Storage spending to firm up in 2010: Analysts

The one thing certain in predicting the future of data storage is that organizations will need to keep increasing their capacity for it, say industry analysts, either in the data centre or in the cloud.

The creation of e-mail, documents and images won’t slow for the foreseeable future.

Management may plead with staff to delete whatever’s unnecessary to help save hard drive space, but somehow the volume still creeps up. Organizations trapped by regulatory requirements to preserving virtually everything are, well, trapped.

The recession may have helped organizations that had to lay off staff, or that suffered lower business volumes. But with the North American economy expected to strengthen this year, for some that was only a temporary reprieve.

Looking ahead to storages trends for 2010, industry analysts and equipment manufacturer spokespersons say getting more efficient use from existing storage systems will be a top priority of managers.

“This will be a year of increased spending (over 2009),” says Andrew Reichman a senior Forrester Research analyst who specializes in data storage and networking, “but it will be a ‘re-evaluative mode,’ where people are looking to maximize the value of the investments they make.”

For example, last year organizations delayed spending on primary storage systems. Spending there will go up this year, he believes, but the goal will be squeezing greater cost-efficiencies through tools such as provisioning, data de-duplication (which eliminates waste by avoiding the storage of multiple copies of the same piece of data) and improved reporting software.

So-called next generation solutions, such as advanced virtualization storage sub-systems that allow mangers to converge storage networks across multiple protocols and give increased flexibility to moving data, will also be in demand.

Systems with these features from startups such as Compellent Technolgies Inc., 3Par Inc.Isilon Systems Inc. as well as veteran NetApp Inc. will attract interest.

Established manufacturers such as IBM, EMC Corp. and Hewlett-Packard will either add or buy these technologies through acquisition, Reichman said. “They’re going to have to really prove they can deliver the efficiencies emerging vendors have proved,” he said.

In fact, he added, because organizations are increasingly shedding suppliers so they can deal with fewer vendors, the “best of breed” storage manufacturers could be snapped up. “We could see some blockbuster deals of big storage vendors acquiring each other,” the analyst said.

Industry analyst John Sloan of London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research says that for many IT departments, money is still tight. Organizations will hope this year to build flexible converged network infrastructures leveraging storage and server virtualization to manage workloads independently of hardware, he said.

But a key goal will be to make sure anything bought will be used to its maximum capacity, he said.

Data de-duplication, mentioned by several persons for this article, is not a panacea for primary storage capacity problems, Sloan added. “You have to have some sort of storage management discipline to mitigate the stuff you have to store.” Only then should organizations look to technology.

As organizations question the need for different storage systems for different applications in this year’s drive for efficiencies, they will increasingly look at unified storage, said Mark Peters, a senior analyst specializing in storage at the Enterprise Strategy Group. “We have the software capabilities to present the data out, whether as SAN or NAS or objects or whatever,” he said. “But let’s face it, at the back end storage is storage at the end of the day.”

This is a small piece of the shift to converged network fabrics Peters said.

Spokesmen for storage manufacturers are cautiously optimistic.

James Mack, storage business manager at Hewlett-Packard Canada, said one good side of the recession is that it has given organizations time to plan, so when their spending budgets do firm up they’re better prepared to move on certain technologies.

This year managers will continue to oversee the spread of virtualization throughout the data centre the increased use of cloud-based storage, de-duplication and solid state drives, he said.

Chuck Hollis, vice-president and global marketing chief technology officer of EMC Corp., forsees “almost a new renaissance” in leverage technology. “There’s a lot of new thinking we didn’t have in previous years” – for example, on data de-duplication and relatively inexpensive high-performance flash-based hard drives to replace traditional drives where access speed is important. These technologies were expensive a year or more ago. Now, Hollis says, storage managers are looking forward to adopting them.

It’s not that there will be more IT spending this year, Hollis added, but that unlike last year managers have more certainty about their IT budgets. “We’re getting some very clear confidence that IT groups know what they can get done in 2010,” he said.

Clodaldo Barrera, IBM’s San Jose, Calif.-based chief technical strategist for storage systems, believes the increasing use in organizations of rich media such as video, medical imagery and 3-D simulations for the aeronautics and pharmaceutical industries will push capacities.

Increasingly, organizations will want to keep this data longer than they did in the past, he said, leading to a demand for improvements in archival storage. “Technologies that help in the overall cost of ownership we think are going to be highly featured in 2010.” For example, improved indexing of archival stores with “reasonably fast” retrievals.

Forrester’s Reichman cautioned that not all storage solutions involve buying technology. Organizations evaluating their storage needs should start by consolidating platforms and vendors, re-organizing teams that manage storage and improving procedures to measure storage management success, such as charging users for storage.

Charge-backs are “critical” in instilling cost-awareness among end-users, he said.

“These are critical aspects of environments getting more efficient,” he said. “They should not start with technology. They should start with processes and people.”

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