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Storage growth drives buying plans

Adding capacity is job No. 1 for many storage managers, and this new storage is creating a ripple effect for other purchasing initiatives.

Storage managers continue to add capacity to their existing storage environments at an unprecedented pace. The additional storage, in turn, has caused a ripple effect across the entire storage infrastructure, influencing buying priorities for the remainder of this year.

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According to the latest edition of Storage magazine's Purchasing Intentions Survey, companies will add an average of 37 terabytes (TB) of new capacity this year -- up from 30 TB last fall and 23 TB one year ago -- taking a 22% bite out of total budget allocations. Charlie Orndorff, vice president of infrastructure services at Plano, Tex.-based Crossmark Information Services, a consumer goods services company, is feeling the capacity crunch. "We added about 15 TB this year to get us through the year," says Orndorff. That brings his shop's total installed capacity on primarily Hewlett-Packard (HP) arrays up to approximately 40 TB. But Orndorff isn't complacent about his capacity needs. "We're growing at around 350 gigabytes (GB) to 400 GB a week," he says.

For other companies, budgets may not be bumped up this year to add disk, but capacity issues haven't gone away. "Last year, we did major acquisitions, major enhancements of our storage for both the storage area network (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS) systems," says Anthony Maceroli, managing director of information technology at New York City-based Fitch Ratings. "This is the year to get all that in place -- getting all the replication working and managing growth."

Overall, storage budgets for 2006 will average approximately $3.4 million, 5.2% higher than last year. The 5.2% figure was consistent across all sizes of companies (see "2006 storage budgets" and "Storage budgets rise 5.2% on average"). Fifty-six percent of our surveyed companies say they're increasing storage budgets to some degree, a 16% rise vs. the same time last year.

Network consolidation slows
Another indicator that growing data stores may affect overall storage spending is the shift away from director-based networks (see "Director-based networks dip"). Last fall, when asked to describe their networking environments, more respondents indicated that their network architectures were built around director-class switches rather than smaller switches used in SAN islands. But in the latest survey, "island" architectures are becoming more prevalent once again.

While the gap between these two architectures is still small, the shift from director-based architectures represents a swing of 6% -- previously, 35% of respondents had director-based storage networks vs. 32% with islands of smaller switches. But in the most recent survey, these numbers have essentially reversed, with 31% of respondents indicating directors and 34% noting their use of small-switch islands. Storage capacity growth is the most likely culprit at the root of this change; with so much storage being added to existing environments, consolidation projects are bound to be relegated to the back burner as storage managers cope with accommodating added disk capacity. Thus, network consolidation using director-class switches is delayed -- at least temporarily -- while additional ports in the form of smaller switches are used for the new capacity.

Perhaps underscoring that companies have back-burnered network consolidation for now, the number of SAN fabrics reported by respondents grew to an overall average of 3.3. All business sizes reported an increase and indicated that these numbers would grow across the board, with an anticipated average of 3.7 SAN fabrics by the end of the year.

A downturn in the use of directors after a couple of years of relatively steady growth may not be sufficient evidence to consider it a significant indicator at this point or to predict rough sledding for director vendors, but it bears watching. It's also important to note that at large businesses (those with revenue of $1 billion or more), directors continue to gain favor.

Asked to name their primary switch vendor for 2006, 37% picked Cisco Systems Inc., enabling Cisco to surpass Brocade Communications Systems Inc. for the first time (see "Switch at the top for switch vendors") and by a margin of five percentage points. Last fall, Cisco and Brocade each garnered 31% shares.

Disk takes big slice of budget pie
Disk and disk subsystems will account for the biggest chunk of 2006 spending, with respondents reporting that, on average, 43% of their budgets will go toward adding disk capacity. This planned allocation was consistent across all sizes of businesses, varying by only 1% or 2%, but the types of storage arrays companies will purchase correlates directly with their size. Bigger companies are opting for high-end arrays, midsized firms are casting approximately half of their disk budgets toward midrange systems, while smaller companies are targeting SATA/ATA arrays for more than half of their disk spending. Crossmark's Orndorff saw his storage budget rise this year, but the increase was earmarked primarily for added capacity. Even with the additional disk, Orndorff expects his HP Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) to "max out" this year.

Buying or leasing disk aren't the only options, as John Williamson, manager of capacity and availability at Philips Semiconductors North America in San Jose, Calif., attests. The company has approximately 21 TB of installed capacity, primarily on Network Appliance (NetApp) Inc. boxes. It owns some of the NetApp devices, but other capacity is delivered on demand. "We have a utility agreement, storage on demand," says Williamson, "so we basically pay for usage." There may be some modest overall cost savings but, according to Williamson, the real advantage is that "we get to spread it out and we're not taking the risk."

SAN arrays are the top disk subsystem priority for companies of all sizes (see "Where disk spending will go"). SAN array spending outdistanced NAS and DAS spending -- even for small businesses. SAN arrays are expected to account for more than a third of disk spending, easily outdistancing NAS (22%).

DAS was the leading choice for file storage, but was favored by only a slim point and a half over NAS gateways. In the last two years, NAS gateways have become increasingly popular alternatives for file storage, growing from being the choice of approximately 20% of respondents in the spring of 2004 to nearly 35% in the current survey (see "NAS gateways gain favor for file storage"). Consolidation efforts and the desire to tap into underused SAN capacity appear to be leading this trend toward gateways. File virtualization also garnered increased interest after its steady climb was waylaid by a substantial drop last fall.

Storage virtualization has yet to find firm footing, with 65% expressing no plans at all to implement this technology. Users continue to be cautious about virtualization because of the significant impact its implementation would have on a storage environment. "It's high on my list of things to look at," says Fitch Ratings' Maceroli, "[but] it's not high on our purchase agenda for this year." Maceroli says that if his firm's evaluation of virtualization pans out, they would consider adding it to their 2007 budget.

Among those planning virtualization deployments, there's a fairly even split among implementation approaches, with host-based virtualization slightly favored over array- and appliance-based alternatives.

The favored disk vendor, reflected in both actual purchases and consideration as a prime disk system source, is EMC Corp. Thirty-one percent of respondents named EMC as their prime disk system vendor (see "EMC leads again as prime disk vendor"), while 46% said they'll buy or have bought a storage system from EMC in 2006. Who users consider their primary disk vendor is more a gauge of mindshare than actual purchases, but EMC has come out on top on both counts since surpassing HP three years ago. While EMC's prime vendor number dipped slightly in this survey, HP's prime vendor rating sagged even more; so despite a bit of slippage, EMC has widened its margin.

Click here for page two of Storage growth drives buying plans.


This was first published in July 2006

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