Canadians say SANs a storage priority

Two recent studies show that SAN is the favoured flavour of storage solutions for enterprises looking to buy in the near future, but confusion around the topic persists in the market.

Both Evans Research Corp. in Toronto and Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group released reports on the storage industry last month, based on the results of surveys that reached a combined 600 respondents. While the Meta Group survey, Enterprise Storage: Technology Adoption and Deployment Trends, focuses entirely on the enterprise, Evans Research Corp.’s Storage End User Study: 2002 surveyed respondents across small, medium and enterprise-sized Canadian organizations.

According to Jennifer Ewen, analyst and author of the Evans Research Corp.’s report, a mere five per cent of surveyed users reported that they were satisfied with their current storage infrastructure, yet this group admitted to continuing to face a number of storage related issues. This, she said, indicates that the Canadian storage market is poised for growth.

“There’s a growth of data in general right now, and people have to process and maintain it, which means there’s an increased requirement for storage,” Ewen said.

While technology will be the largest factor in solving most storage issues, Ewen stressed that a combination of both technology and strategy will be necessary.

To Ewen’s surprise, more respondents indicated that they would consider a SAN (storage area network) solution before a NAS (network attached storage), despite its notoriously high price tag.

“Just about one in five is intending to buy NAS – that’s shockingly low,” she said. “I would have expected more enterprises to consider NAS as at least a stop gap measure, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.”

Meta Group’s Phil Goodwin found similar results in his survey. According to the Meta report, there is a strong propensity towards the use of SANs, but the percentage of respondents considering NAS implementations will remain flat over the next two years.

“When considering the cost of a SAN, it’s important to consider the higher efficiencies and consolidation benefits that it offers compared to staying with direct attached storage, which provides less flexibility and less asset utilization,” Goodwin said.

According to Jeff Goldstein, the Toronto-based president of Network Appliance Canada, it is possible that customer confusion in the storage market contributes to these numbers.

“Most customers don’t understand the differences and similarities between SAN and NAS and have misconceptions about what these two environments look like, and it’s the vendor community that’s propagated this confusion,” he said.

Both reports showed that customers are primarily concerned with achieving ROI from their storage solutions, and that it is the C-level executives who are most influential in terms of making storage decisions.

These factors are fairly new to the storage industry, Goldstein said.

“A year and a half ago, I visited CIOs and told them that the network attached approach could help them save money and was told that the concern was time to market, not saving money. Over the last year, I haven’t heard a single CIO say that they don’t have time to talk about how to save money, because organizations simply have to figure out how to do the same job with less of a budget,” Goldstein said. “That’s IT’s challenge today.”

The Meta Group report found that enhancing backup and recovery, including disaster recovery capabilities, remains the number one spending priority for the next 24 months, yet budget allocations for overall storage services, storage hardware and software infrastructure are constant year over year as a percentage of total IT budgets.

“It’s all plan at this point,” Goodwin said. “After September 11, we did see a spike in inquiries wanting to review disaster recovery and best practices, but the implementation went into the overall strategy of most organizations. It will be a gradual thing over the next two to three years.”

While the Canadian study shows that customers are still considering tape-based storage solutions, the Meta Group found a significant drop-off for the adoption of individual tape and dedicated storage for servers. However Goodwin admitted that he doesn’t see tape leaving the storage scene any time soon.