Meagre innovation in storage this year: Sun techie

The storage industry this year has witnessed meagre innovation if you consider the handful of startups that emerged in this space relative to the beginning of the decade, according to Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems Inc. storage technical director Gary Francis.

“The amount of innovation in my opinion is actually declining a little bit,” said Francis, citing 90 to 100 startups in the years 2000 to 2001, compared to just five in 2008.

While innovation might be sluggish, Francis said he’s observed certain trends, for instance, a continuing movement towards server and storage consolidation, and increased interest in data protection and security — not surprising considering numerous public data breaches suffered by some companies and organizations.

And among upper management, the approach towards IT spending, too, is changing from the traditional focus on capital expenditures to operating expenditures, said Francis. Specifically, things like rising power costs and energy consumption amid other operational issues “have become a major thrust for C-level people thinking about when they acquire storage, where they want to put their focus.”

Further compounding the situation is the current economy, which has tightened IT budgets and forced IT managers to do more with less. “In the meantime, storage is growing 40, 50, 60 per cent on an annual basis out there,” remarked Francis.

These trends, he continued, are further fuelling a hunger for innovation in the storage space, and “the market is begging for innovation right now and is very ripe for innovation from someone.” On that note, Francis said Sun Microsystems is driving innovation through an open storage initiative launched earlier this year and in particular, the 7000 Unified Storage System released in November that is the “first real proof point” of that commitment.

According to Greg Shulz, founder and senior analyst with Stillwater, Minn.-based research firm The Storage IO Group, from Sun Microsystems’ perspective, the company is driving innovation through open source simply because it is putting a lot of energy towards open source versus other technologies. But while Sun’s attention to open source is admirable, said Shulz, it could be generating a lot of revenue on non-open source storage technologies that customers are still demanding, and it’s “something that could perhaps help put a small dent in Sun’s financial woes.”

Just last month, Sun Microsystems announced it would slash up to 18 per cent of its workforce worldwide and will initiate a restructuring plan to cut costs by about $700-800 million annually.

On the topic of sluggish storage innovation this past year, Shulz disagreed, saying that the rest of the industry is dabbling in both open source and proprietary technologies and there is “tons of innovation” in things like solid state disk, data footprint reduction and clustered and cloud storage, to name some.

That said, while there are certainly new technology and products in storage, Shulz described the hype in this space as “down” while execution and delivery as “up significantly.” Shulz added: “It’s one thing to talk about an initiative, it’s another thing to execute and deliver on it.”

At any rate, given tightened IT budgets as a result of the unstable economy, Shulz said those storage innovations that would best benefit IT departments are “anything that stretches their dollar.” Among those, he listed a few: data footprint reduction technologies for archiving e-mails, databases and file systems; online data compression; grid and cloud-based storage systems to offload storage to managed service providers.

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