The time is right for efficient storage

Storage budgets are lower this year, forcing storage managers to think creatively and act strategically.

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Storage budgets are lower this year, forcing storage managers to think creatively and act strategically.

By Rich Castagna

What do archiving, thin provisioning, data deduplication and network-attached storage (NAS) gateways have in common? They help you shoehorn a lot of data into a little space without breaking the bank. And in 2009, that bank appears to be a little less flush than in recent years, so more creative approaches to storage management will be essential.

It's been said that there's always a budget crisis in IT, but 2009 might prove to be a particularly memorable year. For the first time in the seven years we've been conducting our Storage Purchasing Intentions survey, respondents indicate they'll have less money to spend on storage than they did last year. On average, budgets will dip nearly 2%, more than a five point swing -- the biggest change we've ever seen -- from the modest but positive increases we saw last spring and fall (see "Storage budgets dip in 2009"). Over the years, we've seen lower budget indications in our spring surveys, with budgets bouncing back a bit when we field the fall version of the survey.

About the survey

The Storage magazine/SearchStorage.com Purchasing Intentions survey is fielded twice a year; this is the seventh year the surveys have been conducted. Storage magazine subscribers are invited to participate in the survey, which gathers information related to storage managers' purchasing plans for a variety of storage product categories. This edition had 777 qualified respondents across a broad spectrum of industries, with the average company size measured as having revenue of $1.6 billion.

While 29% of the respondents surveyed say their company's storage budget will actually rise this year, the number falls far short of last spring's 46%. At the other end of the budget spectrum, 37% say their storage budgets will be lower than last year's, a big jump from the 16% and 17% reported on the 2008 surveys. And you're bound to feel the pinch, whether your shop serves a small, midsized or enterprise-scale company.

Hilary Tullier, business systems manager at Houston-based ACT Pipe and Supply Inc., hopes to see an increase in his storage budget this year. "Last year it was pretty much static," he said. "It was just break and repair." He's evaluating arrays to replace more than 10 TB of direct-attached storage (DAS) and is favoring iSCSI over Fibre Channel (FC) because "it doesn't really break the budget."

Similarly, Jason Jed, network manager in the Office of the President at the University of California (UC) in Oakland, expects to push ahead with a project to add approximately 12 TB of storage and move his systems to a local collocation facility while mirroring to another UC site in San Diego. "For this year, the budget is still OK," he said, "but they don't want to commit to next year or the year after that."

But for some, plans may have to be deferred for now. Lance Wyatt, information systems manager at United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh, said he was evaluating a move from DAS to networked storage "before the economy tanked." While DAS is serving the company well for now, any significant changes will have to wait. "We're probably looking at maybe third quarter [of] 2010, probably 2011," he said.

In an ironic twist, the average storage budget of $2.9 million is approximately 12% higher than last fall, but about 9% lower than spring 2008. For a lot of companies, a storage budget of that size would be the stuff of dreams; however, the majority of our survey participants (56%) make do with one-third of that amount or less.

That's why archiving, thin provisioning, data dedupe and NAS gateways drew particular interest from this year's respondents, as they all address using existing storage resources more efficiently while perhaps delaying or scaling back new purchases.

Click here to view the storage managers' purchasing intentions by the numbers PDF.

Not everything is down

Budgets may be tough to predict year over year, but storage managers can make one prediction with 100% certainty: Their need for disk capacity will continue to grow. This year, respondents will add an average of 43 TB to their existing disk environments, which is approximately 10% more than what they planned on last fall, but lower than the 47 TB they predicted in spring 2008 (see "Expected new disk capacity"). Either way, it's a lot of capacity to add and the second highest number we've seen in the surveys.

Larger companies (those with revenue of $1 billion or more) expect to add a whopping 75 TB in 2009. But smaller companies, with their more modest capacity requirements, expect to add an average of just 23 TB.

