Perhaps it's because of my past life as a mainframe sys admin, but I couldn't help noticing that this month IBM is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its HSM (Hierarchical Storage Management).
As you probably know, HSM is an application that does a decent job of moving data to a different medium according to a set of policies; a process that, when done properly, maximizes storage efficiency and data protection.
Another three-letter acronym comes to mind: ILM (information lifecycle management), which could be the natural evolution of HSM and the darling of so many storage vendors today.
Back in 1974, the first instance of an HSM application worked in tandem with a revolutionary new tape library, the IBM 3850 Mass Storage System -- a name that also described its large 220GB capacity.
That number may not seem much by today's standards, but then we did not have today's data inflation, either. The major culprits of the computer revolution's data explosion -- personal computers and the Internet -- were still in the future.
Interestingly enough, the largest model of this gigantic unit was able to hold over 4,700 cartridges in an internal storage area made of hexagonal cells that bore an astonishing resemblance to a honeycomb.
Did I say cartridges? "Scrolls" would probably be a better word because the 2-inch-diameter, 4-inch-long cylinders had to hold a 3-inch-wide magnetic tape. Those cartridges were logically grouped in pairs, each capable of storing the contents of a 3330 disk drive.
Although we probably won't find any surviving 3850s these days, HSM is still alive and well -- and an option available to customers of TSM (Tivoli Storage Manager), the flagship backup application from IBM.
It's fair to say that most people don't see a backup and restore application as the most exciting thing in their lives, but in the overly competitive storage software market, this Cinderella often gets the attention worthy of a princess.
In fact, all major vendors are beefing up their backup applications, and IBM is no exception. A new version of IBM Tivoli Storage Manager 5.3 should be announced as you read this. I haven't yet seen a demo of TSM 5.3 -- which should ship to customers in January) -- but the improvements over the previous version promise to be significant.
The current version of TSM has some features that are either unique or difficult to find in a single storage management product. Among my favorites are progressive backups, which keep the data copied and the number of media used in each run manageable, and the support for an exceptional variety of environments.
It may not be a winning point for everybody, but if your datacenters have mainframes and various flavors of Unix, together with Linux and Windows machines, TSM is probably the only application that can keep all those systems under a coherent backup umbrella.
From what I hear, the new version should also put on a prettier face and make TSM easier to manage -- two areas where there was room for improvement, I might add. TSM 5.3's redesigned GUI is aimed at making it easier for admins to schedule and monitor jobs centrally and to create and deliver a variety of reports according to custom schedules. One of the many new options is delivering reports by e-mail, which obviously adds flexibility and follow-me capability to the process.
Today's storage landscape is quite different from what we had in the '70s, but some similarities remain. As the long history of HSM proves, smart storage applications such as TSM are perennial jewels that can easily outlive even the most well-thought-out and innovative hardware gear. It's no surprise that so many storage vendors are betting the farm on their software.
Mario Apicella is a senior analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center.