Storage innovations

Not so many years ago, some analysts were convinced that the cost of storing data would continue to fall so fast that organisations would soon see it as a negligible overhead. But that’s not quite how things turned out.

Even as users have had gigabytes or even terabytes of capacity made available to them, the overall cost of providing such capacity has soared.

In fact, market research company Gartner predicts that spending on storage systems will take up half of businesses’ IT spending over the next few years,


60 second interview: Tom Clarke, director of SAN technology at McData and author of several books on storage technologies.

Information Age (IA): What’s on the horizon for storage?

Tom Clarke (TC): Storage networking continues to spawn innovative technolo-gies that fundamentally affect the access, use and management of information. We are witnessing the convergence of multiple technologies that are opening new opportunities for enterprises to implement more comprehensive strategies for their information assets. The trend will both increase the soph-istication of networked storage solutions and make them ubiquitous in enterprise as well as small and medium businesses.

IA: Is the focus solely on the enterprise?

TC: The trend towards more affordable storage capacity at the low end, through serial SCSI and ATA technology, will enable high availability, networked storage for a much broader market. At the same time, new classes of highly dense solid state and three dimensional storage will be brought in at the high end, setting a higher bar for both performance and concentration of data assets.

IA: But how is anyone going to find any-thing in are those vast, networked stores?

TC: Intelligence in the storage network will enable convergence of both data transport management and data placement (virtualisation), as well as automate information lifecycle management via intelligent discovery and organisation of network assets.

IA: Why should storage have its own network anyway?

TC: Within 10 years, storage networking should meld into generic ‘networking’, both due to its ubiquitous availability and simplicity of configuration.



with no end in sight to the explosive demand. Indeed, observers such as Joe Tucci, CEO of storage giant EMC, point to demand for storage increasing at 50% a year.

The technologies required to meet that demand for ever-higher capacities seem to be holding up well. In terms of the amount of data that disk makers can pack onto a disk (the so-called areal density), levels have been rising at around 60% a year.

Industry insiders, such as Kevin Libert, enterprise systems director for Europe at Dell, expect the rapid fall in raw storage prices and the exponential rise in performance to continue for at least the next 10 years.

As a result, Libert sees no pressing need for a radical shift away from the conventional technology of spinning disks – in favour, say, of flash memory – at least not for core enterprise storage applications.

Limits of growth

Others think the industry may be coming closer to the limitations of disks. “Within the next five years, it is anticipated that magnetic disks may encounter a physical barrier known as the super-paramagnetic limit, where magnetic particles are so close together that they interfere with each other,” says Fred Moore, president of Horison Information Strategies.

Efforts are underway to overcome that ‘barrier’ (just as many others have been cleared before in storage), extending the life of disks into the next decade.

But if disk designers can continue to squeeze ever-greater capacities from their technologies and support the storing of ever-more data, then the locus of storage will shift to the real pain point: the management of that sea of data. Already a major issue at large organisations, this will become more and more of a challenge. As Moore observes: “The storage management capability is not keeping pace with storage growth.”

Software focus

For the next couple of years, management software will be the storage sector’s main focus as it seeks to provide greater automation of storage administration tasks – the streamlining of retention policies, access management, archiving and other key areas that require direct intervention today.

There is also likely to be renewed interest in storage services where third parties seek to handle the complexity of holding and managing data stores. After a few lean years, Gartner is predicting that demand for such services will reach $30 billion by 2007. And indeed, even systems and software vendors such as EMC say they expect to derive half their revenues from storage services in the near future.

Fuelling the economics of such services will be increased take-up of storage area networking (SAN) technology. Prices of SANs are already falling. Dell, for example, expects to market a SAN for under $10,000 later in 2004, acknowledging that early adopters of SANs have benefited substantially by pooling their storage and making it available to multiple servers.

One of the major changes spurring that take-up in coming years will be the ability to mix and match different vendors’ products in the same network.

Although smaller businesses might be content to source their SAN components from a single vendor, larger companies, faced with pressure to consolidate storage and the frequent requirement to accommodate systems coming into the business as a result of mergers and acquisitions, are demanding interoperability.

Standards are reaching a viable level and products that support true SAN interoperability should start emerging from vendors over 2004 and 2005.

SANs will gain even further ground due to the fact that they make it easier for companies to manage their business continuity and regulatory data access and archiving needs. Increasingly, businesses of almost any significant size require some form of near-line, off-site backup. The perception is that locally stored tapes, even in a fire vault, are just too vulnerable, and as data volumes continue to grow, recovery from tapes becomes slower.

SANs should also help companies implement information lifecycle management policies, where data can be moved from production storage to cheaper disks units and eventually to tape for long-term archiving based on access priorities.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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