With more than 300 TB of disk capacity already installed, Troy Downing, systems analyst II at Rain and Hail L.L.C., a farm property insurance firm in Johnston, Iowa, will be looking to add more disk. "Right now we've been figuring about 10% to 15% growth per year," he said. "My guess is that probably toward the end of the year we may end up adding another array." Some of that expansion is due to a virtual desktop infrastructure project slated to roll out this year.

At Horace Mann Educators Corp., an insurance company for the education community in Springfield, Ill., Thomas Janssen, director of IT, expects the company to add some capacity to a few of its installed EMC Corp. arrays. "The disk storage that we would be purchasing in 2009 is primarily going to be for tier 2 storage for the Clariion," said Janssen. "We're probably looking at another 30 TB this year."

Regardless of how much money is available to spend and ever-rising capacity needs, over the years we've seen little movement in how storage managers break down their budgets. This time, it's more of the same, with the biggest budget chunk (39%) earmarked for disks and disk systems. With diminishing budgets and rising demand for capacity, one would expect that percentage to grow year to year, but those conditions are largely offset by the dramatic price cuts we've seen for disks and disk subsystems over the past few years.

No skimping in some areas

The types of disk systems our respondents will shop for hasn't changed a lot. Midrange systems have broad appeal for companies of all sizes and still grab the most attention, with 45% of those surveyed opting for this system class. Over the past several years, midrange systems have managed to increase their turf by going "down market" to offer smaller companies enterprise-class features while extending further into enterprises as cost-effective, high-density alternatives.

While it might be a sign of the times that one respondent said their primary disk storage vendor for 2009 would be eBay, it doesn't appear that many storage managers are ready to cut corners when it comes to arrays. Fibre Channel arrays and NAS systems top the currently installed list, with 65% and 64% of respondents, respectively, saying they have those types of storage. iSCSI, once touted as the rising star of storage, has indeed risen, with 32% of respondents saying they've deployed iSCSI arrays vs. 27% last spring. iSCSI doesn't appear to be riding the coattails of server virtualization as some predicted, as more than 50% of those surveyed are using FC for their virtual server environments vs. approximately 12% using iSCSI -- numbers virtually the same as those we saw last fall.

But there's not much evidence that iSCSI storage will emerge as a low-cost alternative to Fibre Channel during these tough times. That said, one of iSCSI's strongest selling points is still its price, with 33% of those surveyed going for iSCSI because it's cheaper than FC, and another 15% just looking for cheaper storage in general. The bottom line for storage buyers is still the features and functions that disk systems offer; 33% of respondents say that was their key purchasing criteria, which is the highest number we've seen in two years. Surprisingly, price was the prime consideration for just 16% of those surveyed, which is 12 points lower than reported a year ago.

About 40% have already or will install iSCSI storage this year, no real change from the last two surveys. Whatever territory iSCSI storage is winning, it's picking up an inch or two at a time, with only modest increases in those saying they have plans for iSCSI compared to last spring. Midsized companies seem to show the most interest, with 44% saying they're going with iSCSI vs. 38% a year ago.

ACT Pipe and Supply's Tullier hopes to add two iSCSI arrays. "We have a DR site right now that's really a cold site, and I'd like to make it more of a warm or even hot site by putting in two iSCSI arrays and having them do continuous replication," he said.

There doesn't seem to be a knock against iSCSI for its performance or reliability: only 18% say performance deterred them (the same as last fall), while 11% state it was reliability (vs. 14% in the fall). In fact, 44% of respondents who have deployed iSCSI say they have mission-critical applications running on their systems -- a jump of 13 percentage points vs. spring 2007, with much of that increase coming from large companies (see "How iSCSI storage will be used").

