Microsoft's storage geeks speak

Microsoft's storage geeks speak

Summary: What do Microsoft storage heavies say when the suits let them off leash? Microsoft engineers at the ubergeek Usenix FAST 08 conference last month talked about Microsoft's storage intentions to a crowd of PhDs - and a stray storage blogger.

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What do Microsoft storage heavies say when the suits let them off leash? Microsoft engineers at the ubergeek Usenix FAST 08 conference last month talked about Microsoft's storage intentions to a crowd of PhDs - and a stray storage blogger.

Soft sell Understand that Microsoft was recruiting. So was Google, IBM, NetApp, Seagate, Sun, HP, Yahoo and niche companies like Cleversafe and Marvell. That is real competition.

Interesting work is the big motivator for these guys, not money or security. Selling them isn't easy. Avoiding boredom is key. Touch lightly on many topics so listeners hear something that interests them.

The people Speakers were from Microsoft Research and product development. In off-line conversations the 'softies impressed. Despite all the problems with Vista and a buggy NTFS, they have some very smart folks who are passionate about building great storage.

For example, one Microsoft researcher was co-author of the conference's Best Paper: Portably Solving File TOCTTOU Races with Hardness Amplification. Sounds smart. Maybe even spammy.

The vision The big picture is like everyone else's: more scalable, more reliable and easier to manage storage. Yawn.

The difference is in the details.

Data storage They like storage clusters - but only if customers don't have to become cluster admins. Not huge clusters - 2 nodes would be a big win for the SMB space.

But later they mention building building large-scale distributed storage solutions. What?

The email model of storage Why can't storage access be like email? You access your email on a notebook and on the office desktop. Maybe even your iPhone Windows CE smartphone.

Why isn't a file on your office desktop also available on your home notebook?

That raises some interesting technical problems - catnip for PhD's - like synchronization strategies. Caching for offline access. Remote file system protocols.

If you think about it, it means building a large-scale distributed storage solution. Like EMC's unannounced but hardly secret Hulk/Maui project.

In a distributed storage system, what does "centralized" mean?

Data management Within 3-5 years companies will have to save every electronic file and communication. Judges are getting hip to the fact that storage is cheap - much cheaper than the paper records companies have kept for decades.

But with the growth of data volume, how will companies manage them? One idea they mentioned: content-aware storage.

For example, the storage sees a SSN or other marker of confidentiality. It then consults the confidential data policy, and takes the measures, such as encryption and access logging, that you've already determined.

The Storage Bits take Meeting the storage 'softies gave me hope that perhaps, someday, Microsoft products will give as much attention to protecting user data as the company does to protecting market share. They have the people for the job.

Like IBM, which has perhaps the most brilliant storage researchers in the industry, Microsoft has a hard time translating research breakthroughs into industry-leading products. The suits vs. the geeks problem.

The suits look at market share and say "Life is good!" The geeks look at the technology and say "Life could be better!" I'm with the geeks.

Comments welcome, of course.

Topics: Hardware, Microsoft, Storage

About

Robin Harris has been a computer buff for over 35 years and selling and marketing data storage for over 30 years in companies large and small.

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