Brighter outlook for storage budgets

Budget concerns have eased slightly, and many storage managers are eyeing solid-state storage and cloud storage services. How does your shopping list compare to that of your peers?

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Spending is slowly picking up again, but storage managers are cautious and looking for technologies that can help them use their systems more efficiently.

The last time we reported the results of our biannual Storage magazine/SearchStorage.com Purchasing Intentions survey we suggested that storage managers could finally exhale after a year of nail-biting suspense over whether storage budgets would continue to fall. Last year's results were slightly encouraging, and the latest survey indicates the budget situation has improved once again. We're not saying storage managers are flush with funds, but the days of beating about the sofa cushions for loose change seem to be over.

The average storage budget clocked in at a healthy $3.1 million; when compared to 2009, our average respondent storage budget grew by a modest 0.6%. Enterprise-sized companies are seeing the largest boost with an average 2.5% increase, followed by midsized companies with 1.6%. But times are still pretty tough for smaller companies as they reported a -0.6% change in their budgets. These numbers hardly compare with those from four years ago when overall budgets grew by 5.2%, but they're still promising considering recent dreary results.

Twenty percent of those surveyed said price is the main factor when selecting a primary disk vendor. Although not the top criteria (features was No. 1 at 30%), that's the highest ranking we've ever seen for price. For smaller companies, price was the No. 1 factor for the first time. All in all, it looks like 2010 has been a year of struggle for smaller businesses, while much of the storage action seems to be happening midmarket, with midsized companies looking to add even more new disk capacity than anticipated last spring.

About the survey

The Storage magazine/SearchStorage.com Purchasing Intentions survey is fielded twice a year; this is the eighth year the survey has been conducted. Storage magazine subscribers and SearchStorage.com members are invited to participate in the survey, which gathers information related to storage managers' purchasing plans for a variety of data storage product categories. This edition had 609 qualified respondents across a broad spectrum of industries, with the average company size measured as having revenue of $1.3 billion.

Disk systems still center stage

Budgets may be inching upward, but storage demands and disk capacity growth continue to grow by leaps and bounds. Once again, disk capacity jumped by double digits and respondents said managing disk capacity made storage configuration and data protection more challenging.

Respondents will add an average of 40 TB of disk capacity this year. That's the same figure reported last spring but 17% higher than noted on last fall's survey. Over the last couple of years we've seen an up-and-down pattern where new disk capacity numbers are high in the spring survey and then drop off in the fall. This time, 2010's spring and fall numbers are the same, so it's safe to assume there were no corners to cut this year.

As expected, larger companies plan to add the most capacity: an average of 81 TB, down slightly from the spring. Midsized companies have been busy, adding an average of 53 TB, which is a big jump from the 35 TB anticipated just six months ago. Likely feeling their budgets squeezed, small companies plan to add 19 TB of additional disk capacity, well off the 25 TB expected last spring, but in line with last year's number.

Click here to get a PDF of the Purchasing Intentions Survey storage budget, disk storage and cloud services results.

FC vs. iSCSI vs. SSD

Fibre Channel (FC) arrays still represent the biggest chunk of already installed storage systems with 52% of the pie. But the slice has been shrinking from a high of 70% in the spring of 2008. During that same period, iSCSI systems increased from 27% to 38%, while NAS and multiprotocol each picked up a couple of points. With the addition of higher performing SAS disks, iSCSI systems have reduced the performance gap compared to FC and continue to provide economical high-density storage.

It's hard to consider iSCSI an upstart or an SMB-only product anymore. Forty-four percent of respondents either deployed or plan to deploy an iSCSI system this year -- the highest number we've seen. iSCSI growth has been steady if not spectacular, and now there's growing interest in using iSCSI storage in conjunction with virtualized server environments.

Much of iSCSI's growth appears to be coming from midsized firms; 52% of those surveyed are installing iSCSI this year, a six point jump from a year ago. But larger organizations are also increasingly opting for iSCSI; 39% have deployed iSCSI or plan to -- a four-point increase vs. last fall. While attracting larger outfits, iSCSI has maintained its solid presence in small companies, with 42% taking the iSCSI route this year.

iSCSI is still most popular for end-user storage, but it's almost as widely used for backup and email. And if there were confidence issues with early iSCSI systems, users seem quite comfortable with the mature products available today as 44% run their companies' mission-critical applications on iSCSI.

