Time to get savvy about storage

The three hardware elements of any datacenter strategy are networks, servers, and storage. And while the first two elements tend to be well understood, the crucial role storage plays in the enterprise is frequently overlooked.

Up until recently, most IT organizations tended to throw money at their storage problems. But in this economy, that's no longer a viable approach. But there are four macro trends in enterprise computing that continue to increase demand for storage.

The first trend is the killer application of the Internet: e-mail. Whether it's due to spam or the sheer numbers of people generating e-mail, the amount of storage dedicated to e-mail continues to grow at an alarming rate. Once upon a time people were conscientious about managing their e-mail, but the volume that most people have to deal with today makes it hard to dedicate time to deleting old e-mails, which then pile up on hard disks across the enterprise.

The second major trend driving storage consumption is the explosion of multimedia content on the Internet. This trend is only in its infancy, but it won't be long before storage-intensive PowerPoint presentations are routinely augmented with streaming video and 3-D graphics.

The third trend helping to drive storage momentum is business continuity. The need to have access to data, even during a catastrophic event, is driving companies to embrace distributed computing architectures that ensure multiple copies of crucial business information exist on the network. To make that happen, IT organizations need to deploy caching and network storage architectures, rather than rely on direct attached storage connected to servers.

Finally, the need to access data in real time is going to be a major driver of distributed storage architectures.

All of this is good for IT, except that most IT organizations lack a storage specialist. The majority of the storage area networks sold in the past few years are being deployed as direct attached storage. In other words, most IT organizations have not invoked the networking capabilities of the SAN. There has been some success in the area of network attached storage, which has emerged as the preferred approach given its comparative simplicity to SANs.

The biggest issue is a general lack of dedicated IT knowledge about the vital role storage plays in an enterprise-class distributed data architecture. Most IT organizations have only begun to think about storage virtualization in the vaguest terms, and much of the software needed to accomplish this mission-critical task is still immature.

Mastering these technologies will spell the difference between success and failure for any senior IT executive as we continue to move down the path of Internet computing. So while storage may seem to be a mundane topic, the time has come to think about it in other terms: job security.

Michael Vizard is editor in chief of InfoWorld and InfoWorld.com. Contact him at michael_vizard@infoworld.com.

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