Hot technologies for 2007

Storage magazine's editors reviewed technology developments, product introductions and storage standards to come up with this short list of must-have technologies for 2007. We believe iSCSI SANs, hardware-based tape encryption, high-capacity disk drives, virtualization and thin provisioning will have the greatest impact on enterprise storage environments.

iSCSI SANs, hardware-based tape encryption, high-capacity disk drives, virtualization and thin provisioning will be must-have technologies next year.


Storage standards to watch in 2007

If the storage industry is anything, it's dynamic. But some things never change: the need for more storage capacity and the endless search for better, less tedious ways to protect data.

Storage magazine's editors have reviewed technology developments, product introductions and storage standards (see "Storage standards to watch in 2007") over this past year to identify those we expect will become the hot storage technologies in 2007. Some of these technologies, like iSCSI SANs and virtualization, have appeared in these pages for years. This coming year, however, both appear poised to cross a major threshold. Other selections, like hardware-based tape encryption, are based on new technologies that attempt to address a single issue: stemming the tide of identify theft and misappropriation of corporate secrets resulting from lost data tapes.

Thin provisioning, long championed by a single storage system vendor, 3PAR, has gained the attention of many more vendors and is showing up in more products. We expect thin provisioning to become an essential disk-array feature because it saves money by avoiding the need to overbuy storage. Disk-drive technology continues to defy predictions of how much data can be packed onto a disk. The storage industry will introduce 1TB disk drives in 2007 and even greater capacity drives will follow soon after. Other new technologies--data deduplication, continuous data protection (CDP), data classification and information lifecycle management (ILM)--look promising, but need more time to mature and gain acceptance (see "Not hot in 2007").

Our picks for the hot storage technologies in 2007 follow. Specific vendor or product references are representative examples of each category.

Not hot in 2007

iSCSI SANs
Midsized organizations were early adopters of iSCSI because of its low cost and easy implementation. Previously, 1Gb/sec was about as fast as IP networks ran, but that didn't matter. "Performance wasn't a concern. The big benefit was cost," says Steve Meckling, network services administrator at Shiloh Industries Inc., a manufacturer of auto-industry components in Valley City, OH.

iSCSI has been steadily gaining momentum. According to a recent report from Framingham, MA-based research firm IDC, the iSCSI protocol is expected to capture more than 10% of storage systems revenue and an even greater percentage of capacity by 2008. In the early days of storage networking, large enterprises viewed iSCSI SANs as "training wheels" that would someday grow into a Fibre Channel (FC) SAN for industrial-strength performance. FC has steadily progressed from 2Gb/sec to 4Gb/sec. But IP/Ethernet recently leapfrogged FC in the performance race with 10Gb/sec Ethernet over copper. At 10Gb/sec, iSCSI offers a faster pipe than FC, and will continue to hold that edge even when FC gets to 8Gb/sec in a couple of years.

However, iSCSI was never just about performance. "The elevator pitch for an iSCSI SAN is that it saves money by using Ethernet; but what users really like are the features they get automatically with iSCSI SANs--load balancing, snapshots and more," says Stephen Foskett, director of strategy services at GlassHouse Technologies Inc., Framingham, MA. "iSCSI SAN is definitely happening."

For the enterprise, the issue now is coexistence. "Places with FC SANs are installing iSCSI SANs, too. They want alternatives. iSCSI won't replace FC; rather, it lets large companies make storage decisions based on business needs," says Mike Karp, senior analyst, Enterprise Management Associates, Boulder, CO. "Almost every storage product vendor is supporting iSCSI these days," he adds. Even enterprise storage vendors like EMC Corp. and IBM Corp. have embraced iSCSI.

In terms of cost, iSCSI SANs still have the edge over FC. For example, Shiloh Industries currently operates 17TB of storage using four EqualLogic Inc. iSCSI SANs, which cost approximately $40,000 each.

Hardware-based tape encryption
The reasons to encrypt data became obvious this year: a succession of incidents in which backup tapes disappeared; federal directives mandating government agencies encrypt stored data; and 34 states currently requiring companies to inform anyone whose identity might have been compromised by lost data.

There are a number of ways to encrypt stored data--at the host, through a network-based appliance, within the storage device or tape library--but the tape device promises the fastest performance with the least impact. We may be going out on a limb with this prediction, but we expect hardware-based tape encryption to become the preferred choice of the largest enterprises with mainframe-based data centers.

These data centers back up sensitive data for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of customers. They need reliable performance and transparent operations. "These are the companies that manage data on tape for the long term," says Robert Amatruda, IDC's research director, tape and removable storage.

For the rest of the IT world, hardware-based tape encryption will appear in the next generation of LTO devices, LTO-4, probably beginning sometime in 2007. The LTO-4 products will probably involve little or no price premium over today's nonencrypting LTO drives, notes Robert Abraham, president and senior analyst, Freeman Reports, Ojai, CA.

For big data centers, IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc./StorageTek introduced encryption built into their tape drives. IBM introduced data encryption on System Storage TS1120 tape drives. These drives encrypt data at tape speed, avoiding the need for host-based encryption that eats host CPU cycles. Sun offers the StorageTek Crypto-Ready T10000 tape drive, which supports a variety of operating systems, including z/OS, Solaris and Windows.

