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It's fall, which is as close to new model season as the storage industry gets. Between Storage Decisions, Storage Networking World and the looming Christmas shopping marathon, look for storage in smart new colors and shapes.

Seriously, we're paying close attention this fall to see whether the storage industry is introducing Edsels or Accords. The whole storage market has changed dramatically in five years, a fact that storage vendors are often in denial about.

Recent surveys that we've done (results coming next month) suggest some interesting changes, including a combination of interest in new ways to do things, and skepticism about particular implementations of concepts that may not be ready yet for actual use.

One of the most obvious changes is that midrange storage has become the dominant mode throughout the enterprise. It's the yardstick by which people measure their needs. Do we need more than midrange reliability and performance? Let's look at high-end boxes. Do we really need Fibre Channel (FC) disks and redundant everything? Let's look at some SATA boxes.

Interestingly, this shift has not been accompanied by a shift in vendor allegiances. EMC is once again the 800-pound gorilla in the data center, having survived serious challenges by HP, HDS and IBM. Startups have demonstrated that there are worthwhile alternatives, but none have broken through in the disk subsystem market to be a major player yet.

The second sea change is in the network itself.

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Users have generally not bought into the us-vs.- them silliness of FC and IP vendors. Rather, it's pretty clear that users want both larger, more reliable FC switches and cheaper, easier IP gear. And they're being very deliberate about it, taking small, but definite steps to bring iSCSI in and shake it down.

Brocade, once the EMC of storage switches, has lost a lot of its cred with users by misstepping on both of these counts. The company took quite awhile to come out with a director and was very standoffish about IP storage. Enter Cisco, which may not be living up to its own sales goals, but has definitely captured a lot of interest as an alternative to McData in the director market and a possible pioneer in extending storage over IP nets. And once again, no real big winners among the startups; most of the interesting ones were acquired by the three major players.

The third major sea change is the relatively rapid acceptance of the concept of disk-to-disk backup. But many storage managers who buy into the idea are taking their time when choosing products. And well they should, because vendors have done a very uneven job when it comes to designing and integrating backup technologies.

It's going to be an interesting buying season. We're definitely hearing that high-pressure sales tactics are creeping back in from the obvious suspects. We're also hearing the marketecturing from the big, broad players--"buy our storage because you buy everything else from us"--even in the absence of any evidence that that's a winning strategy. So stick to your guns: Kick the tires, take the new models for test drives, do your research and don't let the guy in the loud suit grind you down.

This was first published in October 2004

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