Saturday, December 11, 2010

RAID - selling technical concepts like Madison Avenue would

On FriendFeed (and Twitter), I was recently joking about the confusion between RAID the storage technology and RAID the insect-killing spray. (Trust me, it was a funny joke. Sort of.)

Back in 1994, when I began to write proposals for biometric systems, I was trying to master the underlying standard technologies behind those biometric systems. Way back in the late 20th century, "biometric systems" only handled fingerprints, and the server subsystems that I was writing about contained two major components - the storage subsystem on which the fingerprint images and associated text was stored, and the matching systems on which the mathematical fingerprint comparisons were executed. (This was in the client/server days before web/application servers became important.)

Our storage subsystem used RAID technology, which was a fairly new technology in the biometric industry. (Previous-generation biometric systems used optical jukeboxes.) To understand and semi-intelligently write about our systems, I needed to acquire a layperson's understanding of RAID. I eventually made contact with the RAID Advisory Board - an organization that apparently no longer exists - and obtained a copy of a book called The RAIDbook (cited here). The book that I received was a gray-covered technical text. It subsequently went through several editions, and apparently the sixth edition was similar to the first:

The RAID book 6th edition, a work by the RAID Advisory Board, is a bland, technical description of RAID technology. The explanations of topics are rather theoretical and/or academic in nature as opposed to books that explain things by relating them to their application(s) in the real world.

If you wanted to learn about RAID disk storage technology, that was the way to do it. It was obvious that this RAID was nothing like the more popular RAID, the bug spray. For decades, television commercials contained instructive illustrations of how RAID the bug spray works. Here's an example from the 1950s:

Unfortunately, the RAID Advisory Board publication (which is still on my bookshelf at work) did not contain similar illustrations. From television evidence, I know that RAID forms a cloud that turns bugs into coffins. Too bad that I couldn't have learned about disk storage mechanisms in a similar manner.

But all of that changed in the 21st century. As I mentioned, the RAID Advisory Board now appears to be defunct, but today (or at least in 2009) Simply Storage has a video that explains how RAID the technology works.

I really wish this video had been around in 1994 (yes, young ones, we had VHS in 1994, so the video could have been distributed). Simply Storage's presentation of RAID level 5 is extremely effective - if I had seen this video, I would have understood RAID in seconds. Using the RAIDbook, it took me a little longer...
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