Slow is OK

Slow is OK

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Twice a year, Storage magazine polls many of you so we can get a better handle on the storage technologies and products you're using and planning to buy (see "Buying update: Storage managers' purchasing plans"). We've been doing this for approximately five years and have collected a fair amount of data about buying intentions and purchasing patterns, especially for developing or newer technologies. It's pretty interesting stuff, but...

the overriding observation I've come away with is that the evolution of storage technology is slow--really slow.

Like so many industry pundits, we in the press are often a bit too eager to declare that a technology has "arrived" and too ready to hang a "year of" in front of the latest and greatest storage techs, as in "the year of iSCSI" or "the year of virtualization." But that's not so easy to do in the storage business, as nothing happens in just a year. A couple of years ago, I used this space to wonder out loud how storage companies that were two, three or four years old could still be considered startups. Now I know that storage is truly a long-distance race, and a lot of upstarts that quickly sprinted to the front faded away just as fast.

In the consumer world, every day is a sprint for consumer tech, with market leaders changing just as quickly as last year's cell phone gets tossed in favor of the flashiest, newest model. That's the real difference: Consumer technology is built on and has had vast success exploiting the premise that everything is disposable. In IT shops that concept is laughable. Million-dollar arrays don't get pitched on the trash heap just because some fledgling firm can offer superior technology.

It not only costs too much to change storage technologies, it's hard to do. Sure, storage virtualization is a great idea with real benefits that would have any capacity-strapped storage shop licking its chops. But there are a lot of different ways to virtualize storage and all of them will take their toll by adding new implementation, administration and management requirements and costs.

It's the same for iSCSI. It's a terrific idea and a lot of storage managers would love to take advantage of the simplicity and low cost these systems promise. But you can't just deep-six a lease or instantly amortize the storage systems you have--even if that shiny new iSCSI array on the showroom floor could run rings around your current system at half the cost.

Technologies might be growing in leaps and bounds, but their deployment is an often agonizingly slow process. Still, evolving slowly can be a good thing. It gives you valuable time to plan and actually hatch a strategy or two, rather than reacting tactically all the time.

So even if you have to make do with that wheezy old array while it's still awash in red ink, you should be hard on the heels of all those startups and new tech vendors. It's not too difficult to figure out which technologies will stick and which will fade away in a few years, and it's a great opportunity to focus on those that can likely bring a little sanity to your shop, be a little more cost effective or scale to meet future requirements.

Those storage technologies that survive will use their long gestation periods to mature and evolve. By getting onboard early--not necessarily buying, but by pressing vendors for more useful features and complete products--you can influence the development of those technologies.

With two years left on an equipment lease, it would be easy to put your shop on autopilot. Instead, you should take advantage of the painstaking pace of change in storage by staying on top of new vendors, leaning on them for specifics and ultimately having a real influence on how "next-generation storage" will develop.

This was first published in October 2007

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