Wednesday

Wednesday 26/03/2003Down to Hursley Park, IBM's biggest European laboratories set in hundreds of acres of deer park near Winchester. It's a fine place -- the Spitfire was designed here, before IBM bought it -- but I'm here to learn about storage solutions, a category for which worthy but dull is altogether too interesting a description.

Wednesday 26/03/2003
Down to Hursley Park, IBM's biggest European laboratories set in hundreds of acres of deer park near Winchester. It's a fine place -- the Spitfire was designed here, before IBM bought it -- but I'm here to learn about storage solutions, a category for which worthy but dull is altogether too interesting a description. But my cynicism is misplaced: it turns out to be more than that. The chief architect for the TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller -- or as everyone calls it, Lodestone -- is a substantial, genial engineer called Steve Legg. Tall and diffident, he almost succeeds in giving the impression that he's happy to deal with a range of questions which one suspects he doesn't particularly enjoy -- and then gives the game away by lighting up with boyish enthusiasm whenever a subject close to his heart comes up. He also has fun with his remit. Lodestone is a clever way of connecting lots of different sorts of hard disk to servers, and one of its selling points is that these don't have to be IBM hard disks, at least in theory. But one of the problems is that nobody ever says what happens when their disks go wrong: there are no standards for this, and when you're trying to make something that's very reliable this causes great problems. Legg said that he was puzzling over this on a flight to the US, and by way of diversion started to read Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. The first sentence proved to him that Tolstoy had worked all this out in 1877: "Every happy family is alike: every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Alas, Leo failed to come up with any more useful engineering insights. He also pointed out that Lodestone used a form of distributed processing based on the Paxos algorithm, a fault-tolerant system proposed by a researcher and written up as a fake archaeological report on a lost civilisation on the mythical eponymous Greek isle. It describes how laws are made and votes taken by part-time parliamentarians, and so Lodestone owes its existence at least in part to whimsical musings on the tax on olives. Don't you love it when you go to a day-long symposium on storage systems and get slipped a bit of culture? Later that day, IBM took us to a soul-freezingly dismal building in an industrial park in Havant to see one of its resellers. We sat through a very dull Powerpoint presentation, one slide of which was an eye-curdlingly illegible combination of dark brown text on a dark red background. "This is our skill set", said the presenter, rather nervously. "I can't see -- does it include PowerPoint design?" said one wit. One of the presenter's colleagues tried to stifle a bark of laughter, and failed.