Top 5

Who will be your primary vendor for disk subsystems in 2009?
EMC 24%
HP 16%
Dell 14%
IBM 13%
NetApp 7%

Who will be your primary vendor for tape backup hardware in 2009?
IBM 21%
HP 16%
Sun StorageTek 14%
Dell 14%
Quantum 12%

Who is your main vendor for disk-based backup?
EMC 13%
HP 12%
Dell 9%
IBM 9%
NetApp 7%

Who will be your primary vendor for backup software in 2009?
Symantec 38%
IBM Tivoli 17%
EMC 10%
CommVault 7%
HP 5%

Who have you purchased (or intend to purchase) storage management software from in 2009?
EMC 30%
Symantec 22%
IBM Tivoli 17%
HP 16%
NetApp 10%

More efficient storage

If there's any silver lining to this economic cloud, it's that storage managers are redoubling their efforts to run their storage more efficiently. While proponents of storage virtualization have long extolled its greater efficiencies, most shops have shied away from often difficult and costly implementations. Twenty-seven percent of the current survey respondents have virtualized at least some of their storage (up one point from last fall) and another 21% plan virtualization evaluations this year.

A one-point hike isn't statistically significant, but other indicators suggest storage virtualization is being considered a little more seriously these days. Compared to last fall, the number of respondents with planned 2009 purchases was up in four of the five storage virtualization technology categories. Software solutions were favored, with 14% of those surveyed planning to acquire software to run virtualization in their array and 10% opting for host-based storage virtualization. Plans to buy storage virtualization appliances dipped to 11%, a mere point lower than last fall.

Thin provisioning -- another very effective way to conserve disk dollars -- is also getting more interest. On another survey (Storage Priorities for 2009, fielded late October 2008), thin provisioning was the top pick among disk-related technologies, with 55% of respondents planning to deploy or evaluate it in 2009. Thin provisioning is a relatively low-cost array option considering its potential benefits; in some cases, thin provisioning capabilities are built in and just waiting to be turned on. Rain and Hail's Downing is particularly interested in Hewlett-Packard Co.'s new Enterprise Virtual Array 8400 (EVA 8400). "It's my understanding that they're going to have some thin provisioning," he said.

Just getting data on the right type of storage can reap significant savings and free up prime high-performance capacity. For Horace Mann's Janssen, that'll be a key project in 2009. "We'll be doing a lot of migrating off tier 1 into the appropriate tier this year," he said. This will require some additional storage shelves for the firm's Clariions, but no array acquisitions are planned. "Those all came at the very end of last year," said Janssen.

Archiving can also free up expensive primary storage capacity by moving less frequently used or unused data to cheaper disk or tape. Like thin provisioning, archiving is more of a cost-reduction maneuver than a cost avoidance one, but with the prices of very high-capacity disks so much lower than those of primary storage-capable drives, it's no wonder that 63% of respondents are using some form of archiver (email, file system, database, etc.), a jump from the 56% who reported using them a year ago. Email archiving, in particular, has been picking up steam, with 38% using it now vs. 28% last spring. And while purchasing plans are being scaled back across all product categories, it looks like cuts in spending for archiving applications will be less drastic than in some other areas (see "Archiving apps: Using now and plan to buy").

"We're starting to do some archiving with our email system," said Downing. "Right now we're in the beginning phases of implementing that." The farm property insurance firm uses Symantec Corp.'s Enterprise Vault and expects to expand its scope. "The next step is to go to our file stores and start doing that," he said.

Data still needs to be protected

Data protection is one storage management area that can't be derailed because of belt tightening, and it looks like storage managers may have to resort to robbing Peter to pay Paul to ensure their data is appropriately safeguarded. Peter, in this case, is tape. Spending plans for tape libraries, drives and media have been dwindling, as indicated in the last few surveys. A few years ago, 47% of respondents planned to increase tape spending while another 34% expected to maintain previous spending levels. Today, only 19% will increase their spending (vs. 32% last fall), while 29% will decrease it. Half the group anticipates spending at 2008 levels, which were already relatively low.

