Monday 9 May 2011

It’s Not Rocket Science: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

After the space shuttle Atlantis lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in June, an era of NASA’s manned space exploration will come to a close. Nearly 50 years to the day after President John F. Kennedy called for a brave new era of space exploration, and 30 years after the launch of Columbia, NASA is bringing its three-decade-long Space Shuttle Program to a close. This is at a time when 2011 marks such a significant, historic year for the U.S. space program.

After completing 135 missions, the space shuttle – the workhorse and pride of the American space program – has finally outlived its benefit. It was originally devised because, at the time, a reusable spacecraft seemed much more economical than its one-and-done predecessors. And for 30 years, the space shuttle fulfilled its mission objectives thanks in part to one critical component: its design.

That’s right; the space shuttle’s main design has been unchanged for 30 years. Certainly, upgrades have been made here and there, but to the casual observer, it appears very much the same vehicle as it did in 1981. The “software” has been updated, but the hardware remains much the same. We see instances of this still to this day, where the life of hardware can be extended with smarter software.

How fitting that we see one example in an area that was born from NASA and the space program – storage virtualization. When converting to a virtualized environment, many will tell you that you need to make a costly upgrade investment to the storage infrastructure, if you want to run the latest software. And of course you’ll need to have the latest hardware. This is just not true.

Smarter virtualization software has shown that it can take advantage of just about any storage hardware and you don’t need the most powerful, fastest, or biggest anymore. That’s because the software is doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Just like with a car… if you want more oomph off the line, you don’t need a new engine, you just need to change the gear ratios and the shift points (the latter also being a software programming issue), in other words, use a smarter program to get much more from the same “old” engine. This is the same with storage virtualization projects.

Now don’t get me wrong, software cannot extend the life of hardware indefinitely. Eventually, your car engine will die, but hopefully after several hundred thousand miles. And the space shuttle will retire this year, only to be replaced by something newer.

Eventually, you may have to roll in some new devices, but smarter software can ensure that the investments you’ve already made won’t go obsolete anytime soon and can enjoy a long, healthy, and productive lifespan. Maybe people will be talking about your “old” disks, even 30 years from now.

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