The enterprise products don't come cheap. The Sun product costs $37,000, plus a $5,000 charge to turn on the encryption feature. The IBM product is $35,000. Encryption appliances like those from Decru Inc. (now owned by Network Appliance Inc.), NeoScale Systems Inc. and Vormetric Inc., as well as upcoming LTO-4 drives will be less expensive than tape-encryption drives from IBM and Sun; however, IBM's and Sun's products appeal to enterprises that run large mainframe data centers. "These data centers want an end-to-end storage solution," says Amatruda. "They want native tape drives and don't want the uncertainty of dealing with little companies."

While the enterprise products aren't for every organization, once LTO-4-based tape encryption becomes available, expect tape-drive encryption to become more of a commodity with appropriate pricing.

High-capacity disk drives
Various experts periodically predict that magnetic disk is approaching its capacity limit, as the magnetic dots can't get smaller or be packed closer together. Yet engineers always find a new way to stuff more data onto a disk.

"Think of it as the relentless march of Moore's Law," says Peter Steege, enterprise disk segment marketing manager at Seagate Technology LLC. This year, perpendicular disk-recording technology, which stacks data vertically on the disk, is enabling Moore's Law.

Using perpendicular technology, Seagate expects to introduce a 1TB disk drive in 2007 with larger disks to follow. A 2TB disk drive within a few years is quite likely. Current enterprise-class SATA drives boast a 1.03 million hour mean time between failures (MTBF). The 1TB drives will have a 1.2 million hour MTBF. Other vendors, primarily Maxtor Corp. (acquired by Seagate) and Western Digital Corp., are expected to follow with similar capacity disks.

The 1TB enterprise-class SATA disk drives are coming along just as data centers are feeling the squeeze to store more data while conserving rack space, floor space and energy. "The array vendors are asking for bigger capacity drives," says Steege. A 750GB drive requires no more power than a 500GB drive. A 1TB drive will deliver 50% more capacity per watt than existing drives using the same enclosure.

Although extremely large drives present challenges in terms of RAID rebuilding time, storage managers are welcoming them. "We're definitely interested in the 1TB disks," says Seth Mitchell, infrastructure team manager at Slumberland Inc., which has a chain of more than 100 mattress stores in the Midwest. Today, Slumberland uses 500GB FC disks. The larger drives will save the store money because its array vendor, Compellent Technologies, charges by the spindle. Expect to see the drives deployed in high volume, low-performance situations such as archiving, data retention, compliance and backup to disk.

Report card on our 2006 predictions

Virtualization
Two years ago, we picked virtualization as one of the hot technologies for 2005. Well, as the old saying goes, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." (See "Report card on our 2006 predictions") In 2007, we expect virtualization to embed itself throughout the infrastructure. "When virtualization is used right, it will be everywhere," says GlassHouse Technologies' Foskett.

Virtualization shows up in practically every part of networked storage and is a central component to any unified storage strategy. Any automated heterogeneous storage management strategy will require a virtualization layer to mask the complexities and intricacies of the underlying storage devices. We don't think 2007 will see the issue of where to put virtualization resolved, but we do believe that there won't be any question about its value.

File virtualization will be especially hot in 2007. With NAS growing rapidly in the data center, Robert Stevenson, managing director, storage practice at New York City-based TheInfoPro Inc., says in 2007 storage managers will focus on improving their file content with file virtualization products such as Acopia Networks Inc.'s Adaptive Resource Switch (ARX) and EMC's Rainfinity.

Thin provisioning
The best way to understand thin provisioning is to think about airline overbooking. By analyzing passenger behavior, airlines know that a certain number of passengers won't show up at departure. So they sell more seats than they have available.

"[Thin provisioning] is no different than overbooking," says Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst, The StorageIO Group, Stillwater, MN. "You tell each host that it has more storage available to it than it actually has, knowing that it's unlikely to need all that storage anytime soon."

The key to thin provisioning is to track usage closely and install more physical capacity before you need it. "A lot of vendors are offering thin provisioning today. The difference is how well they track and predict capacity usage," says Schulz.

3PAR pioneered thin provisioning, but other vendors, such as Compellent, LeftHand Networks Inc. and Network Appliance have jumped in, says Mark Bowker, analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, MA. Pillar Data Systems Inc. will add thin provisioning to its Axiom array early next year and Bowker expects more companies to do the same.

Thin provisioning differs from storage on demand. With storage on demand, the extra capacity is physically resident in the array, but not accessible until you purchase the key and provision it. In thin provisioning, there's no extra physical capacity. When you need more physical disk, you just plug it into the array when it arrives. As far as the hosts are concerned, the capacity, fully provisioned, has always been there.

Poised to take off in 2007
Those are the five technologies we feel will be "hot" in 2007. Large enterprises with mainframe data centers will find tape-based hardware encryption an enticing solution to securing corporate data. Small and midsized organizations have gravitated to iSCSI SANs and more will follow. Now large organizations can add iSCSI SANs to their infrastructure to give them options when aligning storage with business needs.

Almost every organization can take advantage of large-capacity disk drives for backup, compliance or archiving. Thin provisioning provides what amounts to just-in-time storage acquisition, which saves money. Finally, even though we've listed virtualization as a hot technology before, trust us: This is the year virtualization, especially file virtualization, really becomes hot.

This was first published in December 2006

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