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Alistair Veitch named HP’s newest HP Fellow



Contributed by Simon Firth, freelance technology journalist


Storage expert Alistair Veitch is HP Labs’ newest HP Fellow, joining a select group of HP researchers recognized as leaders and technical pioneers in their respective fields.


The author of almost 40 peer-reviewed papers and the holder of over 25 patents, Veitch has wide-ranging research interests in computer science, with a particular interest in storage and distributed systems. He’s worked in areas as diverse as operating systems design, software engineering, database systems, storage systems management, and information management.


Since joining HP Labs in 1998, Veitch has led break-through research in storage systems management and design, including the first demonstrations of completely self-managing storage systems. He was the lead architect for the Federated Array of Bricks project, which demonstrated that it was possible to build enterprise-class disk arrays from distributed, commodity components. 


Veitch is currently leading a team of researchers that’s building the next generation of storage and information services for enterprise and user-controlled information. Among his team’s best known innovations is the data de-duplication technology that powers HP’s popular StoreOnce Backup system. Following that success, in late 2012, HP Storage announced a second technology developed from Alistairs research, their Express Query solution for HP’s StoreAll hyperscale storage products.


We met up with Alistair recently to congratulate him on his new title and to hear more about what he’s up to and where he sees storage research going.


HP Labs: So congratulations, Alistair.


Alistair Veitch: Thanks! It’s a real honor.


HPL: Can you tell us a little more about the work that you’ve been doing most recently?


AV: Sure. We’re looking at the huge rate at which information is growing and we’re doing research on how to better manage that information. One of the things we need in this situation is an easy way of finding out exactly what we’ve got: how many files are there? What are their sizes, who created them, and when? That’s where Express Query comes in. Express Query matches your file system with a high-performance, customized database, such that the database tracks all of this information about all the files that you’ve got. Then you can ask questions like: ‘find me all the files created by a specific person over a specific time.’ Or a backup system can ask: ‘find me all the files that have changed since I last did a backup.’ Do that and you can avoid doing a scan of the whole system, turning a task that can take hours to one done in seconds. Additionally, we’ve added an interface that can let applications tag files with customized data. So a medical clinic, for example, could tag each MRI image it creates with the name of the patient, the doctor responsible, the technician and the identity of the machine – and then you can very rapidly find files you need. This technology has been transferred to the HP StoreAll product teams.


HP Labs: Now that Express Query is in HP StoreAll, what are you looking at next?


AV: One thing we’re doing is adding enhancements to Express Query. And then we’re investigating a collection of emerging technologies to understand the implications on file systems and storage management; everything from solid state drives to non-volatile memory to pushing filters directly into the storage system. For example, we are taking a look at the impact of non-volatile memory on storage.  We think it’s going to change a lot about how we develop storage systems in the future. For the last 30 years or so we’ve designed storage and database systems around disk drives, which are phenomenally slow and have to be accessed in large chunks of data. Non-volatile memory is very fast and you access it on a byte level of granularity. Because of these differences, non-volatile memory can give us vast increases in performance and functionality. To get that performance, though, we’re going to have to write our software very differently. So that’s onearea of interest to us.


HPL: What about developments in multi-core processing?


AV: That’s also very interesting to us. Modern hardware has huge numbers of core processors in it, and, again, a lot of older software isn’t designed for modern hardware in that way. So we’re asking how our software needs to change so we can take advantage of all of this. It intersects with a lot of other research done here into intelligent infrastructure, photonic connections, etc.


HPL: This has to be an exciting time to be working in storage.


AV:  Absolutely. If you couple what’s happening in hardware with the explosion in Big Data, people are realizing that there’s a huge amount of value yet to be achieved. Today, even in a conventional enterprise, your data is often the most valuable thing that you own. So figuring out how to keep it reliable, consistent and available with these new technologies is a pretty cool challenge.


HPL: What do you like to do outside of work?


AV: Mostly it’s about getting into the mountains, where my wife and I like to go rock climbing, skiing and hiking. I’m also a big fan of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, so I watch them when I can.



To learn more about Alistair’s team’s work on Express Query, check out these videos from HP Discover Frankfurt 2012:


Read about HP Labs’ contribution to HP StoreAll.

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