Funeral for a Friend

June 27, 2009 – 10:12 am

Spring is not supposed to be a time for send offs, after all, its supposed to be the time when things come to life or refresh from winter sleep or hibernation such plants, flowers, trees, grass, spring animals, fishing opening after spawning not to mention spring weddings. With the passing this week of Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, you might think that’s the funeral for a friend I’m referring.

While I have fond memories of Ed McMahon as Johnny Carson’s side kick on the tonight show, that’s not the funeral for a friend.

Likewise, who can forget Farah Fawcett and her poster, even though we share something in common, that is she died in the same hospital that I was born in, that’s not the funeral I’m referring to.

Image courtesy of www.mostlyposters.com

Neither is the passing of Michael Jackson that is not only flooding the media, its also testing and taxing many web sites and data infrastructures (here, and here among others), that’s not the funeral for a friend I’m referring to either.

Now I do not know anyone who has succumbed to the N1H1 (swine flue) virus yet, and while people have died from it, so far it seems like some IT technologies (insert your favorite or non-favorite technology here), everyone is talking about it, however who actually has it, so that’s not the funeral I’m referring to.

Nor is the Elton John song from Yellow Brick Road what I’m referring to.

No, the funeral for a friend that I’m referring to is a different one all together, its the funeral for the magnetic hard disk drive (e.g. disk drive or HDD) that we have come to know and rely upon, in some cases for some people, they don’t even know that they have been relying on a HDD in their PC or computer or notebook. For some, they think that the HDD is just memory (actually it is), or in their TiVo or DVR, or the magic resource in the cloud, internet, web hosting or managed service site where different files and data can be stored and backed-up to. Yes, it was a sad funeral as many go however the HDD was not alone at the funeral, as many of its contemporaries were also being eulogized including Green IT, Fibre Channel, the IBM mainframe, Microsoft Windows, magnetic tape, printers, RAID, IT data centers, physical copper networking wiring and the combustion engine to name a few others.

What do these all have in common and why was there a funeral? Becuase they have been declared as being dead by someone, or perhaps wished that they were dead by others! Like them or not, we rely on them all, they become a friend, a friend that sometimes you get along with, and at times that you are at odds with, however a friend never the less. Thus it was impressive to see the large virtual crowd in attendance for this funeral or wake, after all, most in attendance, including the deceased were scratching their heads (even the disks – some of you will get the humor ;) ) as after all, non of the deceased are actually dead.

Does that mean if they are not dead, yet supposed to be dead that they are ghosts or zombies? It turns out the afore mentioned are examples of what I commonly refer to as Zombie technologies in that they have been declared dead by pundits or marketers trying to prop up something new, yet the technologies continue to be enhanced and sold by vendors often with little to no fanfare as IT customers will buy, deploy use and rely on these technologies.

Granted, in some cases the technologies may not be the current best friend or industry darling, however there is a dependence on these and other technologies.

I mean think about it, RAID is dead so new raid or dist. Parity or something else can take RAIDs place (I attended the RAID sendoff recently). Or that the HDD is dead so that the market can switch over to FLASH SSD, another recent send-off. Or that tape is dead at the hands of dedupe, that was lasts weeks send off, or the mainframe, Fibre Channel and so forth. In some cases, some could not attend their own funeral as they were to busy supporting all of the demands of more data to move, process and store including the bloggers, twitters, texters, friend feeders and so forth.

One of the interesting things about going to these send offs is meeting up with old friends and acquaintances to hear what they are doing these days, for example, in addition to some people, I ran into the mainframe who is still busy working. I saw and talked to the mini-server who has been busy hosting VMware and Microsoft HyperV consolidation that also showed me photos of its new blades.

Fibre Channel was looking robust and energized excited about its upcoming new role combined with Ethernet as FCoE. The disk drive had hoped to be retired by now however, while some of the high performance Fibre Channel variants might fade away with 2.5" high performance SAS HDDs picking up that slack while SSD continues to mature and evolve, not to mention even larger capacity HDDs picking up more work, the HDD see’s that it will be working for at least another decade as there is just too much work to be done in an economical mannor to retire to some day isle (you know, that place that you say some day Isle go there)… In fact the HDDs were telling me about how they have to be ready to be deployed in hosting, managed services as well as cloud sites when those finally ramp-up on large scale basis beyond today’s web and infrastructure hosting providers.

Some of the zombies told me how they are working with new peer technologies or have been repackaged and new marketing campaigners as part of their awareness tour, similar to promoters bring aging rock stars back out on highly productive and profitable tours for their fans while helping to promote the new material.

During one of these recent sendoffs, I was pondering this and all of a sudden it dawned on me and a bright light bulb went on that drew enough watts to make a high-end server or storage system look efficient. The emergence of the new technology hype was causing all of these send-offs. Here’s what I came up with by doing some quick analysis on the back of one of the funerals during a long winded eulogy that was further out there than a 12MByte 55 slide deck complete with ramifications during a 15-30 minute product launch WebEx, Goto Meeting or other session.

