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The Network Observer
Meet the High-Density Storage Association

David Doering

February, 2001 | Jay Carlson, the inventor of SAN, likes to say that "together, we are smarter than any one else." By which, he means that teaming produces a synergy greater than any one part. In technology, we see that an effective network is a synergy of hardware, software, and talented operators. In marketing, an effective technology is a synergy of hardware and/or software, and talented integrators and promoters. Sadly, we don't see enough of either.

At various times, I have commented here on the need for more effective synergies both in technology and in marketing. I feel strongly that there is a four-part storage architecture for an effective digital content network: solid-state cache, RAID arrays, tape backup, and automated libraries for long-term nearline/offline archiving. While the first three enjoy a near-universal market, the last–the use of libraries or jukeboxes–remains a niche at best. This despite a bull market for storage and the ideal applicability of CD/DVD to content archives.

So, when I received a phone call from Rich Harada about a new trade group focusing on libraries, I sat up and took notice. This is big news for storage in 2001, and if it is done right, which I think it will be, I want to get the word out about it. Fortunately I have known Rich for some time–he practically introduced 12-inch optical storage to the U.S. He now serves as the facilitator of the High Density Storage Association (HDSA), which started in December 2000. Rich explained that the HDSA's goal is to promote the use of multidrive automated libraries by creating a forum for vendors, integrators, and end-users. Together, they can communicate the message about the value of jukeboxes. I believe this is an essential step; no single library vendor today has sufficient clout to convince IT professionals as a whole to start using jukeboxes.

At present, they aren't using them for two reasons: first, integrators and resellers find creating solutions with jukeboxes difficult. Second, most end-users haven't heard of automated libraries or don't understand their role and value in a networked environment.

Integrators who do understand jukeboxes find that there are too many buying equations in the process. They ask: Which jukebox? Which driver software? Which storage management system? Which digital asset management software? and so on. As I discovered with the video archiving system at Pacific Bell Park [See September 2000 Case Study, pp. 24-25–Ed.], end-users will eagerly buy a service that includes a jukebox, but won't take the time to create such a service on their own. Thus, a forum where vendors and integrators can work through this solution-generation in advance–invisibly to the already-overwhelmed end-user–can only be a good thing.

Sharing a common promotional "face" with the HDSA should make it easier for vendors to educate the market about the merits of libraries. The HDSA does face a challenge in getting keenly competitive vendors together. (However, these same vendors probably know by now that they have to grow together or they will all shrink together.)

Anytime a new group appears, I look to see if the group's charter clearly answers an unmet need in that industry–otherwise, why set up yet another organization? The HDSA's goal of promoting libraries does differentiate it from the optical standards focus of OSTA and the SAN focus of SNIA, although all three can and should be mutually beneficial. (For one, the HDSA might figure out why jukeboxes are a no-show on SANs, though they are great for archiving there.) Rich assures me that both OSTA and SNIA are supportive of the HDSA. Hopefully, both will continue to offer a strong leg up to the newborn.

The group has even started off right by using a name highlighting a benefit of jukeboxes–a small footprint that bears the weight for terabytes of storage–as opposed to a propeller-head moniker like Multi-Drive Chassis Group or Nearline Storage Forum. Oh, now there's a tradeshow party I'd love to attend.

According to Harada, the HDSA will have two working groups, one technical and one for marketing. The technical group will look into such areas as quantifying cost-of-ownership issues, creating a compatibility and performance lab, and establishing standardized benchmarks. (These should help both in selling and integrating jukeboxes.) The marketing group will look at greater tradeshow presence and targeted vertical marketing efforts. (It would be nice if there were a consistent and memorable message out there–like "Got jukes?").

Some analysts feel that the jukebox market has already peaked. My impression is that word just hasn't gotten around yet, as the PacBell Park DVD-RAM library points out. Here's a whole new vertical market that could double current usage levels of jukeboxes. A market that, until PacBell Park tried it, wasn't even acknowledged. With the continuing growth in popularity for 120mm optical storage (read this as MP3 on CD-Rs, MPEG-2 on DVD-RAM, etc.,) libraries should be a natural part of the equation. So, until all of those markets have been directly addressed, it is not a forgone conclusion that jukeboxes are a weak alternative to a RAID array with tape backup.

With a consistent marketing message, coherent interoperability, and easy integration–thanks to the HDSA, I hope–not to mention the new UDF spec for WORM, (a boon to DVD-RAM, which can now serve as a reasonable write-once alternative to DVD-R), jukebox libraries may just now be entering their prime of life.

The HDSA welcomes new members, individuals, educational groups, and interested vendors. For complete contact information for the HDSA, visit http://www.highdensity.org.

The Network ObServer columnist David Doering (dave@techvoice.com), an EMedia contributing editor, is also senior analyst with TechVoice Inc., an Orem, Utah-based consultancy.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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