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Better disk utilization. Better scalability. Improved data availability. These are just a few of the advantages supposedly awaiting enterprises making the move from direct-attached to networked storage topologies. What conscientious storage manager could resist?

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Withering storage budgets?
As the economic slowdown continues, many companies are attempting to hold down storage spending, according to a recent survey of 129 senior executives by Forrester Research Inc. Of those surveyed:

Yet a March 2003 survey of 529 Storage readers showed a different picture:

The difference probably speaks to the volatility of the issue, as well as the difference in perception between direct storage managers and higher-level IT execs.

Tim McGovern, for one. The director of engineering at Skywalker Sound, a film production studio in Nicasio, CA, spent the last 18 months testing--and, he says, breaking--various storage area network (SAN) products. Before that, he and his team had spent five years investigating SANs. They declined to do any hands-on testing because, he says, most products were too expensive and lacked the kind of robust storage management and virtualization features he needed.

Only last fall did he finally change his mind and spend $2 million for a SAN setup, consolidating 18TB of data--which was mostly post-production movie audio and film files--from direct-attached storage (DAS) devices. His verdict after a few months of living with the SAN is that while Skywalker Sound's film editors have embraced it because the SAN gives them near-instant access to files it previously took them up to 20 minutes to find and load onto their servers, the IT side of the operation has found the SAN every bit as expensive and difficult to manage as McGovern had expected.

"Frankly, I don't believe the SAN makes business sense at this point," says McGovern. "You'd be looking at getting payback on your investment in a matter of decades, not years." Fortunately for editors at privately owned Skywalker Sound, the company's chairman, filmmaker George Lucas, is the type who doesn't mind taking on an expensive storage project if it means turning out better movies. "I don't think a regular accounting department would have gone ahead and approved this," says McGovern.

McGovern is not alone in harboring doubts about the cost-effectiveness of networked storage. Long after many large enterprises have accepted the idea of networked storage and begun replacing direct-attached storage devices with SANs and network-attached storage (NAS), a significant number of holdouts are still dragging their heels. Many of those remaining on the networked storage sidelines are small and medium-sized businesses that, particularly in times of economic uncertainty, are unable to justify making a significant investment to replace DAS that works--even if it doesn't necessarily work optimally. A recent Gartner Inc. survey of companies with between 100 and 1,000 employees found that 70% still rely mainly on direct-attached storage, while only 32% have begun using SANs for block storage. (See "Slow to move to networked storage").

"Among these midsized companies, SANs are still seen as quite expensive and complicated to manage," says Pushan Rinnen, a senior analyst for Gartner. "Most of them think it's not a good investment."

But it is not just small and medium-sized companies that have been holding out or moving slowly toward networked storage. Many larger enterprises that had embarked on the move from DAS to SANs have begun to apply the brakes, according to a recent survey by TheInfoPro, a market intelligence company in New York. The study found that 40% of storage professionals plan to spend less on SANs in 2003 than they did in 2002, and 30% said they plan to spend the same amount. The study found concern among enterprise admins about whether they would receive adequate returns from SAN investments, as well as dissatisfaction with storage management tools.

This was first published in September 2003

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