’ve come to learn that Mrs. PL attempts to hide my Airliner World magazines from me in a vain attempt to save me from my geek self …or perhaps to shield PL Junior from inheriting too many of the geek traits.  Although I submit that geekery is genetic and hey …the Geeks shall inherit the Earth.

But I digress.  I thought Mrs. PL was asleep and a cheeky few minutes on the laptop listening to ATC through my headphones wouldn’t hurt, would it?

Oh, how wrong I was.

Thinking you’ve plugged in your headphones and verifying that you have …two different things, I’m afraid.

Mrs. PL sat bolt upright in bed when she heard ATC guiding a Qantas flight Q432 from London to Sydney.  At full volume.  Out of my laptop speakers.

As this is a family blog I won’t tell you exactly what Mrs. PL said, but let’s just say that I’m fairly certain that my laptop probably wouldn’t fit there but it wouldn’t be for a lack of trying on her part.

Look, I’m an aeroplane geek ‘tis true …and after Mrs. PL calmed down the next day she agreed I could listen to ATC on my iPod on future before drifting off.

But you don’t have to be an aeroplane geek not to have been impressed with the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ where Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger successfully crash landed or ‘ditched’ his A320 on the Hudson River and saved all 155 passengers and crew.

What’s this got to do with data storage and protection?

One of the most remarkable things about this event …and there are many remarkable things about the six minutes of this flight  …is that the bird strike which incapacitated the airplane occurred two minutes after takeoff at 15:27:01 and Capt. Sullenberger and his crew ran through three page emergency checklist to attempt to save the aircraft …twice …yet were still able to remain calm and ‘ditch’ the aircraft at 15:31 just four minutes later.

When a plane goes down, there is an immediate public outcry for investigation and possibly regulation to ensure that this never happens again, but where is the same outcry to study what went right when a pilot and his crew …aided by Air Traffic Control and other authorities …save all on board in four minutes following a bird strike which turned an A320 into one of the world’s most expensive gliders?  Yes, there were possibly too many things that went ‘right’ that day to count but a concerted effort has been made to try.

Expressed another way, was the Miracle on the Hudson truly a miracle …or a triumph of technology, process, and training?

I often see the same thing occur with technology generally and storage technologies specifically.

1.  Technology is an enabler, but not a saviour.  Leave the #awesomesauce at home.

The A320 wasn’t going to fly or, more to the point …ditch …itself.  But the design of the plane and the safety controls surely contributed to the successful ditching on the Hudson.

As I discussed in a recent post, it isn’t the ‘awesomesauce’ but, rather, what are we proposing to do with technologies such as thin provisioning, data deduplication, automated storage provisioning, automated storage tiering such as FAST, zero page reclamation that matter.  There is no ‘silver bullet’ technology …none of the aforementioned technologies will ‘save’ you …hence the business benefit should be studied closely and articulated properly.

2. People + Documented and Qualified Processes = Best Use of Technology.

Would the outcome have been different had the A320 on that fateful day not been piloted by Captain Sullenberger …who just so happened to have started his career piloting gliders and also helped develop protocols for airline safety?  Who is to say, although it probably didn’t hurt!  But no matter how good a pilot ‘Sully’ is, he’s also the first to have praised the emergency procedures which were verified and kept very close to hand …sometimes referred to by pilots as ‘kneeboards’ which meant he and the copilot were able to run through procedures quickly without having to ‘remember’ what to do next.

It doesn’t matter how proficient with data storage may be, there is no harm in verifying key procedures and then ensuring they are to hand when performing operations such as data recovery, upgrades to a storage array, and so on.  The array will do what you tell it to [normally!], but to not verify upgrade or data migration procedures …and codify them post verification …well prior to key transitions seems folly at best to me.

3. One size rarely fits all.  Are you sure you’ve got the right equipment for the job?

Captain Sullenberger has praised the safety features of the Airbus A320 in several interviews, but I think it is important to bear in mind that much of the context has been around short ‘commuter’ flights.  Would he select the same aircraft given different conditions, such as coast to coast or transcontinental ‘long haul’ flights?  Perhaps yes, perhaps no …but there are charts and matrices which help pilots and airlines select the most appropriate aircraft for flights, payloads, etc.

When discussing data storage …or indeed just about any technology …one of the first questions we should be asking is ‘what are we going to do with it’?  Now, whilst it is perfectly understandable why customers select the technology on a case by case basis in an RFP style format …what I think would be far more effective would be the creation of a service catalogue as a matrix to help customers make such decisions.  The service catalogue is designed to codify workload characteristics …SLA [Service Level Agreement], IOPS/VOPS [desired throughput], RPO [Recovery Point Objective], RTO [Recovery Time Objective], VTB [Value to Business] …and so on.

4. An ounce of prevention could be worth many more pounds than you could imagine.

Everything went right on the day such that, even after the mechanical failure caused by the bird strike, the plane retained structural integrity and performed as the captain expected.  In short, the last thing he needed in the four minutes when he was rapidly making decisions and executing urgently to land on the Hudson was something to go wrong because proper regular maintenance hadn’t been carried out.

Now, I enjoy talking about scale out data storage devices like IBM XiV and EMC Vmax or data deduplication and data compression just as much as the next storage guy but with customers reaping less than 40% utlisation on average from their storage infrastructures there’s no getting away from the benefits of good storage management.  Yes, it may not be as ‘sexy’ as the wizz bang #awesomesauce being touted by competitors and, in some cases our vendor partners, but there is much to be said about the positive business benefits of proactive storage management.  Chris Evans, a.k.a. The Storage Architect not the ginger bloke on Radio 2, is writing a series of great articles on the Four Pillars of Storage Management which are more than worth reading and consuming.

Right, so …with the Icelandic ash cloud looming large my flight to Edinburgh tomorrow to deliver storage Academy and Masterclasses remains in doubt so I think its off to bed …but not before perhaps a few minutes of ATC radio.

Next week …federation is the new buzzword, but is data storage your internal service provider?  No?  That’s not cricket.

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