Where those disk dollars go

Whether they're Fibre Channel or iSCSI, midrange systems account for the biggest chunk of storage system spending. Overall, storage managers say 45% of their systems dollars are designated for midrange arrays, pretty much the same figure we've seen for the past three years.

But complete systems don't account for the biggest portion of all disk-related spending. In a trend we saw developing all the way back in the spring of 2007, storage managers continue to earmark the largest percentage of their disk budget (36%) to buying disks to add to already installed systems. Four years ago, FC arrays won this race hands down with a 59% share, but today that number has dwindled to 17%, just a couple of points higher than new NAS systems (15%) and new multiprotocol arrays (13%).

As for who storage managers are buying their arrays from, EMC Corp. is still king of the hill with 31% of respondents noting they've bought an array from EMC or intend to buy one before the year is out. Second-place Hewlett-Packard Co., with 29%, has certainly narrowed the gap (which has been as high as 11 points on past surveys). IBM, Dell Inc., NetApp and Hitachi Data Systems round out the rest of the top six choices.

Solid interest in solid state

It's expensive, its reliability might be suspect and it's too soon to tell if solid-state storage can make it in enterprise environments, but the technology is really, really hot.

Fifteen percent of respondents are using solid-state storage -- almost double the number reported one year ago. Add to that another 9% who are implementing solid state this year (triple the fall 2009 number) and the 32% who are evaluating it, and you have some pretty impressive numbers for a fledgling technology. Last year, 54% had no plans related to solid-state storage, but that figure dipped to 45% this time.

So far, the most popular place to put solid-state drives (SSDs) is in traditional arrays (61%); that's not much of a surprise as practically every disk system vendor currently offers an SSD option, and a growing number of vendors -- including Fujitsu, Intel Corp., Pliant Technology Inc., STEC Inc., Seagate and Toshiba among others -- make solid-state storage in standard disk formats like SATA and SAS. Approximately 44% of those questioned use SSDs in their servers, while 26% have implemented solid state in the form of caching appliances that sit in front of hard disk systems.

However, price is still a deterrent for plenty of storage managers and it's the top reason (57%) for not implementing solid-state storage. Thirty-seven percent of respondents passed on solid-state drives because their hard disk performance is sufficient, while 31% feel they just need to learn more about solid-state storage before making a purchase.

Cloud coverage increasing

If you think the whole cloud storage deal is simply too much hype, you might be partly right. But many of your colleagues see it as a reality. The numbers are up across the board and doubling -- or nearly doubling -- for all types of cloud storage services.

Twenty-three percent of respondents use some form of cloud storage for primary or nearline storage vs. 14% last spring. The most popular application is for disaster recovery (DR), with 11% using cloud services to bolster their DR plans. Last spring, 4% trusted some of their data center primary data to the cloud; this time around, users have more than doubled (9%). Seven percent use cloud storage for some nearline data, while 6% park remote-office data in the cloud.

And it looks like cloud storage usage could pick up significantly. Seventeen percent of those surveyed indicate their firms will use a cloud storage service for DR in 2010; storing primary and remote-office data in the cloud is in the works for 11%, while 10% are thinking cloud for nearline data.

Although those percentages aren't staggering, the numbers for cloud storage service usage do indicate that users are shedding some of their apprehensions about shipping data off site.

Storage virtualization advances slowly

If you're waiting for "the year of storage virtualization," 2010 isn't shaping up that way. There may never be a definitive turning point for storage virtualization as its adoption is decidedly more evolutionary than revolutionary. Going virtual is still a major undertaking for a storage shop, and while the move to virtualized storage might be inevitable, it's just not going to happen that fast.

Thirty-two percent of respondents report their shops have virtualized at least some of their storage systems, a slight dip from last spring's 35%, but higher than in previous surveys. While the numbers haven't shifted seismically, they have drifted in the direction of virtualization with steady increases over the past two to three years.

Few companies have taken the full virtualization plunge. Seventy-four percent say some of their block storage has been virtualized, while 73% have virtualized some of their file storage systems. Both of those figures are higher than what we've seen previously, suggesting that more organizations are running pilots or doing limited implementations of storage virtualization technologies.

Tape redux

While its overall numbers continue to trend downward, tape remains a viable part of most companies' data protection schemes. A third of respondents plan to reduce their reliance on tape this year, while 22% will increase tape usage. The latter is one of the lowest figures we've seen, while the 33% cutting back on tape is the highest.

