Storage sales have held up remarkably well in the face of the worst economic downturn in decades, but the sector is showing some signs of strain from the tough environment (see Storage Sales Defy Economic Downturn).
Recent sales numbers show a decent quarter for the likes of EMC (NYSE: EMC), Brocade (NASDAQ: BRCD), Hitachi and others. Analyst Kaushik Roy of Pacific Growth Equities said last week that he expects EMC to meet sales forecasts for the fourth quarter.
And Dell'Oro Group is estimating that 2008 will score higher than 2007.
"From our fact-finding efforts over the past six weeks, we have collectively forecast the full year 2008," said Tam Dell'Oro. "Storage equipment sales will likely be higher, though we expect sales of other enterprise equipment such as Ethernet switching, enterprise routers, PBXs and enterprise Wireless LANs to decline."
Her numbers highlight the fact that things are moving along in the switch market, but slowing in the host bus adapter (HBA) market. On the switch side, the research firm has SAN switch revenues of $1.7 billion for 2007, $1.83 billion for 2008 and a prediction of $1.86 billion for 2009. SAN switch ports will be slightly down next year.
"Users are buying the higher-priced 8 Gbps switches where the average sales price rises," said Dell'Oro. "Brocade is strong, for example, because its new 8 Gbps products are excellent quality."
On the HBA side, standalone adapters peaked back in 2005 at $830 million. Dell'Oro shows a decline to $735 million in 2008 and $687 million in 2009. Mezzanine HBAs used by blade servers are on the up and up though from $95 million in 2007 to $101 million this year and $124 million in 2009. But that adds up to a net loss overall for HBAs.
"Essentially, the growth in FC adapters is coming from blade servers," said Dell'Oro. "But blade server adapters are about one-third the price of standalone adapters, so an increase in adapter shipments still shows up as less money."
Vendors report that they are going through the sales process in a business-as-usual fashion, she said. Unfortunately, some sales are being stopped dead at the CFO's desk. Other analysts have spotted a similar trend.
"As we enter an economic climate that is uncertain at best, it is safe to say that operational budgets will be closely scrutinized by CFOs for cost reductions," said Illuminata analyst John Webster.
IT Spending Scrutinized
Take the case of Phil Flinn, director of data center technology at GMAC Mortgage of Horsham, Pa. He runs two data centers that host Web sites like Ditech.com and is in the midst of a massive server consolidation project. But the purse strings have been tied up securely.
"We just don't have capital to spend," said Flinn. "Fortunately, we saw the slowdown coming, so our vendors were paid up as far as it could be done."
Restrictions, then, are cropping up in some sectors but not in others.
"Telecom operators and other users with longer planning horizons will continue to test new technology regardless of the economy," said Dell'Oro. "The wheels move in such a huge way that they need to plan now for two years into the future."
One analyst firm is sounding a downbeat note. TheInfoPro said its findings indicate that Fortune 1000 firms plan to spend 14 percent less on storage next year.
The firm quoted one IT pro at a financial company as saying: "Risk and need for storage have not gone away, and volumes are increasing, so the appetite for storage is still high but we have no dollars to spend."
Let's Make a Storage Deal
How are things looking on the vendor side? CDW is in a good position to see how the market is doing. Jerome Cheng is a storage specialist looking after government accounts at CDW-G. He has observed an uptick in the number of incentives this quarter to help drive sales. The good news for end users, then, is that vendors are offering more discounts as well as throwing in free training for their products to sweeten more deals.
While customer orders have slowed or been stopped altogether in some cases, the storage side seems less affected.
"Some state and local agencies have pushed their implementation dates back a few months due to the economy, but surprisingly, most agencies have budgeted for projects such as storage expansion, disaster recovery and virtualization, and the economy hasn't had too much of an impact on their purchasing cycle," said Cheng.
His view is supported by a recent survey by VTL vendor Sepaton. The survey found that nearly 75 percent of enterprise respondents expect their data protection budget to either stay the same or increase in 2009. Meanwhile, Sepaton itself has experienced the full spectrum of customer reaction to the economic downturn: from accelerated purchasing while budgets are intact to complete cessation of any new IT spending. This seems to vary from vertical to vertical.
"Federal and energy-related spending is strong, and financial services spending is off from prior quarters," said Terry Richardson, executive vice president at Sepaton. "We have not seen any cancellation of orders, although there have certainly been some postponement of decisions until 2009, but not significantly more than some previous quarters."
Despite the slowdown, CDW's Cheng said that most vendors are sticking to their guns when it comes to product development release dates. Dell'Oro noted, however, that Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) is lagging far behind Brocade about a year in putting out an 8 Gbps Fibre Channel switch. But she doesn't see this as a result of the recession.
"I think Cisco's focus for next-generation is FCoE, so development on FC 8 Gbps was not the priority," she said.
If nothing else, product marketing messages have changed to emphasize products' ability to save users money. For evidence of that trend, look no further than storage software vendor Symantec (see Symantec Wants to Save Storage Users Money).
Benefiting from Compliance
With Q3 results in and bad financial news in abundance, how will fourth quarter storage results look? Happily, there is room for optimism. Dell'Oro's research highlights another good showing in most storage sectors.
"Q4 is typically a strong quarter and that's what we anticipate once again," said Dell'Oro. "Folks must comply with government regulations, so they must have strong storage policies and practices in order to obtain historical information."