A Few Bright Spots in Storage as 2006 Unfolds

As the first month of 2006 comes to a close, our curmudgeon of a storage analyst finds several companies deserve praise for their storage efforts.

Accused, as I sometimes am, of being too curmudgeonly in my analyses and assessments of storage industry developments, it seems only fair to recognize positive developments when they occur. Interestingly, I didn’t need to dig too deep to find a few targets for some kudos.

From the start, Seagate should be cited for being the first to deliver a practical disk drive based on perpendicular recording. I have previously written about the promise of this technology, in which data bits are recorded with their magnetic fields oriented perpendicularly to media (like arrows shot into the ground) so their magnetic fields do not oppose each other. This permits squeezing more data than usual onto the same platter than with linear or parallel recording—and without running the risk of random bit-flipping.

The first product, according to Joni Clark, Seagate's product marketing manager, will be a 180 GB 2.5 inch drive for your laptop. Shortly, the technology will be wedded to Seagate’s full line of desktop drives, and it will ultimately make its way up the food chain to the company’s enterprise components—though Clark did not have a timetable for the anticipated ship dates for these drives. A big hand to Seagate for being first to market with perpendicular technology drives.

Equally worthy of praise is the fact that, according to Clark, the company is not charging a premium for the new drives. The new drive will have an MSRP of $325, just a tick more than the $290 currently charged for non-perpendicular120 GB drives from Seagate competitors, and less than twice the street price of Seagate’s 80 GB parallel drive at $225.

Congratulations likewise go to Bell Micro for its packaging of Zetera Technologies IP into a business-ready 1u rack-mountable array called the Hammer. Announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, NV in early January, Bell Micro’s Hammer will take Zetera’s innovative new block storage protocol, which leverages Internet Protocol functionality, to the next level—to create something closer to a real SAN from network-connected storage nodes.

Zetera attracted my interest a while back when it teamed with NetGear to put block storage directly onto a home network. Adding a half TB of parallel ATA storage for under $120 (plus a pittance for two 250 GB drives) simply by plugging an Ethernet cable from your switch into the NetGear “toaster” and loading a software driver on your Windows PC or server intrigued me. The new drives showed up as locally-installed hard disks—and behaved that way, too.

But, I wanted more. I wanted SATA support and a business-ready form factor array that could really leverage the Zetera secret sauce. Now, Bell Micro is making a move into the array business and smartly leading with the Zetera interconnect. Deploy a battery of these arrays and use simple IP multicasting to stripe across them creating virtual volumes of just about any size: the mind boggles. They may have just brought real SANs to market!

Also worthy of mention is Zerowait. Lately a purveyor of used Network Appliance Filers and a provider of service and support for NetApp customers, CEO Mike Linett and company have started looking into the realm of storage management at the prompting of some of their customers. If you use a lot of Network Appliance gear, check out for a sample of Zerowait’s new product, called Zpiphany. It will review your Filer (installation) configuration, tell how efficient your storage is in a simple pie chart, compare your storage efficiency to their sample population of hundreds of filers, and interpret your weekly logs to provide simple-to-follow solutions to your filers' error messages from their library of solutions. Zpiphany is provided as part of the company's NetApp Service and support contracts, or available at less than $5.00 a day to customers who want to use it to maximize their NetApp storage infrastructure, no matter who provides the hardware support or how much storage is attached to the Filer.

I like the Zpiphany model a lot and hope that it will be expanded to include other brands of storage products from other vendors—especially those who seek to conceal allocation and utilization data from the “prying eyes” of their own customers. Linett is open to all offers, should any vendors want to assist their customers with this kind of concise reporting service.

Another bright spot as the first month of Storage 2006 winds to a close: Texas Memory Systems. After reading my rants against the warranty or license-based “gag orders” imposed on some storage consumers by their vendors, executive vice president for the solid state disk maker, Woody Hutsell, reviewed his own license agreement and sales contract. In his words, “After reading your rants about no-benchmarking clauses in evaluation agreements, I realized we had that clause in our agreement. That is what you get for copying someone else’s agreement. It is removed now—a small victory for your effort to cleanse the world of these clauses. For what it is worth, we want people to benchmark our products against other storage."

Kudos to Hutsell and shame on all the vendors who don’t want users talking about the performance derived from their storage products. I will continue my rants until this matter is resolved once and for all.

Finally, I applaud the folks at IBM, especially VP of standards and open source Bob Sutor, for the attention they have paid to developing open-source storage management solutions. Those of us in the storage trenches have waited for a workable, application-facing, cross-platform, storage management solution for what seems like forever. The Storage Networking Industry Association’s SMI-S initiative, according to insiders, is a debacle “wrapped around the axel of mindless complexity.” Late last year, IBM stepped up to the plate with the announcement of an open-source management initiative, called Aperi, intended to realize the Holy Grail.

I am circumspect, at this point, about the future of Aperi, inasmuch as it seems to have nested itself within SNIA, but I liked Bob Sutor’s brilliant commentary on the need for an open-source development effort so much that I am pleased to announce the launch of a real open-source storage management initiative for the first time anywhere in this column. Visit for more information. If storage management is a concern to you, join the revolution!

Your comments, as always, are welcomed: [email protected]

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.