Fibre Channel in the home? Automatic storage provisioning for the family iTunes library? It may sound ridiculous, but it's not as outlandish as it seems at first glance.
That's because enterprise storage technology is rapidly moving down to the consumer marketplace, and there are a few reasons for this.
- Home users are looking for ways to handle the vast amounts of data that the digital media lifestyle produces; it's not unusual for families to have several terabytes of data they need to store, back up, and retrieve rapidly. Until a few years ago, these quantities of data were the preserve of businesses.
- Many of these technologies can be simplified to the extent that consumers can just "plug 'n' play" them.
- Rapidly falling prices mean that the cutting-edge technology of yesterday is now affordable in the home.
A good example of this trend is RAID, an enterprise storage technology designed to offer either increased performance or data redundancy. The most common use for RAID has been to provide redundancy and fault tolerance in corporate servers. But hardware RAID is now as cheap as chips, and desktop manufacturers such as Dell have begun including RAID in their consumer product lines.
Most recently, CRU-DataPort, a Washington-based company, announced a handheld portable storage device for the consumer market containing two SATA drives that can be used in either RAID 0 or RAID1 configurations (as well as without RAID). Just as many home users now know all about routers, DHCP servers and other terminology that was until recently the preserve of the corporate network admin, it doesn't look like it will be long before soccer moms will be discussing mirroring, striping and the different levels of RAID while waiting for their kids' games to finish.
One product that has already taken off in the consumer marketplace is the network-attached storage (NAS) device, with inexpensive offerings from consumer brands including Maxtor, Iomega, Netgear and many others. These devices are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with the inclusion of various levels of RAID, and ever more "consumerized" with ultra-simple interfaces such as a traffic light indicator panel to warn users when a disk is becoming full or is failing and needs replacing. Buffalo Technology has just announced its LinkStation Mini, a palmtop consumer NAS device that contains two 500Gb laptop drives providing either 1Tb of storage or 500Gb of RAID 1 protected storage, with a Gigabit Ethernet connection.
Improving Home Backup
Moving on from NAS, another enterprise concept that is making rapid inroads into the consumer marketplace is full snapshot-based backup. While all (responsible) businesses have an effective backup regime in place, home backups tend to be ad-hoc affairs that involve dragging important files to a memory stick or external USB drive, and which take place irregularly and very infrequently.
Businesses generally automate their backup procedures, as this is the only way that they get done with the necessary frequency and reliability, and recognizing this, Apple has released the Time Capsule a wireless 500Gb or 1Tb consumer device that backs up multiple Mac machines over the network at a regularly scheduled time using the Leopard OS Time Machine feature.
Not to be outdone, Microsoft has taken this a step further with its Home Server software (available as a standalone product or supplied with hardware like the HP MediaSmart server), which has a similar backup function as the Time Capsule, for up to 10 home PCs. Windows Home Server also offers shared storage and folder mirroring, which enables multiple copies of specified folders to be kept on separate drives (if they are available) for redundancy.
Online, off-site backup is another rapidly expanding area that is taking its lead from the enterprise marketplace, according to Bob Laliberte, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.
"In the enterprise, we see backup data held locally so that it can be accessed quickly, and also held off-site," said Laliberte. "We are already seeing services like Mozy and Carbonite offer the same thing for consumers."
Mozy, owned by storage giant EMC (NYSE: EMC), offers MozyEnterprise as an online backup service for large organizations, as well as MozyHome, a service targeted squarely at the consumer market. Until recently both services were only available to PC users, but recognizing the importance of Macs in the home market, Mozy recently introduced its online backup client software for OS X.
"Everyone in the enterprise is saying that tape is dead, and that disk-based backup is the way to go. The consumer is now doing that too, and it is proving to be quite affordable," said Laliberte.
Carbonite charges $49.95 per PC per year for online backup, while Mozy offers a free service for up to 2Gb, or charges $4.95 for unlimited data. And Symantec (NASDAQ: SYMC) bought into the home PC backup market just this week with the acquisition of SwapDrive, complementing its business service.
Moving forward, which enterprise technologies will become much cheaper and move down to the consumer space in the near future? Technology that provides high-speed data transfer for storage, according to Shinya Matsuzaki from Buffalo Technologies.
"In our opinion, the next technology to become of interest to consumers will be iSCSI, which delivers high-speed data transfer and is an excellent backup solution," he said. "Data size is ever increasing due to high-quality photos, audio and HD videos becoming standard for mass consumers, and the iSCSI high speed interface will be indispensable when dealing with the sheer amount of data in everyday life."
Buffalo is planning on launching an iSCSI-based storage device in the near future, Matsuzaki said, aimed at "tech-savvy consumers" as well as the SME/SOHO market.
The distinction between enterprise and home storage technology is becoming increasingly blurred, as technologies developed for the enterprise work their way into the home. A storage infrastructure that includes many terabytes of RAID-protected network-attached storage or a backup regime which includes regular array snapshots automatically backed up to disk both locally and to a secure remote site is likely to be found as much in an enterprise as the family den these days. So who's to say that that your neighbor won't be implementing a storage area network using Fibre Channel and automated provisioning before your businesses does?