By Pat Taylor, Proactive Technologies December 6, 2005 -- I was standing next to Stethman with the geekers in the back. We were all gathered around the latest storage offering from Intel. Historically, this is cause for great amusement amongst dweebs. Intel might be the 6th largest brand on the planet, but they have never been very good at 'storage'. Our crew is known for their expertise in this discipline and, while we are admiring partners of this technology giant, it looked like a day of flashing lights and fun for all. We test them until we kill them--technically know as, "smells like something is burning, dude" dead. You see, one of the great perks of being 'technically-distracted' is that companies like Intel and Apple send us lots of tools to test for them (i.e., "fry it 'til it dies" beta stuff and the like). Of course, we're professional and try not to be abusive, but we test technologies to find their weak spots. We test them until we kill them--technically know as, "smells like something is burning, dude" dead. It's fun for the crew to experience the ragged edge of performance, and they enthusiastically enjoy the discovery. But Stethman was not smiling; in fact, he seemed a little disappointed. "What's wrong, Steth?" I asked with genuine concern. "Couldn't kill it," he responded almost without emotion, scarcely acknowledging my presence. This is a man who will mount a liquid-cooled heat sink the size of a Volkswagen radiator to a test CPU so it can take the heat of over-clocking "just a little longer". He has wiped hard disk drive media clean --completely void of substrate– during 'environmental stress tests' and left vendors humiliated with their inferior product. He routinely intimidates technology, but could not kill the new storage unit. This is a man who will mount a liquid-cooled heat sink the size of a Volkswagen radiator to a test CPU so it can take the heat of over-clocking "just a little longer". "The controller is not real fast, but neither is it slow; the storage system itself is solid." Solid, he said. Stethman doesn't normally use words with less than three syllables or for which there are no acronyms. "Solid' seemed an incomplete assessment of his tests, and certainly less than I require from a half-day's banging on Earth's latest data storage development. But I was stunned by the impact of his statement and, before I could respond, he went into his summary. "Three-Layer Cake, man; right here on the table. Anyone who loses access to important data now just doesn't have their act together. Data storage is a piece of cake." He turned and left me standing in the lab by myself. The other engineers had experienced what Stethman shared with me and had quietly returned to production. It was all so matter-of-fact; at the end of the gauntlet, the Intel storage unit emerged unscathed and ready for more. I was sad for my geekers because they failed: they could not kill the machine. But I was happy for me and my customers. Our daily need for data and [its more sophisticated self] information in both our personal and business lives is growing exponentially, and the need is met with affordable stability by today's data storage and management technologies. The metaphor refers to the organization of primary, secondary, and tertiary storage; with a Three-Layer Cake, you get it all on one plate. "Three-Layer Cake, man; right here on the table. Anyone who loses access to important data now just doesn't have their act together. Data storage is a piece of cake." The machine we tested provided only a single layer, but it may be the crux. Intel's product serves to illustrate the commoditization of reliable storage technology. What once was the domain of EMC, Network Appliance, and StorageTek is now a free market, with boxed appliances and niche specialists capable of delivering the highest levels of speed, reliability, and restore-ability at competitive prices. There is a wide scope of products sharing common connections, and interoperability is better than most like to admit. It is now possible to build a large, reliable three-tiered storage system from stand-alone components provided by competing manufacturers. Primary storage (SCSI or Fibre Channel), secondary storage (SATA II), and tertiary storage (tape); the Three-Layer Cake makes fast, reliable storage easy and affordable for everyone. As Stethman will attest, even Intel can do it now.