Wednesday, August 26, 2009

EMC, HP and SUN lead the XAM Effort to Address the Unique Challenge of Archival Data:

Archive data by definition means that the data will be stored not just for months but years and in many cases decades. This means that the TCO and the management strategies of the data has to be measured with a horizon that spans the life of the data. Think about a 30 year data life span, how many platform upgrades will there be and how many technology refreshes will there be? For the archivist this reality drives concerns about data mobility and ease and transparency of data migration across each of these evolving platforms and application cycles?

The answer is hardware and application conforming to an archival interface standard that enables cross vendor communication and by decoupling the application from the storage hardware enables the flexibility and long term protection that archival professionals need. XAM (extensible access method) is positioned by SNIA (see flash) as such an industry standard specification specifically for Content Addressable Storage (CAS).

While it is safe to say that all major hardware vendors are involved in the SNIA XAM initiative to some degree or another with the most aggressive being HP, SUN and EMC, the application vendors have been slow to adopt XAM; but progress is being made. Three of EMC ISV’s are in GA with XAM code, Cerner, SAND Technologies and Clearpace and three others are close to GA. Talking with EMC they are aware of at least four home grown applications now XAM enabled; caution however not every customer shares their development projects so this number could be somewhat underestimated. Checking on the SNIA site Vignette, HP and SUN also have document management and database archiving applications that are XAM enabled as is EMC’s DiskXtender.

Will XAM be generally adopted and become the common language for archival solutions? Industries collaborative history and the example of SMI-S would argue against. However, time will tell, but it is clear that the unique challenges of long term data retention compounded by aggressive data growth suggests that proprietary interfaces and point solutions that symbolize the status quo are doomed to failure. Is XAM the panacea? Arguable, but it is heading in the right direction. However, it is the users who depend on these archival solutions that should be driving the agenda and pressing the vendor community for the flexibility and scalability that meaningful standards such as XAM could enable; it is in their own best self interest.