Storage dictionary in 18th edition evolves with the times

Storage developer Carlos Pratt is a busy man, having recently left his job at IBM to work at a stealth-mode cloud startup, but his passion is words—Pratt in his spare time leads a team producing the Storage Networking Industry Association’s ever-changing dictionary.

The dictionary team published its 18th edition online in September 2017 and in print last month. This year’s digital version is 330 pages and adds definitions for many aspects of non-volatile memory, which is a modern twist on an old idea of designing computers around RAM instead of conventional drives (even if they’re solid-state).

Additions for next year should start to become clear around February or March, when the team begins debating dictionary term entries submitted online, Pratt explained. The last few years saw dramatically increased involvement from people in the networking industry and from other trade associations, he said, hinting of growth beyond purely storage terms.

SEE: Quick glossary: Virtualization (Tech Pro Research)

Pratt, based around Tucson, AZ, said his interest in documenting storage-talk began when he represented IBM to SNIA’s Green Storage Initiative several years ago. “We had to come up with a lot of new definitions because the work there was emphatic about being the counterpart for the industry to the EPA’s Energy Star,” he explained. “I made the mistake of not taking a step back when everyone else did.”

But he developed a devotion for the job. Pratt led the team on a major dictionary refresh in 2015, removing terms once ubiquitous such as floppy disk. He predicts that RAID will eventually be deleted as new forms of data protection such as mirroring become dominant. At one point someone realized the entire dictionary team had for many years overlooked an entry for ‘bit,’ which they promptly corrected, Pratt said. Now, he noted, “As long as there are binary computers, there will be bits.”

Pratt said they won’t make that same mistake by 2020 when presumably there will be new entries for quantum computing and its basic building block of the qubit. Currently the Q definitions are tied for the least quantity, with only quality of service, quiesce, quiescent state, and quota. J-words juxtapose the Qs with Java, JBOD, Jini, and jitter. (Why there’s no entry for the flash version of JBOD is unclear, Joe.)

He acknowledged that you practically need a dictionary to understand some of the technical terms. When asked about a plain-English version for storage industry newcomers and non-technical workers such as marketing and sales staff, Pratt said he’d ask the SNIA technical council if they are interested in developing that.

Also conspicuously missing from the dictionary is a changelog fully documenting what’s new and what’s been removed. Something you definitely won’t find are made-up marketing words, as Pratt said his team is careful to avoid definitions that appear to subjectively favor certain products. He’d veto any such marketing-hype definitions and said he hopes SNIA higher-ups would support that choice.

But inconspicuously lurking are Easter eggs, a term every old-school programmer knows as industry shorthand for a hidden joke. See an example in the digital edition’s entry for refreshment: “A type of migration where the contents of some media are copied onto newer media of the same type,” but also, “A synonym for beer.”

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Image: nevarpp, Getty Images/iStockphoto

About Evan Koblentz

Evan Koblentz began covering enterprise IT news during the dot-com boom times of the late 1990s. He recently published a book, “Abacus to smartphone: The evolution of mobile and portable computers”. He is director of Vintage Computer Federation, a 50…


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