We had been dating for a few months, and I had been eagerly anticipating the moment for a while. I hadn’t yet asked Mrs. PL to marry me, so she was still a single woman and I still spent my Sundays flying the virtual skies with my flight simulator. Whilst we hadn’t really talked about it, I knew it was a conversation we wouldn’t be able to avoid much longer.
It was time for me to meet her parents.
As diaries would have it, it was suggested that I meet my possibly future in-laws at Royal Ascot as they had an extra place for me in the Royal Enclosure. Brilliant, I thought …I’m sure dressing up in a morning suit and wearing a top hat whilst quaffing champagne and Pimms all day will steady my nerves nicely. And what the heck, if I get into trouble I could surely ask the Queen for help? I make that Pimms o’clock! Or so my thinking went when I accepted the invitation.
The arrangements were made and we arrived at the appointed hour for a champagne reception hosted by one of my future in-law’s friends. I had a glass of very nice champers, and then politely declined a further glass. I conversed lightly about the events of the day and declined any further glasses of champagne. I was beginning to get a few ‘looks’ …well, more so than usual anyway …and we made our way to the grounds for the racing.
I was offered another drink almost as soon as we entered the enclosure, which I again politely declined. Now, as anyone who knows me or reads this blog frequently will know …I rarely shy away from a nice glass of champagne. Or claret. Or New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Or single batch Hendrick’s gin. Yes, I enjoy the odd tipple and my future mother-in-law was beginning to get worried.
‘Aren’t you having a nice time?’, asked she.
‘Not at all, I’m having a lovely day!’, I replied.
‘Are you teetotal? Or are the drinks not to your liking?’, she said in a low tone.
‘No, they’re fine and no …I am most certainly not teetotal. But I was raised to not have more than three drinks in front of your future in-laws.’
‘Well, I guess perhaps it as serious as I have been led to believe. Tell me, what do you do exactly.’
‘Erm, well …I’m in technology, I guess.’
‘Oh! Great, we’ve had this problem with our PC lately and …’
‘No, I’m sorry I don’t work on that side of technology. I design and integrate data storage for corporations.’
My future father-in-law had joined my future mother-in-law’s side just as she turned a whiter shade of pale, leaned in to him, and whispered something in his ear.
‘No, no …our daughter will be just fine, I think I understand what he means!’, said my future father-in-law to my future mother-in-law.
The conversation shifted swiftly, and the remainder of the day was enjoyed by all.
It was only years later …at a dinner celebrating the birth of our son, actually …when my mother-in-law finally told me that she turned pale because she thought I bought and sold filing cabinets and self storage for City firms.
What does this have to do with Data Storage & Protection?
It is never difficult, in my opinion, to be misunderstood when attempting to explain things which you may be completely au fait with but others mightn’t have even heard of. Indeed, I have a friend who is a fellow data storage practitioner who often tells people that he ‘sells insurance’ at cocktail parties rather than try to explain the weird and wacky world of storage thus avoiding the situation I found myself in with my future in-laws. To be honest, I’ve considered this approach a few times but wouldn’t wish to be intentionally misleading nor fallacious.
And yet, the more I think about it …I do ‘sell insurance’ to a degree.
EMC made an announcement that I have been waiting for quite a while, the GA launch of Fully Automated Storage Tiering or ‘FAST’ for short. FAST introduces automated storage tiering for the EMC Symmetrix Vmax, CLARiiON CX4, and Celerra NS unified storage NAS product. Great, I hear you say. What the heck does that mean?
Well, put simply FAST automates the movement of data at the block level between tiers of storage. For example, a tier of solid state drives, a tier of fibre channel drives, and a tier of SATA drives. Now, In a normal storage array, we tend to lose a lot of efficiency due to the fact that we need to ‘place’ the data by telling it where it should live through the management interface on which tier and such things as RAID groups, disk groups, and LUNs. What if you want to move the data between tiers after you’ve placed it? It isn’t exactly an easy process and often requires downtime. And If you don’t know what those terms above mean, don’t worry …I doubt they’ll be around for very much longer anyway.
What FAST does is essentially automate the placement of data at the block level on the most appropriate tier thus eliminating the inefficiencies noted above with the largely manual placement of data. Where it will begin to get even more interesting is with the introduction of FAST v2 in 2010 when we can then monitor data workloads and promote/demote data seamlessly between tiers based upon business SLAs.
Before I go any further, it is worth noting that EMC aren’t alone in automating data tiering at the data block level as Compellent and 3PAR have been offering similar solutions in their products for a while. Equally, there are many opinions about what FAST truly is, and one of the more balanced views I’ve read is Chris Evans’ a.k.a. The Storage Architect blog post on the subject here.
So is EMC’s announcement important? Yes …and no. There are two things that I find important about the announcement.
The first is that, just as with thin provisioning and data deduplication before, what was once a product is now …rightfully, in my opinion …becoming a feature. I recognise that EMC will wish to market FAST as a product …sorry, guys, but I will have to respectfully disagree …but the emergence of automated storage tiering as a feature in storage products is a huge step forward as it allows us to link other automation technologies to storage to create a highly efficient datacentre which is adaptable with predictable costs.
Second, automated storage tiering is but a waypoint on a journey which I believe leads to policy based engines. This means that, in the future, a Computacenter customer can select a workload package based upon their specific business needs and all of the components of the workload [server, storage, application, network] will be automatically provisioned and then …here’s the clever bit …actively monitored by the policy engine. If the workload exceeds the capabilities of where it was originally provisioned, not a problem …we’ll move it seamlessly to a higher ‘tier’. And what if the workload actually under-utilises where it was originally provisioned? We’ll move it seamlessly to a lower cost ‘tier’.
And that’s where selling insurance comes in.
This is the journey to the virtualised datacentre and, frankly, every customer will be at a different stage of the journey and possibly be expecting different benefits out of their own virtualised datacentre.
Equally, I believe that there will be several different vendor ‘flavours’ of virtualised datacentre each with their own technological and cost benefits.
What makes us unique from our competition is our ability to understand the components of the virtualised datacentre, how to solve each customer’s own individual Rubik’s cube, how to calculate the return on investment as well as the cost benefit analysis to migrate to a fully virtualised datacentre …all whilst identifying and mitigating risk, perhaps even underwriting / gainsharing the calculated benefits
If that isn’t the beginnings of an attractive insurance policy in a challenging economy, I’m not sure what is.