So it's hardly a rosy picture for tape vendors, although LTO-5 is showing some signs of possibly breathing a little life into the technology. For those who plan to purchase tape libraries, 20% would outfit those rigs with LTO-5 drives -- a relatively high number considering LTO-5's newness. LTO-5's 1.6 TB capacity (compressed) makes it an ideal fit for long-term archival, but it also advances another trend we've tracked: tape libraries are getting smaller. The average number of slots in planned tape library purchases has dropped again, this time to 92, which is an all-time low on our survey.

It looks like data deduplication is also taking its toll on the beleaguered tape market. Seventy-two percent of those surveyed will spin off at least some backup data to tape -- a drop of 14 points compared to three years ago. With the help of dedupe, users can keep more backup data nearby on disk for longer periods of time and that means less of it hits tape.

Click here to get a PDF of the Purchasing Intentions survey tape as backup format and disk-to-disk backup strategies standings.

Backup = Disk

General spending for disk-based backup is still behind pre-recession levels. With 39% increasing their 2010 disk-to-disk (D2D) spending (about the same as last spring and a few points lower than fall 2009), it looks like a combination of maturing D2D technologies and budgetary constraints have slowed spending just a bit.

Using disk as a file-system target for backup is still the most popular D2D application with 47% having that current setup. Dedupe is in use at 25% of companies, and another 29% will implement data dedupe this year.

When asked specifically about their spending plans for deduplication technologies, 38% will spend more while 33% expect to maintain current spending levels. The portion of respondents who indicated "no plans" for dedupe reached an all-time low of 20%.

We keep expecting continuous data protection (CDP) to take off, especially as it's so well suited to provide data protection for virtualized servers, but its flight has been delayed yet again. Only 9% will buy a CDP product this year and the overall plans for CDP show only a one point hike for those who will increase their spending.

If CDP is still struggling to find its place on the backup scene, cloud -- or online -- backup appears to be carving out a niche fairly quickly. Thirty-four percent of respondents use some form of cloud backup vs. 19% a year ago and 13% in 2008. Email and databases are still the two most popular applications to back up into the cloud, but there's significant interest in backing up user files and laptops using cloud services.

Backing up virtual servers remains a persistent problem for backup administrators, many of whom are still using traditional backup techniques to safeguard their company's virtual servers. But that's changing: one-third use traditional backup agents loaded into virtual machines (VMs), a decline of approximately 11 points from a year ago. Although marked for extinction, 22% still use VMware Consolidated Backup, and about 10% have turned to VM-specific backup products (an increase of four points vs. a year ago). Approximately 6% use CDP for their virtual servers.

Users still stumble over the complexity of backing up virtual machines (25%), while 22% find they're backing up too much stuff from their virtual environments. Another 18% have run into issues getting file access for recoveries.

Top 5 vendors

Purchased/plan to purchase a disk system from:
EMC 31%
Hewlett-Packard 29%
IBM 26%
Dell 25%
NetApp 19%

Purchased/plan to purchase storage switches from:
Cisco 58%
Brocade 37%
QLogic 9%
CipherMax 3%
Dell 3%

Purchased/plan to purchase tape hardware from:
Hewlett-Packard 24%
IBM 23%
Dell 19%
Oracle 12%
Quantum 9%

Purchased/plan to purchase backup software from:
Symantec 35%
IBM 18%
EMC 15%
CommVault 11%
Hewlett-Packard 9%

Disaster recovery on an even keel

Anticipated spending for disaster recovery is about the same as in previous surveys going back through 2009, so it's holding its own but still falling short of its pre-recession peak.

Remote replication is still the key storage spend for DR. It edged out off-site tape storage a couple of years ago and has been extending its lead ever since. This year, it's favored 48% to 28%. Broken down further, it's clear that companies are relying less on tape for data recoveries during a disaster. Only 23% will increase spending on off-site tape storage, although 45% expect to keep off-site tape charges at 2009 levels. In contrast, 39% (a little less than last spring) will increase spending for remote replication technologies; a scant 4% will reduce that spending; and only 16% (the lowest number we've seen) don't have remote replication in their 2010 disaster recovery plans.

Reason to be optimistic

It would be easier to be optimistic about storage purchasing if the budget numbers were just a little more upbeat. But they are up -- very modestly so -- for two consecutive surveys, which means the purse strings are loosening. What's more apparent, perhaps, is how data storage managers have focused on technologies that deliver the proverbial bang for the buck and help them manage their storage more efficiently.

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

This was first published in October 2010
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