Tuesday, December 25, 2007

EMC Academic Alliance - A Good Storage Education Initiative

… Continuation from last post, Are We Educating Future Storage Professionals?

I subscribe to ACM Digital Library and enjoy reading the latest storage research happening in academia and research organizations. Recently, I came across an interesting paper in Proceeding of the 8th ACM SIG-Information Conference on Information Technology Education on EMC Academic Alliance program (See, Storage Technologies: An Education Opportunity, Ed Van Sickle et. al. SIGITE’07, October 18-20, 2007, Destin Florida USA).

In this paper, Ed discusses EMC realizing during hiring process that very few recent graduates had any knowledge of storage technologies. Initially EMC tried boot camp approach. Then, EMC concluded that greater benefits may be achieved by creating courses focused on storage technologies at university level.

This gave birth to EMC Academic Alliance Program [PDF] with goals of educating CS/IT students on storage and support for knowledge transfer, guest lectures, and site visits. In my opinion, it is an impressive initiative and kudos to EMC for recognizing the shortage of storage skills and taking the lead with potential solutions. Why are EMC bloggers not highlighting and promoting such a positive initiative?

Why is an industry association like SNIA not leading Academic alliance initiatives? It doesn’t look like education is a part of their new mission.

The paper also showcases the implementation of this initiative at four universities and provides overview of the courses held and plans for future classes. This is a great compliment for the course offering under this program at Penn State University (PSU).
Subsequent offerings of the course filled to room capacity based on the positive word-of-mouth that the course generated. In fact, students from other PSU colleges (engineering, computer science) have requested to be added to the course.
Of course, program also has its challenges as encountered at University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth with course material being unsuitable for the targeted student segment and unavailability of suitable text book, and at North Carolina A&T University with low student interest and course enrollment.

The paper also mentions the interest of Dr. Cameron (one of the co-authors) at Penn State University in developing a three course storage track but being constrained by lack of teaching resources. Hopefully, he can attract other storage vendors to fulfill the vision of a storage track and overcome the lack of teaching resources through guest lectures by industry professionals.

I wish paper had further explored student/instructor survey results and the challenges facing the program.

Will EMC collaborate with its customers, partners and other storage vendors in growing this initiative? How can rest of the storage industry help in growing the program? How can storage bloggers help?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Are We Educating Future Storage Professionals?

Happy Holidays to all readers.

During my visit to India over the Thanksgiving, I met some friends and family members whom I haven’t seen for a long time. They inquired what I do and when I responded that I work in data storage, the invariable follow up was “What kind of database?” ;-)

I am always interested in learning more about various storage technologies irrespective of their relevancy to my job at that time. So, when I moved to Seattle, I decided to check out the course offerings in storage by local universities and colleges. To my surprise, there was not even a single class offered on data storage at any of the local educational institutions including University of Washington.

What the above two examples have in common is the lack of awareness in data storage. Despite the criticality of IT infrastructure and data storage to corporations, there is lack of knowledge and focus on these topics by most IT professionals, whether experienced or recent graduates. Most of the storage knowledge seems be gained through on the job or vendor training that typically focuses on only working with specific products. Educational institutions also seem to be oblivious to the need of educating storage technologies to their CS/IT students.

Most storage vendors offer training on their own product portfolio with little or no focus on underlying storage technologies that make up their products. SNIA has tried to bridge the gap through their education tutorials at SNW and vendor-neutral storage certifications. If my experiences at spring SNW is any indication, most attendees to these tutorials are storage professionals themselves. The certifications are also targeted at validating the skills of IT professionals already working in storage rather than attracting experienced IT professionals from non-storage domains.

Is this apathy by storage community toward storage education resulting in storage skills gap? Is storage community doing anything to bridge the skills gap in storage knowledge of experienced IT professionals as well as recent CS/IT graduates?

In my follow-up post, I will discuss an interesting initiative taking place to address the gap in storage education at academic institutions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is your encrypted data also RIP with NeoScale?

There has been lot of talk in trade publications and blogs about demise of NeoScale. Jon Toigo asked interesting questions about the go-forward strategy of nCipher after picking up remains of NeoScale. Storagezilla also air-raided the encryption appliances by poking holes in Decru and his reluctant acceptance of appliance approach to some "data at rest" encryption problems (I wonder what problems, he is referring to).

After hearing the demise of NeoScale, my second reaction was:
"Hmm ... I wonder if NeoScale customers will think about decrypting the terabytes of vaulted data that was encrypted using Cryptostor before their appliance fails and no chance of finding a replacement."
I am sure Decru and other encryption vendors are salivating on the opportunity to sell in to NeoScale customers, BUT
Can their encryption solution decrypt the data encrypted through Cryptostor?
That is the question NeoScale customers should be asking when talking to encryption vendors about replacing Cryptostor.

I expressed my concerns to some people who are using encryption products. None had considered and/or planned for decrypting the data upon losing access to the tool (product) or method (algorithm) that was used to encrypt the data. It is a real scenario for encrypted data on any kind of removable media despite availability of correct encryption keys.

Just imagine what will you do if seven years from now a government agency requests financial data that was encrypted and archived on a removable media vaulted offsite. And, you realize that you can't read data because you no longer have the original system capable of reading and/or decrypting that data. I experienced the same challenge in a customer environment few years ago though with unencrypted data.

Unlike Mark, I am not very enthusiastic about encrypting "data at rest" specifically where encrypted data is stored separately from the system that wrote the data or is capable of reading that data. The demise of NeoScale may be just the wake up call for the trouble you may get into if you encrypt the "data at rest" and you have no way to decrypt the data because you lost the method or tool or keys to decrypt.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Is NetApp the only player in File Systems & Storage?

If you read September/October 2007 issue of ACM Queue, you may get that impression.

Recently, I read this issue and interestingly all three articles in Q focus on File Systems and Storage covering pNFS, Hard Disk Drives and Storage Virtualization topics are authored by people from Network Appliance.

Though, these articles are worth the read, it most probably is the oversight of ACM Queue editors that focus on File Systems and Storage became focus for Network Appliance.

Only saving grace for the editors is the Interview with SUN engineers who created ZFS else NetApp marketing will be distributing reprints of whole issue.