Storage is evolving as vendors continue to try and perfect their offerings. In the past 12 months users have seen the maturation of information lifecycle management and continuing improvements to data recovery. But what will emerge as the next big thing?
According to Gartner research director for storage and servers, Phil Sargeant, it's automation.
"Capacity will continue to increase, therefore people will need more automation to help them with their storage needs, because they're not going to be able to do it manually," Sargeant said.
"And of course, all elements of ILM will be a big focus for storage players in the next few years."
The biggest beneficiary of all this innovation will be SMEs.
"The price of storage is coming down and that's making the market more attractive," Sargeant said.
"Efforts have been upped in terms of packaged solutions and the education of channels that sell to the SME market."
At the big end of town storage expertise is well established, but SMEs are demanding turnkey solutions.
Not surprisingly, it's the bigger players that are making all the right moves in this segment of the market.
For example, IBM is directing plenty of resources to SMEs with the company's business unit executive for total storage Francois Vazille claiming:"I do 60 percent of my business with the channel and they mostly deal with the SME market."
Vazille said IBM is focused on educating storage partners to address this market and adjusting pricing to compete.
He expects competition to intensify with plenty of vendor consolidation likely in the near future.
Mergers, he said, won't just involve storage vendors but software providers as well, thereby improving current offerings.
Vazille said the big focus for IBM is virtualization with the company's strategy encompassing software, hardware, tape and systems.
It is an area, he says, where IBM is well ahead of the game as it is already delivering its seventh version of SAN Volume Controller virtualization technology.
"We need to put solutions in the marketplace that reduce complexity, and virtualization is the answer; it's a bit like what Linux did for the server business," Vazille said.
"In the future, software, hardware and services for storage will be delivered as a package that can match requirements."
From mere ploy to many players
Today there is no shortage of storage vendors jumping on the virtualization bandwagon although not too long ago some of IBM's rivals were labelling the push a marketing ploy.
However, EMC marketing director Jordan Reizes is definitely an advocate of the concept.
The next year will see a turnaround, Reizes said, with any companies not thinking about virtualization now consider it in the next 12 months. "But there are other areas gaining huge momentum, like backup disk. Organizations like RMIT have adopted it.
"Another area is archiving, with most companies now realizing they have to do something about their archiving strategy."
What it really amounts to is cheaper, easier and faster storage.
"Our CIO said to me the other day that he doesn't think there's ever been an IT product that has decreased so much in price in the history of IT like storage has," Reizes said.
"It's a huge area of evolution and I think we will see big changes in technology and processes."
Networking giant Nortel is one player that is more preoccupied with transmission costs and remote storage systems.
Ryan Perera, Nortel Australia and New Zealand optical marketing director, said despite the vast improvements in remote storage technology over the past few years, transmission costs are a serious roadblock to further growth in this market.
To date, only top-tier financial institutions have been able to afford dedicated SAN transmission systems provided by the major carriers,he said, adding the high cost of transmission continues to keep SANs out of reach for low-to-mid tier enterprises.
The answer, and one that customers should consider in the future, is for companies to use a carrier's existing transmission infrastructure to carry storage network traffic.
"Carriers are now in a position to bring down the cost of storage transmission by simply using their installed base of transmission equipment to offer specific storage services such as Fibre Channel at cost-effective rates," Perera said.
"Australian carriers have very extensive SDH (synchronous digital hierarchy) networks which cover vast areas and are accessible to a large cross-section of companies.
"For example, our converged solutions will allow carriers to offer storage services using their existing systems at a fraction of the cost, while supporting other services such as multimedia communications and mobile broadband."
Veritas Asia Pacific technology specialist for the Windows platform Mark Read agrees it is all about speed.
The future will focus on storage that is faster.
"The market will have to offer faster speeds from a SAN fabric environment, and already customers are really looking into the idea of having tier one, tier two and tier three storage," Read said.
"They want to pick and choose what data they store at faster speeds."
Storage by degrees
The University of Western Sydney (UWS) is in the midst of implementing a storage project which not only takes care of its current data requirements, but will help the university's future storage and data requirements.
According to UWS IT infrastructure manager Paul Hardaker, the university had two main concerns about data: the level of data that staff and student body generated, and ensuring its disaster recovery system was highly effective.
Additionally, the growing issues of compliance and regulations around managing electronic information, such as student records and personal information, and the proliferation of applications with incredibly large storage requirements also meant it was imperative to manage data effectively and store it securely.
"We had rapidly growing storage requirements for a range of applications and services, and associated with that we had an increasing requirement for tape back up," Hardaker said.
In response to these growing IT demands, UWS moved across to an information lifecycle management strategy, specifically looking for disaster recovery capability, a storage infrastructure that would meet the university's requirements for three to four years, storage resource management (SRM) tools, integration with its existing backup solution and a data archiving capability.
"We conducted an open tender and there were a number of companies, like HP, IBM, HDS, that put forward proposals - basically all the big players," Hardaker said.
However, UWS finally chose EMC, which promised to deliver a suite of product offerings that would meet its needs.
Implementation of the first stage of the project started in Q4 of 2004, when most of the hardware was delivered and installed.
"The project is being carried out in a number of stages, with the first stage being the installation of a SAN," Hardaker said.
"The second phase is data archiving, and we're still working through some issues with that.
"We also got some storage resource management tools which we will implement."
Hardaker admits there have been some challenges throughout the project so far, in particular the direct migration of data from legacy systems to the SAN and vendor support issues with SAN connectivity.
"But we've already seen some benefits. It certainly gives us a more flexible platform and you can respond much more quickly to storage capacity requirements," Hardaker said.
"Another advantage is EMC storage hardware is proving to be exceptional, it performs very well."
So what's next for the university?
While this system implementation was the framework for a three- to four-year storage strategy, Hardaker is already looking forward to the future.
"EMC's content addressable storage could have a key role; it's a very elegant way to go about managing storage in a simple way and could be a big part of our strategy in the long term," Hardaker said.