Feature: Despite economic wobbles, storage needs grow

Organisations are looking at better value for their storage spend, analysts say

The economy is having a definite effect on the storage scene, says Phillip Sargeant, managing vice president for Gartner’s Dataquest Global Storage Team in Australia.

“There is no doubt that storage from a vendor revenue perspective has been affected and revenue is expected to reduce in 2009 compared with 2008,” Sargeant says.

However, while overall revenue is expected to decline, “capacity is still increasing. People are buying more capacity, but want to do it cheaper.

“There’s more capacity, but the cost of storage has declined.”

This is due to new technologies and practices being adopted, he says.

“People today are addressing their storage needs with mid-range and lower-end storage, such as SATA.

“To be able to do that, they’re implementing tiered storage. They’re putting information on the appropriate tier.”

Tiered storage involves assigning different types of data to different media, according to its importance and how likely it is to have to be retrieved.

One new technology that is generating significant interest is solid-state drives (SSDs).

“There’s a lot of talk about SSDs,” Sargeant says.

“People are looking at them as if they’re a tier itself, but we see it as a performance adjunct to mid-range and lower-end storage. Vendors are putting in SSD as an adjunct to lower-performance disks.

“For example, a SATA system that can’t do what fibre channel does can be enhanced by SSD”.

While SSDs are a “major talking point”, only a “very small amount have actually been deployed”, he says.

“That will accelerate in the next couple of years. Before that, price and reliability have to be addressed.

“SSD uses flash memory, which isn’t as reliable as people think.”

Another technology emerging as a force in the storage world is deduplication.

“As people reduce their storage capability requirements, they’re looking at any technology that could increase their capacity.

“So far, deduplication has predominantly been offered in the backup and recovery space. It has yet to make a big entrance into the primary storage area, but in the next 12 to 18 months it will develop.”

The bidding war between NetApp and EMC over acquiring Data Domain is all about deduplication, Sargeant says.

“The attraction of Data Domain is its deduplication technology.”

Other technologies that are looming on the storage horizon are iSCSI and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE).

“These are connectivity technologies that connect servers to storage. We’re seeing an increased interest in IP-based storage, and we’ll start to see more interest in iSCSI and FCoE.”

Hype about the two technologies should be treated with caution, however, Sargeant says.

“Two years ago, everyone said iSCSI would take over the world. It hasn’t and FCoE won’t either, but it will be an option.”

Another approach from vendors in the current economy, is to push storage efficiency technologies that allow greater utilisation of existing storage resources.

Examples of this include Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) recently launching its Storage Reclamation Service, which, according to the company, “enables customers to realise operating and capital expenses by reducing waste in allocated but unused storage capacity”.

It does this by making the process of reclaiming unused storage space easier, according to HDS.

Sargeant says “a number of vendors have similar offerings, but HDS has been more vocal”.

NetApp and EMC both have storage efficiency initiatives, while Symantec has announced similar services recently.

Sargeant says storage efficiency offerings by vendors are generally “a combination of deduplication, thin provisioning and tiered storage”.

Tiered storage is being adopted in Australia and New Zealand, he says.

“A lot of large organisations in the ANZ region have been implementing tiered storage for some time.

“Also, many of them are looking in earnest at deduplication, though it took a while to take hold.”

Thin provisioning – the practice of allocating disk storage space flexibly, based on minimum needs, rather than allocating over-capacity in expectation of data growth – is also catching on, Sargeant says.

“Tiered storage, deduplication and thin provisioning are the three technologies that people have looked at to ease capacity growth.”

There’s also increased interest in archiving in the open systems area, he says.

“This has become of far more interest to a large number of organisations, whether through tiering or tape.

“The idea of moving information into a cheaper medium, either on disk or tape, is freeing up data.”

Another significant trend in storage relates to virtualisation, Sargeant says.

“More end user organisations are talking about storage virtualisation, but some use the term incorrectly,” he says.

“To me, storage virtualisation means managing disparate storage the same way.”

While some talk about storage virtualisation as if it’s like VMware and Microsoft’s Hyper V, “that’s actually storage in a virtualised environment, not storage virtualisation”.

When organisations undertake server virtualisation, says Sargeant, “they realise storage will be a big problem if it’s not managed correctly.

“They’re looking at how to manage storage in a virtualised environment.”

VMware’s latest release includes thin provisioning, allowing virtual hard drives to be used more effectively, he says, “and we’ll see offerings from vendors addressing storage in a virtualised environment”.

Matt Oostveen, IDC’s Asia-Pacific datacentre and enterprise servers research manager, also says virtualistaion is one of the drivers of storage in New Zealand and Australia.

“The uptake of server virtualisation has a ripple effect on the storage market,” Oostveen says.

“As the number of physical and virtual servers grows, so does the demand for storage. Virtual servers have the same requirements for storage as their physical counterparts and we are seeing this requirement increase the demand for storage.”

ISCSI continues to outperform other storage types in the region, he says, because it is gaining traction within SMBs.

Australia and New Zealand are textbook examples of SMB-centric economies, he says, “and IDC is seeing a strong uptake of iSCSI in our sub-region”.

While Fibre Channel SAN remains strong in the enterprise, “it should be noted this segment of the marketplace has been in a slow decline for a number of years due to the availability of cheaper options that offer customers a ‘good enough’ solution,” Oostveen says.

Locally, Fibre Channel SAN revenue dropped by 33 percent in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008, while the number of terabytes shipped over the same period declined by 21 percent year-on-year, he says.

The iSCSI segment performed a little better with a 19 percent revenue drop, but there was an increase in terabyte shipments of 5 per cent, Oostveen says.

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