What does 2011 hold for storage?

Virtualization is one of the biggest shifts we’ve seen over the past year and will continue to influence IT over the coming year. This is according to Symantec’s storage trends report for 2011, which also predicts cloud storage will grow up.

“Virtualization is a game-changing trend in the industry,” said Sean Regan, director of product marketing for Symantec Corp.’s information management group. “It’s redefining the data centre.” Last year was a crossover year in that, for the first time, more virtual servers were deployed than physical servers. But while virtualization has brought benefits, it’s also brought challenges.

Companies have been achieving the benefits of virtualization by reducing the number of servers in their environments, but many of them don’t have a plan to protect those virtual environments, and many find that they’re dealing with increasing management costs.

Symantec predicts that many IT administrators will have to face the harsh reality that their virtual infrastructures are not protected, as fragmented implementation and lack of standardization will expose gaps in their security and backup over the coming year.

“Companies might take a victory lap because of reducing the number of servers, but what about backing up those servers?” said Regan. Resources are being utilized at a higher level, which impacts bandwidth and puts pressure on storage resources. That means de-duplication will become increasingly important to help companies manage their storage requirements.

Storage is already playing an important role in virtual infrastructures, even if, say, virtual PCs haven’t yet taken the world by storm. When people buy storage, they’re typically looking at their needs three to five years out, said John Sloan, lead analyst with Info-Tech Research Group. And they’re evaluating a solid-state drive (SSD) layer or more sophisticated caching technologies.

“Even if they aren’t deploying those 500 virtual desktops this year, they’re certainly making sure their infrastructure is ready for it,” said Sloan, adding that we’ll see the building out of acceleration technologies like SSD in the coming year.

Companies also want centralized reporting and management — taking that heterogeneous environment and providing a single point of control. “That hasn’t happened in the virtual environment,” said Regan. “But we’ll start to see that happening [in 2011].”

Research firm Gartner Inc. says that the ability to backup and recover applications and data from both physical and virtual environments with a single solution will help organizations reduce overall costs and IT complexity.

And the number of applications and amount of data in virtual environments is expected to grow significantly in 2011, according to Symantec’s storage trends report, increasing the need for disaster recovery solutions that protect those applications.

The 2010 Symantec Disaster Recovery Survey found that only about half of the data within virtual systems is regularly backed up. And only 40 per cent of respondents’ virtualized environments are protected in their current disaster recovery plans. In 2011, Symantec expects that gap will close, said Regan.

The coming year will also present organizations with new delivery options for storage, from cloud computing to hosted services and appliances — everything from backup cloud access to unified storage devices with security.

The cloud, in particular, is expected to change the way services are delivered in 2011, allowing enterprises to manage storage resources whether they’re local, campus-wide, multi-campus, global or in the cloud. According to Symantec, tools will emerge to manage this new storage environment and help IT administrators better understand and capture information about unstructured data.

The cloud is continuing to garner more attention as to how it can be worked into an enterprise storage strategy, but actual usage is somewhat behind the hype. “One area that we are seeing interest in is the business continuity and backup area,” said Sloan. “When you’re looking at asset maintenance and how much storage you need, there are emerging solutions for using the cloud for backup.”

Typically the volumes are such that a cloud offering includes some sort of local appliance, so data is backed up locally, gets de-duplicated and is then backed up to the cloud. And software companies like Symantec are actively pushing cloud options that can work with their current product offerings, said Sloan.

The cautionaries are the same as with any other cloud offering, he said. Think about security, availability and accountability of that third party, “which is now a partner in protecting your family jewels.” As with the cloud in general, the trust is continuing to build, he said, as vendors try to mitigate concerns.

“There’s promise,” said Sloan. “We’ll see how products come along to meet the promise.”

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