A year of unfulfilled promise for storage

Any way you slice it, 2001 could have been a better year for the storage technology industry. But despite the promise and hype surrounding the three key storage issues of the year – virtualization, IP storage, and SAN (storage area network) and NAS (network attached storage) convergence – 2001 ended up being little more than a staging ground for future progress, according to industry experts.

The crippled economy, a dot-com hangover, and confusing messages from competing storage vendors all played a role making 2001 what Ashok Kumar, an industry analyst for U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray Inc., in Menlo Park, Calif., called “another year that never was” for the storage industry.

“The network storage industry had an abysmal year in 2001,” Kumar said. “Only a year ago we were being told by the storage industry that storage was not a discretionary purchase because IT users had an insatiable appetite for storage capacity. Bah humbug! Technology advances [in 2001] were minimal with the increase of Fibre Channel from 1GB to 2GB as the crowning achievement.”

Dan Tanner, a senior analyst for storage and storage management with the Aberdeen Group Inc., in Boston, agrees that 2001 didn’t live up to its promise as a boom year for storage.

“Certainly because of the economy in general and the events of Sept. 11 in particular, business-wise it was hardly a banner year, although I think progress has been made on several fronts,” said Tanner, who added that those key fronts were storage virtualization, IP storage, and SAN and NAS convergence.

“All three of these ideas have at the very least taken root, with some products appearing as well,” Tanner said. “Certainly they don’t dominate yet, but they have taken root because increasingly, the concept of the network being the computer is becoming more true than ever.”

Making storage resources readily available through the Ethernet and Internet with IP storage, distributing those storage resources across the entire network with SAN and NAS convergence, and then ultimately managing those storage resources as if they were one big pool of storage through virtualization all play to the concept of “the network as the computer” as opposed to the current jumble of individual, mixed-vendor servers that create such huge management headaches for IT administrators, according to Tanner.

However in their fervor to leverage the potential profitability of these three ideas, storage vendors did their customers no favors in 2001. Vendors willing to call their technologies anything that customers thought they were supposed to be looking for only served to confuse storage buyers in 2001.

“The industry needs to agree on some common themes and language to further its cause,” Kumar said. “A prime example of the [storage] industry’s spastic messaging is storage virtualization.”

“The hyping of virtualization was raised to such a fevered pitch that storage networking companies tried to cast almost every technology innovation in 2001 as some type of virtualization,” Kumar said.

As part of the dot-com fallout, SSPs (storage service providers) all but fell off the map in 2001, Tanner said.

“Before the dot-com bust there were a lot of companies that were going to provide storage as a utility service for end-users and businesses, a lot of it over the Web and supported principally by advertising, but that didn’t work out,” said Tanner. Problems with connecting homes with enough “last mile” bandwidth and companies uncomfortable with storing sensitive data offsite with a third-party vendor were each a factor in the demise of the SSP business model, Tanner said.

Then there was the lack of willingness by storage vendors in 2001 to simply get along with one another, Kumar said.

“The network storage industry is dysfunctional, behaving more like warring tribal leaders than an industry trying to move to the front of the IT value chain,” Kumar said.

Kumar cites companies like Fibre Channel switch leader Brocade, of San Jose, Calif., who he says prefers to keep their technology proprietary for as long as possible, “stunting industry growth.” He also said Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC Corp.’s aggressive ways over the course of 2001 created a “negative impact” on the image of the storage industry as a market trying to serve customer needs first and foremost.

“As long as network storage companies actively derail their own railroad, the [storage] market will continue to be confused and industry growth will be disappointing, just as it was in 2001,” Kumar said.

Optimistically, Aberdeen’s Tanner said of IP, virtualization, and SAN/NAS convergence, “these ideas gained acceptance and legitimacy in 2001, and next year you will begin to see significant beachheads established for these technologies.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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