Amidst a barrage of hysterical hype and cacophony of vendor announcements, it can be hard to separate the vaporware from the technology that is changing the face of storage. So what's really hot right now, as opposed to press-release hot? We asked a few analysts what they see as the trends worth watching, and here are their responses.
Most analysts seem to peg virtualization as an area of real promise perhaps because it weathered its own over-hyping a couple of years back to emerge as a strong performer in the enterprise.
"Virtualization today is one of the hot topics in storage management," says Tony Lock, an analyst with UK-based Bloor Research. "It offers hope to alleviate many of the operational and cost pains associated with the acquisition and ongoing administration of an increasingly complex storage world."
Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, reports that IBM has shipped about 1,500 SAN Volume Controllers and HDS is starting to make market headway with its TagmaStore line of virtual arrays. Furthermore, he notes that smaller virtualization players such as StoreAge have hundreds of installations running in all sorts of environments.
"NAS virtualization is also coming on strong with companies like Acopia, Neopath and Rainfinity looking promising," says Duplessie. "Smart switches are still lagging behind, but I think it's only a matter of time." John Webster, founder and senior analyst at Data Mobility Group, concurs that storage virtualization is finally coming into its own. He believes that virtualization is getting hot because networked storage environments have become so complex. As a result, he's seeing a high number of virtualization projects getting underway within major IT shops.
"The large storage vendors are now delivering rock-solid storage virtualization platforms," says Webster. "Some, like IBM, are even offering multiple ways to virtualize."
Beyond virtualization, analysts note that everyone seems to be fighting over the midrange of the storage market.
"Everyone and his uncle are seeking to move into the mid-market," says Bloor. "Any storage solution that can deliver better cost-effectiveness than traditional storage whilst proving desperately needed flexibility will be warmly received in mid-market land."
Mid-sized organizations, after all, have many, if not all, of the concerns that afflict major enterprises. The average company in this tier now has multiple terabytes of data, with capacities more than doubling annually. Howevery, they usually have only limited access to the skills required to manage storage infrastructures effectively. Therefore, cost and complexity are big issues here. It's hardly surprising, then, that both Webster and Duplessie see the midrange as where the greatest year-over-year growth opportunities lie.
In Duplessie's view, it's the midrange that has reinvigorated EMC. While big boxes like Symmetrix garner all the glory, it is the Clariion line that makes all the money, he says. Further, this market battleground has become a fertile breeding ground for innovators such as EqualLogic and Compellent who have built intelligent, high-end systems that are affordable and easy to use.
With such a dogfight taking place in mid-tier enterprises, it's not surprising that some of the vendor skirmishes have spilled down into the small business market. It seems that just about every vendor has lately come out with an SMB SAN or a simple SAN of some kind or other.
"Dell has been kicking butt for a few years in the SMB slice, and HP looks like it is poised to re-join the fray," says Duplessie. "Sun is even selling tons of lower-end SANs into its customer base."
He also mentions the approach of QLogic, which is packaging up very simple SAN connectivity elements in one easy-to-buy, plug-and-play box at pennies on the dollar compared to the price of the average SAN. Thus, Duplessie firmly expects an avalanche of SAN adopters in the SMB space over the next few years. Once the cost and complexity issues are eliminated, he says, there is no good reason not to go to a SAN.
According to Bloor, however, much of the vendor chatter about the SMB market remains just that.
"The reality is that small SANs are still not cheap and the skills required to manage them are not possessed by many SMBs," he says. "What is needed is a combination of even lower entry prices and easier-to-use management and SAN administration tools."
Bloor believes those missing elements are coming soon, however. When they arrive, it will then become difficult to distinguish between SMB SANs and other NAS offerings for SMBs.
Webster isn't so sure about that. He thinks SMB SANs face an uphill struggle against NAS.
Over the long term, where is the storage market heading? Storage, it seems, is still a major pain for almost all organizations.
"Many have yet to grasp fully the scale of their operating problems and the enormous costs associated with managing ever expanding volumes of data," says Bloor. "It is likely that storage management will continue to be an area that attracts investment from both end consumers of storage and the vendors that are developing new solutions."
Duplessie agrees. "Management has still never been solved really," he says. "The more stuff we have, the harder it is to manage."
Duplessie feels the industry is in a state of impending flux. Economic realities have driven the cost of physical storage so low that companies can now keep everything and some regulations, such as HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley, are requiring just that.
That raises a whole new issue how do you manage "keeping everything?" The orientation for the last few decades has been in one direction figuring out how to store more. Now we may have reached a crossroads. Instead of blindly storing more, it's time to pay more attention to how to find and use what's been stored.
Duplessie says the Intelligent Search and Indexing (ISI) market could be one solution to the management migraine. This could cause a shift in emphasis over the long term emphasizing the finding of information assets in a timely manner. In other words, storage is going to move from "how much can I jam onto a box" to "how can I use the information I have to better my world?" This represents a markedly different mantra than the one storage vendors have chanted for many years.
"The status quo in storage has existed for a long, long time," concludes Duplessie, "but I think the applecart is about to be upset."
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