State of the storage art

Over the past decade, it is fair to say that the pace of innovation in storage systems and associated software tools has outstripped the pace at which the majority of organisations have adopted them.

In all areas from storage management, storage virtualisation, server virtualisation, data de-duplication, compliance and e-discovery, to technical developments such as solid state storage and Fibre Channel over Ethernet, or storage as a service, business continuity or energy efficiency –­ a quick scan of market uptake does indeed suggest that vendors are some way ahead of their customers.

As an example, take a look at virtualisation and storage virtualisation in particular. While a majority of organisations have adopted virtualisation on some of their x86 server platforms, the numbers taking up storage virtualisation lags some way behind.

There are many reasons why storage virtualisation is an attractive proposition: increased storage capacity utilisation, improved resilience and better overall service flexibility to name a few. At their heart, though, they boil down to lowering the total cost of implementing and operating storage systems over long periods of time. Today, these costs are becoming more visible partly as a consequence of continued adoption of networked storage and particularly due to the fact that in many organisations the cost of storage –­ its acquisition and management –­ is becoming one of the largest elements in the IT budget. With that in mind, it is difficult to explain why storage virtualisation solutions are not more widely deployed.

In the past, Freeform Dynamics has obtained similar results from other surveys looking at various areas of storage technology adoption. For example, Freeform Dynamics highlights variations in adoption and use of some of the more modern datacentre storage solutions. Relatively new but fairly well established storage management solutions such as continuous data protection (CDP), data replication and disk backup are deployed in a reasonably wide range of organisations. And on balance their deployment looks set to increase further.

But it has still taken some time for these technologies to reach these levels of adoption, perhaps longer than might have been expected given the potential benefits they can deliver.

One explanation for the relatively slow adoption of storage solutions could be that outside of the large datacentres there are very few IT staff who are dedicated to storage. In most of the IT world, storage systems are administered by IT generalists who manage all aspects of IT service delivery. Consequently, most businesses lack the expertise to appreciate how they could benefit from deploying new storage technologies. This state of affairs is mirrored by a lack of educational activity on the part of the storage vendor community. Its efforts to position new storage solutions and to establish the value they can deliver need a lot more work.

So what of the other storage solutions mentioned at the start of this article? We believe a few of these such as CDP and data de-duplication will become not only established but are likely to become standard components of more generic management systems. It is also probable that the use of solid state storage as part of a comprehensive array of storage options will become the norm, at least for systems where performance is a prime requirement. But these integrations and changes will not happen overnight.

Some tools will continue to develop as standalone products. For example, we can expect to see archiving and compliance grow in importance as they become simpler to implement and administer. Unlike today, where the primary driver to uptake is compliance/governance, we expect the benefits of archiving in the context of the broader information life cycle to gain traction. But the IT vendor community needs to help its customers appreciate this.

One of the most important areas of development will be storage management tools capable of manipulating physical resources and virtualisation software, to match service, performance and protection requirements of data over its lifetime. The idea that data – from creation, through use, transformation, retrieval, storage, access and so forth ­ could reside in a number of different types of storage solution depending in its type, age, sensitivity, and so on, asks more of today’s tools and solutions than they are able to deliver in many instances. We are moving in the right direction, though, and we are beginning to see the first steps along the development of storage management solutions with higher levels of automation and intelligence.

All of this begs the question of where does an organisation start assessing its storage capabilities and potential system enhancements? The answer will vary depending on businesses’ needs and the storage service challenges that exist. The only appropriate place to start is to catalogue the existing deployed storage infrastructure, assess existing service requirements, and pinpoint any management challenges. This should give a feel for where the gaps exist. But many businesses will not automatically know what their options are, from a technical point of view and also with respect to the broader goals of the company’s information strategy.

Given the state of the economy and the level of competition in the market, now is a good time to refresh and extend your knowledge of how the latest storage solutions can be applied to your business’s requirements.

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