Storage in the spotlight

With enterprises facing new challenges, storage product vendors say they are being forced to minimize complexity and adapt to the needs of their customers.

Ken Steinhardt, director of technology analysis for EMC Corp. in Hopkington, Mass., said the most obvious issue for enterprises is being forced to do more with less.

“That literally means more with less, not the same with less or the same with comparable resources, but being challenged to get greater productivity out of what they already have,” he said.

Geoff Coutts, business unit manager for storage products at Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd., in Mississauga, Ont., agreed, and said that the complex issue surrounding shrinking budgets is that the necessity of storage capacity is constantly growing.

“At the current rate, storage needs are doubling every 12 to 18 months, and as IT budgets decrease so do storage budgets,” Coutts said. “With these budgets decreasing, customers are becoming more serious about making better use of the storage that they do have.”

According to Coutts, it is estimated that most customers are currently only using between 30 and 40 per cent of existing storage because a lot of information is located in islands that are not networked together. As part of the strategy to get the most bang for their buck, enterprises are looking at how to get more out of their existing storage solutions, and are looking seriously at the services offered by storage companies, Coutts said.

“The ratio of what customers are buying between hardware and other things – like software and services for storage – is changing. Spending used to be dominated by hardware, but in the U.S. right now it’s a 50/50 ratio,” he said.

But Don Kerr, Dell Canada’s director of the Canadian advanced system’s group in Toronto is skeptical about the value in added services. He said software and services have always been an important part of storage, and that putting a spotlight on them at this point is misleading.

“A lot of vendors have differentiation around services and software, and we agree that a certain level of service and support is absolutely required to deliver a SAN, but it should be a part of the package,” Kerr said.

“There are two approaches to storage. One attempts to create mystery, complexity and confusion, while the other promotes clarity and simplification. Our traditional approach has been clarity and simplification, because when there’s mystery there’s margin. We attempt to debunk as much of the mystery as we can,” he said.

Jeff Goldstein, general manager for Network Appliance Canada in Toronto, agrees that simplification is attractive to customers in this space.

“Customers are concerned about what happens if their company needs to downsize, rightsize or upsize. We feel that giving them real flexibility in managing their data infrastructure is a really important piece because many organizations don’t know what their company will look like six months from now. They want to use what they’ve invested in more effectively,” he said.

According to Coutts, another trend in the storage area is a significant move to SAN storage as opposed to direct attach storage. Kerr is seeing interesting developments in the area of standardization including developments in the world of IP protocols and iSCSI.

“Also, in terms of raw disk technology, there are very interesting things coming downstream,” Kerr said.

Steinhardt predicts that more customers will be looking for automated network storage, which he said will improve the way that management is done for storage.

“The biggest single overarching trend we see right now is connecting storage through the mix of both NAS and SAN,” he said.

This is a trend that Network Appliance’s Goldstein also recognizes. “SAN and NAS are clearly coming together and can coexist in one storage pool,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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