Lean storage

The storage agenda is changing fast. Emphasis is switching away from the struggle to simply cope with the vast amount of data pouring into the organisation that needs to be squirrelled away and made available to relevant users.

Now, the pressure is on to manage the whole storage environment much more efficiently – if not to take costs out of the storage equation, then at least to reduce the growth in expenditure.

In 2008, three technologies stood out in that fight for efficiency: storage virtualisation, de-duplication and iSCSI.

The Effective IT Survey certainly shows storage virtualisation coming into its own. After years of cautious investigation by customers, adoption is now in full swing. Of those questioned, 43.5% have deployed storage virtualisation – almost half of those in the past year. For 2009, the picture looks equally positive; the same number (19.4%) have plans to adopt the technology.

Virtualisation works, Information Age readers agree. Almost 78% of respondents to the Effective IT Survey rated it as effective; a mere 3.5% saw it as falling short on effectiveness.

What that all shows is that the art of treating a multitude of storage devices as a single pool is becoming well understood and central to business information management.

Killing clones

Storage de-duplication technology, on the other hand, presents a very different picture, with adoption in the very early stages. The goal, however, is the same: a quantum leap in efficiency and cost reduction.

An estimated 75% of all the data held by businesses is duplicate data – the same information cloned many times and held across numerous storage devices and PCs. And that is a wasteful and expensive practice.

According to research by IDC, the amount of information being created and replicated is growing at 60% a year. And that is costing organisations dearly, not just in terms of the additional storage units they need to hold all that data, but in the space they occupy in data centres, the energy consumed to keep them spinning and the manpower it takes to ensure the availability and integrity of their contents.

“Most people managing that [situation] don’t get 60% more budget a year,” observes Joe Tucci, CEO of information infrastructure giant EMC.

De-duplication promises to fix that. Unlike previous ‘solutions’ in this area, which have tried to implement single-instance storage to eliminate the holding of multiple copies of the same file, ‘de-dupe’ scans at a sub-file level, removing redundant sections of data and replacing them with pointers to a master copy.

The ramifications for email servers, backups, virtualisation and disaster recovery, all of which involve large quantities of replicated data, are enormous. Indeed, in some views, where there is data there will be a de- dupe engine to pare it down.

“De-duplication is going to exist in every part of your business… in many forms,” says Tucci of EMC, which sells de-duplication under the Avamar brand.

Whether de-dupe is then seen as a feature or a stand-alone product, it is certainly going to be a central technology for storage in coming years. As Aad Dekkers, director of solutions marketing at NetApp, says: “It’s a phenomenon that can’t be stopped.”

High speed, low cost

Another phenomenon that is irreversible is the shift to iSCSI enterprise-class storage.

Historically, high-end storage systems have been based on fibre channel interconnectivity with the contention that fibre channel is by far the fastest and most reliable means of moving data around the storage fabric – notwithstanding its high cost.

But iSCSI is beginning to offer equivalent functionality across standard IP networks at a much lower cost.

Although it is supported in most enterprise storage systems, take-up to date has been far from universal: one reason is that standard equipment today only supports the transmission of data at 1 gigabit per second (1Gb). The real catalyst for iSCSI adoption is the long-promised arrival of a much faster interconnect.Even with fibre channel standards currently moving from 2Gb to 4Gb, iSCSI is about to shift to a 10Gb protocol which also overcomes many of the quality-of- service issues.

For iSCSI-fan Dell, the arguments are not only couched in technology terms. “We want to close the gap between storage growth and the storage budget,” says Robin Kuepers, head of storage marketing for Dell EMEA.

As with virtualisation and de-dupe, that is a theme that will dominate many storage conversations in 2009.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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