A big company with a large datacentre and a small organisation with only a few servers will take different approaches to storage, but Graham Penn, Asia-Pacific associate vice president for storage research at analyst firm IDC, says when it comes to storage, all organisations, large and small, have one thing in common: demand for it is increasing by 50%-80% each year.
“You’re having to manage more storage and manage that additional capacity,” Penn says. “The increasing demand is overwhelming.”
The problem is being relieved to some extent by new storage media that offer greater value-for-money, he says.
“A terabyte of storage is 30%-40% cheaper that it was a year ago, because of the increasing capacity of disk drives.
“That means you can afford to buy more capacity, which helps alleviate the demand by users, but it doesn’t make it any easier to manage it all.”
IT managers and storage administrators are faced with many questions, such as: How do I configure my organisation’s storage? How do I migrate data from one format to another? And how do I restore something that’s lost?, Penn says.
The questions faced by storage staff can be viewed from three perspectives, he says.
“First, there’s the technology story — are we moving from Fibre Channel to SATA? Will we move to sold state disks?
“Then there’s the connectivity angle — first, there were Fibre Channel SANs, now there are iSCSI SANs, and Fibre Channel over Ethernet is emerging.
“There’s also the software angle — how do we configure it and manage it? There are issues such as data de-duplication.”
Another emerging issue on the software side is whether to use hosted storage services, a recent new offering in the storage sphere, he says.
“Is it applicable to us? Should it be used, or do we want to keep our data in-house?”
Questions such as this, plus a host of others, mean organisations are faced with myriad options when it comes to storage.
“If you’re an IT manager, you have little time to give to those issues — most IT managers and storage administrators have too many options.”
Therefore, IT staff are looking to vendors and systems integrators to make recommendations, Penn says.
“The issue is: How do I find a trusted technology provider who will be with me for a long time, who won’t give me a raw deal?”
The answer, he says, is “When you’re looking for a vendor or technology partner, it’s down to the personal relationship — you need to have confidence in their technical ability and you want to know that the people will be around for the next 2-3 years.
“The ongoing relationship is important, and will be more so as the market matures and changes in the future.”
A major trend in the storage field in the past few years has been the rise of iSCSI SANs, Penn says.
“It’s interesting when you look at the market for iSCSI overall, because most of it is associated with server consolidation in VMware environments. Getting an iSCSI SAN is often a secondary result of a VMware implementation centred around server virtualisation.
“People are starting to bring all the servers in their organisation back to a single point, and to do that, you have to network your storage.”
Organisations that embark on server virtualisation projects and which don’t already have a Fibre Channel SAN are in a good position to get an iSCSI one, Penn says.
“There are generally people within the organisation with IP skills.”
Fibre Channel’s niche in large datacentres at organisations that require high performance is secure, Penn says, and the emerging Fibre Channel over Ethernet technology will further cement its future.
“Fibre Channel over Ethernet will come on stream in 2009 at the earliest — the standards are still being negotiated, but Brocade, Cisco etcetera are preparing for it by enabling their hardware to be ready for it when it arrives.”
Surveying the overall storage scene locally, Penn says the New Zealand and Australian markets are more mature and users have a pretty good understanding of the technologies compared with some other parts of the Asia-Pacific region.
“We also don’t have the ‘big systems’ approach that you have in Korea and Japan, for example.
“In Australia and New Zealand, there’s an element in the market that’s prepared to have a go and do something new.”
It’s mainly at second-tier organisations, he says, because tier one companies, such as telecommunications carriers and banks, which produce huge amounts of transactional data, have to be very conservative when implementing and upgrading storage.
“They have a long test cycle and will go through a long evaluation process before committing to a technology.
“However, other players that don’t have such a high transaction environments can do innovative things.”
Government departments sometimes take on newer storage technology, especially if it’s near the end of the financial year and they still have IT budget to spend, Penn says.
“They’ll get something a bit out of the mainstream.”
The biggest challenge storage IT staff in the region will face in the near future is compliance, he says.
“Something we haven’t seen in the Asia-Pacific yet is huge demand around compliance.”
That’s because measures similar to Sarbanes-Oxley haven’t been passed by governments here, but compliance legislation that requires greater archiving and retention of data may be passed soon, he says.
If and when that happens, organisations will “be under a lot of pressure to respond in time.
“You can’t go down that route unless you’ve invested in equipment that will enable you to do it.”
Equipping a company for a new compliance regime will become an urgent requirement if such legislation is passed, and IT managers “need to do their homework on this issue and be ready”.
Another trend Penn picks for the next few years is the greening of storage.
“Everything is green — every vendor is claiming to be more green that the next vendor.”
There’s not much to suggest customers are choosing the greenest option, but it could become a real issue for purchasers in 3-4 years’ time, Penn says.
“All vendors will have to be seen to have something green in their products”.