Next-gen storage

Four next-generation technologies that could increase your storage efficiency

It's a simple equation: As data storage needs grow, so do storage costs. In fact, even as prices continue to come down, storage equipment now accounts for 19 percent of the IT hardware budget, according to a report from Forrester Research. And that figure doesn't include costs such as energy and management.

"Disk might be cheap, but storing the increasingly high volumes of data that companies generate isn't. It's actually quite expensive," says Forrester analyst Andrew Reichman.

And as the costs for physical space and energy (for both powering up and cooling down the hardware) continue to rise, storage efficiency will become a higher priority. Here are four next-generation technologies that could help.

Solid-state disk/ Flash technology

DEFINITION: Data storage devices that rely on nonvolatile memory, such as NAND flash, rather than spinning platters and mechanical magnetic heads found in hard disk drives. Vendors include Adtron, Samsung Electronics and SanDisk.

>>> Until recently, solid-state disk found its home in niche markets where the need for speed outweighed cost concerns. But like other storage options, dropping prices and technology advances have increased interest.

"Cost is always going to be the driver here," says Dave Russell, an analyst at Gartner Inc. "The cost is coming down, and to the extent that holds true, that is going to help the market really take off."

That price drop has been steep: Solid-state disk prices fell 66 percent in 2006 and are expected to drop another 60 percent this year, according to Gartner analyst Joseph Unsworth. Yet hard drives are still far cheaper, Unsworth notes, and because of that, deployments of solid-state disk have been limited, usually to specialized uses in industrial, military and aerospace organizations.

Solid-state disk has been around for well over a decade, says Mike Karp, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates. It looks like a regular disk, but without the characteristic spinning motion. And because there are no moving parts, it's faster, he says. It also requires less energy, although Karp says energy savings are a minor part of the cost equation. Because organizations don't have large-scale deployments of this technology, they won't see large-scale energy savings, either, he says.

But the use of NAND flash technology with solid-state disk could edge up the number and types of deployments, extending the technology beyond enterprise storage for use in laptops, for example. Unsworth estimates that solid-state disk with NAND flash technology could mean a 5 percent to 10 percent energy savings over a conventional notebook hard drive; it also offers faster performance in a smaller space.

"It could be important in ultraportable notebooks, but it's not an advantage in desktop systems," Unsworth says. "It's still a very niche market because of cost. Right now, consumers and IT managers don't know why they should pay a premium for such technology."

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