Watchwords at SNW: Simplicity, health care, virtualization

SAN DIEGO -- Their were multiple messages for attendees at the Spring Storage Networking World conference here: Complexity has no place in storage infrastructures, health care IT is on the rise, and virtualization is happening now.

On another front, infrastructure aficionados were presented with a heaping serving of alphabet soup in the form of more emerging standards from the Storage Networking Industry Association.

Jerry Bartlett, CIO of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., was positively messianic about eradicating complexity, optimizing systems toward the goal of servicing customer needs and then re-investing profits in new product development. Noting the eight mergers or acquisitions his firm has gone though in the past five years, he made it clear that building customer value has been a constant throughout all the changes.

"Two or three years ago, we started thinking about what is the right technical philosophy going forward, and we decided the right thing to do was creating value for the families and individuals that are our clients and constituents," Bartlett declared, adding, "Don't miss an opportunity to remove complexity, and keep your options open."

In order to follow the company's newfound philosophy, TD Ameritrade has added staff, simplified its storage infrastructure and reduced server costs by 45%, while allocating 75% of available resources on new product development.

"Complexity and rigidity add costs," Bartlett said. "The systems architecture of the future must be simple and agile, which allows you to be more responsive to clients and to fix problems more easily."

TD Ameritrade was able to save significant amounts of money by cost-efficiently allocating storage between high-end and midrange arrays. Twelve to 15 months ago, 100% of its storage was high-end arrays; today, the number has shrunk to 30%. As part of that effort, the firm moved 30 test systems from direct-attached and high-end storage to midrange systems.

According to Bartlett, the company used internal testing to establish the differences between high-end and midrange storage. Specifically, performance of the two storage types was evaluated in environments where the arrays operated in a degraded mode. This was done in order to determine the ability of TD Ameritrade's tiered storage infrastructure to meet service level objectives. Testing results indicated that in the case of high-end arrays, failures of internal components degraded performance by 12%, compared to 50% with their mid-range counterparts.

The CIO also espoused the value of communication between the business and IT sides of the house. Referring to what he called the "complete partnership" between those two groups at his company, he declared, "I am a business guy."

In summary, he stated, "We have driven down the cost per terabyte. We have more than doubled our technology but reduced our technology run rate by $500,000 per year."

Health care IT on the rise

During his presentation, titled "The new reality for the application of information technology in health care," Dave Dully, CTO of Baptist Health, cited the need to increase IT spending in health care, an area that has traditionally been underfunded and technologically outmoded. In supporting that premise, he referred to a "lower level" of IT health care innovation that is attributable to a lack of standardization, the paucity of repeatable processes, the difficulty of automating those processes, the highly regulated nature of health care institutions and, above all else, the strong focus on specialization.

"Every area has a high degree of specialization," Dully declared. "It is a pretty complex environment that changes very fast."

Despite those traditional drawbacks, however, he went on to list several strong healthcare IT business drivers, including the pressure to eliminate medical errors, the growing reliance on electronic medical records and the strong interdependence between healthcare organizations such as providers, payers, patients and hospitals.

According to Dully, doctors — long known for their aversion to health care IT — are now reluctantly accepting it, but with caveats. Noted Dully, "One of the first things they ask is, 'What happens when the system goes down?'"

As is the case with so many other industries, the need for disaster recovery systems is rapidly becoming a business imperative. This ties in with the patient confidentiality requirements of HIPAA. Overall, Dully said, health care IT is at the same point that financial services was 10 years ago.

The virtues of virtualization

Before he got around to espousing the technological advantages of virtualization, Andy Monshaw, general manager of IBM System Storage, rolled out some big numbers to illustrate the exponential growth of data.

For example, Monshaw said that IBM maintains several petabytes of data on its worldwide storage infrastructure, and that one-petabyte infrastructures are no longer uncommon. He continued by noting that between 20 and 25 exabytes of storage capacity had been purchased last year. If that's not impressive enough, he further noted that some 200 exabytes of data had been created last year, a number he said will jump to 4,000 exabytes by 2009.

"You have to be ready for a 20X increase in your infrastructures in the next three years," he said. "This is not a problem many of you face now. Can you deal with it?"

Commenting that vendors are "rallying around" this problem, Monshaw said a whole new set of challenges are presenting themselves, not the least of them being integrating disparate database systems. "The build-back and chargeback models are becoming wildly complex," he said.

Turning to virtualization, he said it is here now, and it is time for users to start seriously think about implementing it. A year ago, the vendor claimed, prospective virtualization users were just "tire-kicking," but now, he said, driven by the need for interoperability that has driven SAN growth, they are willing to spend money in order to realize the reduced complexity that comes with virtual environments.

Although he admitted to the presence of much "chartware," Monshaw said virtualization is real.

"It's all about giving you vendor choice," he said. "Virtualization enables vendor choice, tiered storage migration and increased application uptime."

SNIA standards update

At Storage Networking World, the SNIA announced "significant momentum" across its range of storage standards and specifications, including the Storage Management Forum's Storage Management Initiative-Specification (SMI-S), eXtensible Access Method (XAM), Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI) Management API (iMA), Multipath Management API (MMA) and Disk Data Format (DDF):

  • SMI V1.1 The newest version of this standard is on track to be submitted to the InterNational committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) for ratification as an ANSI standard. To date, 214 products have been tested for conformance with SMI-S V1.1 from 11 vendors, including ADIC, Brocade, CA, Cisco, EMC, Fujitsu, HP, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, LSI Logic and McData
  • XAM SNIA says the XAM interface will become the standard interface between applications and storage. The groundswell of support and interest for XAM is based on 89 individual members and 36 companies. On March 23, the SNIA Board voted to establish an XAM Task Force to come up with a set of recommendations for governance and oversight, and present it to the board during May.
  • ISCSI Management API V1.1.2 IMA is a complementary specification to SMI-S that defines a standard interface that management applications can use to perform iSCSI management, independent of the vendor of the iSCSI HBA. It has undergone the formal SNIA member review and has been submitted to INCITS fro Fast Track ANSI review to become a standard.
  • Multipath Management API Specification The SNIA Multipath Management API (MMA) allows a management application to discover the multi-path devices on the current system and to discover the associated local and device ports. MMA has passed the SNIA public review and was submitted to INCITS for Fast Track ANSI review to become a standard.
  • Disk Data Format SNIA has begun development of version 1.1 that will contain content to support RAID 6 [two-disk failure protection] and other additions. DDF V1.1 was approved by the SNIA Technical Council in January and will now be sent to the SNIA Board of Directors to approve a vote for the entire membership.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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