As IT infrastructure continues to evolve, it is pretty clear that the line between servers and storage systems is continuing to blur. Arguably, the process started with the advent of network-attached storage (NAS) systems that some would say are little more than server nodes on the network with some shared storage attached.
With the advent of virtualization, things got even fuzzier when multiple application workloads on the same server began accessing pools of virtual storage resources that the application treated as one logical entity. Now comes the rise of caching and in-memory computing and suddenly there are multiple tiers of computing and storage resources that all need to be much more dynamically orchestrated.
According to Sean Moser, vice president of GSSD software product for Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), it's this ongoing convergence of server and storage systems that has led HDS to enter the server market. As enterprise computing continues to evolve, Moser says the distinction between servers and storage systems will increasingly fade away.
In fact, Moser says many of the principles that unified the management of data and storage on mainframe systems are now being applied to distributed systems. What's really changed is that distributed systems now have the memory capacity and virtualization technologies needed to support much more sophisticated approaches to managing data.
It may still take a few years for all this convergence to play out, but once it does, it has some fascinating implications for companies such as EMC and NetApp that make most of their money selling storage systems. If the distinction between servers and storage continues to fade away, either those companies will have to find their way into the server business or be acquired with somebody who already is. Of course, EMC has already aligned itself with Cisco in a joint venture that tightly couples its storage systems to Cisco servers. But at this point, any storage system can be attached to a Cisco server equally well, so it will be interesting to see how that alliance evolves over time.
In the meantime, the convergence of distributed servers and storage systems might actually just be part of a larger trend that is driving the convergence of mainframe and distributed computing systems. That will probably take even longer to fully play out, even though there are examples of it today. The one thing that is for certain is that in a few years what we call a server or storage system today is going to look very different.