Japanese businesses slow to adopt SANs

Japanese businesses, buffeted by a decade of economic anemia and suffused with the conservatism that permeates IT investment strategies, are cautiously coming around to the use of storage-area networks (SAN). But a cultural preference for centralized corporate bureaucracies and evidence that the economy may be slipping back into recession may dampen adoption of SANs.

Research institutes and educational customers are early movers to SANs, according to Hirokazu Torikai, a director of sales at ITFOR Inc., a Tokyo-based systems integrator.

"Central Tokyo University is using a SAN because they have the immediate need," said Torikai, who was attending Japan's first storage networking event, Storage Networking World, here recently. The conference was co-sponsored by Computerworld and its parent company, Boston-based International Data Group.

But SAN users remain a minority in Japan, where many companies use centralized storage and backup methods such as tape drives and hard drives, according to William P. Reardon, area director of storage systems at Milpitas, Calif.-based LSI Logic Inc.

Fast-Growing Market

According to Gartner Group Inc.'s Dataquest unit, the storage market in Japan is the fastest-growing market in the Asia-Pacific region. It's projected to grow at almost 17 percent per year and reach US$4.2 billion by 2003. That growth is being driven by the rapid expansion of communications infrastructure throughout Japan. The country currently has almost 61 million wireless subscribers, and, according to San Jose-based Dataquest, Japan is Asia's biggest Internet market.

One touted benefit of SANs is that they add storage capacity without burdening the corporate data center.

But some Japanese companies view SANs as the outsourcing of key business functions and remain reluctant to make that move, said Torikai.

"Traditionally, we like to make centralized decisions, and so moving small parts of a business to a SAN is not always feasible," Torikai said.

Graham Timm, Asia-Pacific regional director at Southboro, Mass.-based Storability Inc. and a conference attendee, said he agrees. "There are some real cultural differences in the way business decisions about IT get made, and you have to respect them," he said.

And while another factor in the slow adoption of SANs is cost, Timm said Japanese companies also have the "double-byte" issue to deal with. "Each letter of our [Roman] alphabet takes a single byte of memory, but with Japanese [and Chinese or Korean] characters, you need twice as much storage capacity," he said.

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