Storage and the Rule of Five

The rule of five is that within 5 years your entire office computing infrastructure will probably be obsolete. Keep that rule in mind as you follow my thoughts about storage.

You may have noticed that—starting last issue—the Storage UPDATE newsletter's name changed from "Enterprise Storage UPDATE" to simply "Storage UPDATE." The change resulted from editorial concerns that the former title might be intimidating—and that fewer people would think the newsletter was relevant to them. The editors have a good point, but the change also got me thinking about what the term "enterprise" really means these days.

In my own "enterprise," I try to upgrade my personal desktop based on a rule of three. When the processor in a leading-edge laptop is 3 times as fast as my current laptop, it's time to trade up. Currently, I use a Dell Inspiron 7000 with a 366MHz processor, and the state-of-the-art processor (e.g., Intel's SpeedStep) is about 600MHz. I have about a year left on this 15-month-old machine.

When it comes to storage, rapid changes in capacity are even more evident. I have a 14GB hard disk in my laptop. My laptop rule of three has roughly corresponded to 3-year intervals as I replaced RoadWarrior with RoadWarrior2. RoadWarrior3 looks like it will take 2 1/3 years to appear. At my local office superstore, I recently purchased a 28GB disk drive for about $200. Five years ago, that kind of storage came on minicomputers. Among my three servers and five desktops here in the office, I probably have 100GB of disk. These days, that seems modest. But 100GB is a lot of storage to manage—and, at a workgroup level, I face the same problems that many enterprise managers face. What's an efficient way to back up my network? How do I protect and partition my storage? And so forth.

The problem is getting worse: I keep adding hard disks, and they keep getting larger. In about 2 years, I should be able to buy a 75GB hard disk for about $200 in today's money.

I also know that in a couple of years, maybe sooner for me because of the type of work I do, broadband connectivity and dropping storage prices will make me consider incorporating streaming media into my network as part of my daily work. If I think it's tough to manage storage now, just wait until multigigabyte sound and video files regularly cross my 100MB Ethernet network. Will I be installing a Storage Area Network (SAN) appliance on my network or starting from scratch, redesigning a separate network from the ground up? How much will this new technology cost? I wager it will seem incredibly cheap by today's standards.

What's my point? The problems that today's enterprises face are those that a department, workgroup, or small office will face 5 years from now. So the issues we discuss in the Storage UPDATE are entirely relevant to readers who might be tempted to think of a terabyte of storage as pie in the sky.

I welcome the newsletter's name change because it eliminates the problem of arbitrarily defining the boundary between enterprise-class storage devices and software packages and those that suit smaller organizations. Therefore, in future issues, you'll find discussions of storage technologies we've tried—with which we've either succeeded or failed. It will be interesting to talk about the issues we uncover.

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