Having had the revelation, I decided to do some analysis, you know, the thing that analysts are supposed to such as thinking outside the box, looking at different trends, issues, spotting patterns, coming up with different perspectives some of which may be outside the box or not mainstream, sometimes taking a view that is contrarian or skeptical, applying that gray matter between the ears (not the gray hair)…

In the quest to launch new products, perhaps due to a lack of innovative marketing to promote innovative and evolutionary technologies, the trend is to simply declare something else dead so the new technology can replace it which had me wondering is if its not the technology that’s dead, rather, has creative marketing died? Recently the HDD or disk drive has once again been declared dead (as has magnetic tape and others) as it has been many times over the past 50 plus years of existence, after all, it can be a bit of a sport or make for easy game to jump up and declare something dead as after all, with technology there always has to be something new to talk about.

The reality is that many IT organizations are risk averse, the are creatures of habits, they use and leverage what they know, what they trust and in some cases regardless of if they like the technology or not, thus, the importance of bridging the gap between the past, what works, what is known and field proven including the good, the bad and the ugly aspects as transitions are made to new technology and techniques. The trick is not clinging to the past with a death grip while ignoring the future, or likewise, jumping in with both feet to the new techniques and technology, after all, many environments are risk averse so the only way leading bleeding edge approaches are taken is if there is a dual redundant blood bank located next door (that some more IT HA humor ; ) )

Here’s my point, contrary to renewed focus that the disk drive is dead at the hands of solid state disk (SSD) and FLASH in particular, I’m not clinging to the past as I have been and remain a fan of SSD for about 20 years. However also seeing the reality, and not choosing to simply jump on yet another SSD bandwagon movement, it is safe to say that the HDD in various shapes and forms will be around for at least another decade. Likewise, magnetic tape which has been declared dead for I don’t know how many decades also continues to be enhanced and deployed and thus not dead. In fact, when I talk with IT folks around the world and ask them if they care to admit to using tape, its fun to watch them look around the room to see who is going to catch them raise their hands, then sure enough, when comfortable, 65-75% of the hands go up.

Now to be fare, many of these same organizations are using some form of disk based backup and data protection in conjunction with repositioning (here, here, here, and here among others) tape for ultra-low cost, ultra energy efficient (e.g. green) storage. Changing usage of tape include for long term data retention including archive, full backup that were staged first to disk as well as compliance among other purposes.

Thus the notion of tiered storage, that is leveraging the most applicable technology aligned to the task at hand to meet service and cost requirements while balancing performance, availability, capacity and energy efficiency in a flexible manor comes to mind, after all, there is no such thing as a data recession!

Does this mean that new technologies including de-dupe, thin-provisioning, clusters, grids, clouds, SaaS, Soa, object based, virtualization, SSD and many others are not being deployed? They are in fact being deployed alongside in many cases with the so called zombie or dead technologies in what some might think of as a mentoring program of sorts. That is bridging the past to the future, case in point being virtual tape libraries (VTLs see also here, and here among others) that make disk look like tape to fool existing backup and data protection software, processes and procedures while leveraging new techniques including space saving snapshots, staging data to disk as a cache or buffer before streaming to tape, using data footprint techniques including compression and de-dupe among others.

Now remembering some actual deceased from the technology world, various IT firms, technologies, and individuals no longer with us, some who gave their all to help propel the industry to get it to where it is today and still evolving including TCAM, Storage Service Providers (SSP), RAID Advisory Board (RAB), Token Ring, Briton Lee Database machine (DejaVu anyone?), Imperial Technologies (An SSD vendor), SF2 (Bought by MTI, Patents bought by EMC), Pirus (Bought by Sun and then discontinued), DEC (Bought by Compaq and then by HP), DG (Bought by EMC), Wang (Getronics), Openvision (Bought by Veritas, bought by Symantec), Memorex (Brand bought by Imation), Next, and Osborne not to mention influences such as Ray Norda, Grace Hopper, Thomas Watson, Blaze Pascal, Seymor Cray and Al Shugart among many many others, RIP.

Now to the technology zombies including among others Backup, Data Centers, Ethernet, Facebook, Fibre Channel, IT Professionals, Landline Telecommunications, Mainframe, Magnetic Hard Disk Drives, Magnetic Tape, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Windows, non-clustered storage, Personal Computers and Desktops, Printers, RAID, Twitter, Unix to name a few. RIP, continue working, evolving, prospering, helping those who rely on you or continue to invest in you and remember, that in your passing, you are not only laying the ground work for the future, you are the bridge between the old and the new that allows those who rely upon you to continue doing what they need to do while your eventual successors continue to incubate, emerge, mature and evolve leveraging you are a mentor and peer.

Don’t feel bad if one of the technologies that you use and rely on has been declared dead, instead, celebrate and have a wake of sorts, in fact, get the sales or marketing person who is telling you that your technology is dead to pay for the cost of the wake as part of their admission into becoming part of your technology family and future IT data infrastructure After all, even virtual and cloud environments still rely on many of these so called dead technologies to keep their costs of service down, while keeping their availably and performance up, is that ironic or what!

In the meantime, for the actual deceased, RIP Ed, Farah, Michael and all of the others, and for those technology zombies not quite ready to lay to rest yet, best wishes and stay in touch!

Nuf said for now.

Cheers gs

Greg Schulz – Author Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press, 2011), The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press, 2009), and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier, 2004)

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