Sixty percent won't buy any tape libraries in 2009, which is the highest number we've ever seen. And those who are making library purchases will opt for smaller units with an average of 101 slots; last fall, the average number of slots was 117 and in spring 2006 it was 159. Clearly, less reliance on tape is anticipated, but higher-capacity tape drives like LTO-4 also contribute to the downsizing of tape library purchases (see "LTO-4 adoption on the rise"). Still, 80% spin off some or all data to tape, which is down somewhat from 86% one year ago.

But declining tape usage is an old storage story as the focus has shifted to finding more efficient uses of disk in backup environments. And any discussion of efficiency in backup has to start with data deduplication. Dedupe is arguably the hottest technology in storage these days, but that doesn't make it immune from reduced spending. Still, dedupe's numbers are up, with 19% already deploying it vs. 14% in spring 2008. New deployments might slow a bit in 2009, as 10% will decrease their dedupe spending. While not a huge portion of respondents, it's a considerably larger segment than the 1% reported last spring. But 55% will either increase dedupe spending or maintain it at 2008 levels; that's about 12 points lower than both of last year's surveys.

A dedupe project is underway at Hail and Rain, according to the firm's Downing. "We're in the middle of the research for that and hope to have something chosen by the third or fourth quarter of this year," he said.

Horace Mann's Janssen has spoken with a number of vendors about their dedupe products. "We will probably be considering that, but at this point, we aren't doing anything along the lines of deduplication," he said. Meanwhile, he's begun evaluating dedupe product alternatives. "But next year, I would say [it's] 90% certain we'll be doing something with data deduplication," he said.

Virtual tape library (VTL) and continuous data protection (CDP) products offer operational efficiencies that may also translate into bottom-line savings. We've seen some renewed interest in VTLs, with 29% (vs. 23% last fall) of respondents using them now and 23% planning to deploy them this year. One of the reasons for the minor resurgence in VTLs may be that many of these products now incorporate deduplication technology.

CDP might benefit from more convenient deployment, too. Thirteen percent of respondents currently use CDP vs. 8% in last fall's survey.

CDP adoption received a boost when many backup application vendors integrated the capability into their suites over the past year or so. Fifteen percent of the current survey's respondents say they'll add CDP this year.

One area where our survey numbers are trending upward is outsourced backup. The "cloud" has been grabbing headlines with a seemingly endless stream of service announcements and rollouts. We first asked about outsourcing backup in our spring 2007 survey and, until now, respondents have been mostly cool to the offerings. Back in 2007, 89% said they weren't using any outsourced backup services; this time, that number has been whittled to 79%. Since last fall, the number of outsourcing users has risen from 14% to 21%. Email backup services are used the most (12%), with backup services for user files not far behind (10%); the number of users of these services has doubled or nearly doubled across the board (see "Increased interest in cloud backup services"). Cloud storage services can be very cost-effective, especially considering their utility nature that allows users to pay for what they need when they need it without making any capital expenditures.

Demanding times

All in all, 2009 is shaping up as a challenging year for storage professionals who will have to find creative ways to stretch their budgets, add needed capacity and ensure the safety of their data. But there are some positive signs that initiatives begun in the past aren't falling by the wayside in a withering economy.

For the first time, we received more "ayes" than "nays" when we asked if respondents had deployed storage security: 51% said they are, with most methods (encryption with appliances, at the drive or in backup apps) all gaining two or three points. In most of our surveys and interviews, encryption is consistently near the top of storage managers' to-do lists.

We conduct purchasing surveys twice a year and have found a pattern of adjustments that occur between the spring and fall, which is, no doubt, storage managers resetting priorities to the realities of doing storage in the real world. So we look forward to this fall's edition, and hope the results are just a bit more encouraging. In the meantime, some hunkering down is probably in order. "The economy has pretty much tanked a lot of what I call our 'sexy initiatives,'" said United Steelworkers' Wyatt.

BIO: Rich Castagna (rcastagna@storagemagazine.com) is Editorial Director of the Storage Media Group.

This was first published in May 2009

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