Storage managers can reach for their wallets again

The outlook for data storage managers in 2010 is a little brighter according to our Storage Purchasing Intentions survey. Find out what technologies respondents are looking at.

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The purchasing picture for storage managers is a good news/bad news story: budgets are no longer in the negative column, but they're not rising much either.

Storage managers may be able to loosen their belts a notch in 2010, but the era of storage budget belt-tightening is hardly over. Storage budgets, as reported by the 697 respondents to the Storage magazine/SearchStorage.com bi-annual Storage Purchasing Intentions survey, didn't budge into positive territory, but avoided the negative to stay flat compared with 2009. Given the recent context, that's vaguely encouraging news as we saw year-over-year budgets go negative last year on both the spring (-1.9%) and fall (-0.4%) editions of the survey.

Smaller companies appear to be bearing the brunt of the still uneasy economy more than their big brethren. At companies with revenue less than $100 million, budgets are down 0.8% compared with last year. For medium-sized and large companies, the picture is considerably brighter; storage budgets should rise 1.3% at medium-sized firms and 1.9% at companies with revenue in excess of $1 billion.

With regard to sheer dollar amounts, the average storage budget clocked in at $2.8 million, just a hair shy of the $2.9 million recorded on both of our 2009 surveys. And as in previous years, that relatively high average was skewed by some pretty hefty budgets at the top end; of all reporting companies, 57% of respondents noted that their storage budgets were less than $1 million for 2010.

Whether reduced or slightly increased, storage budgets will be allocated much as they have been in previous years, with the biggest chunk -- 39% -- earmarked for disk hardware.

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 storage product categories. This edition had 697 qualified respondents across a broad spectrum of industries, with the average company size measured as having revenue of $1.4 billion.

No recession for disk capacity

Seeing budgets remain at the level of an extraordinarily recessionary year or rising a point or so may be small solace to storage managers who once again are faced with the need to add more disk capacity. On average, companies expect to add 40 TB of new disk capacity, up from 34 TB last fall. Over the past couple of years we've seen the estimates for additional disk capacity drop a bit in the fall, so the actual average additions may be lower by year's end.

New disk capacity will be added to an already installed average of 61 TB, so if the anticipated growth follows through, that growth rate would be approaching 66%. Not surprisingly, larger companies plan to add more capacity (84 TB) than smaller outfits, but with 35 TB and 25 TB, respectively, medium-sized and small companies are gearing up for some hefty upgrades, too.

Continuing a trend that emerged over the last three years, more than a third of the money data storage managers plan to spend on disk hardware will go to buying disks to beef up the capacity of existing arrays rather than purchasing entirely new frames. This suggests that those managers anticipated the kind of capacity growth we've seen and "bought big" a few years back and are still topping off those larger systems.

Click here to get a PDF of the By the Numbers information on storage budgets, additional disk capacity and solid-state implementations.

Storage virtualization to the rescue

The need for more and more disk capacity is nothing new, but it looks like storage managers are taking (or considering) some newer approaches to cope with burgeoning data stores. In this survey, for example, we see a renewed interest in storage virtualization, an effective method of squeezing efficiency out of installed arrays. Although it's hard to call storage virtualization "new," companies have been fairly cautious over the years in adopting it.

Thirty-five percent of this survey's respondents have virtualized some or all their storage, a jump of 4 points compared with last fall and a sizable spread of 8 points over last spring. The number of companies evaluating storage virtualization technology is up as well, at 24% vs. 21% in the spring of 2009. Perhaps even more telling, only 41% said they haven't virtualized any storage compared with 53% a year ago.

And those who have taken the storage virtualization plunge are doing more of it. Last spring (2009), 53% said they had virtualized some of their block storage; this year, 69% have done so. The file storage virtualization results are nearly as dramatic: 71% have virtualized some of their file systems vs. the 58% reported one year ago. It should be pointed out, however, that the number of companies that have virtualized all of their block (20%) or file (14%) storage hasn't truly increased much over the past year.

Plans to add storage virtualization technologies are also up. Last fall, 30% of those surveyed indicated they would purchase virtualization hardware or software; this year, 42% are in the market for storage virtualization gear. Among the many virtualization alternatives, most interest is focused on virtualization appliances (16% plan to purchase) and virtualization software that runs in an array (also 16%).

With "NAS sprawl" now a familiar phrase in our storage lexicon, interest in file virtualization seems to be gaining; 36% will give it a look and some consideration this year.

Seeking storage efficiency

Of course, storage virtualization isn't the only route to more efficient use of installed and new storage capacity. Getting a bigger bang for the buck, especially for sub-tier-1 storage, is another tack especially when storage density is a greater requisite than performance. iSCSI systems neatly fill that bill and often still boast enough performance to host a company's key applications.

Forty percent of respondents currently use iSCSI storage, and 41% (there is some overlap) already have or plan to deploy iSCSI storage in their shops. Price is obviously one of the most attractive features of iSCSI storage, but for 47% of the companies represented in the survey, these systems can still burn enough rubber to serve up data for their mission-critical applications.

Cheaper storage is all well and good, but it still has to be used efficiently to minimize capacity waste. In the past year, primary storage data reduction has become, arguably, the hottest topic in storage. Users have been impressed with the results they've seen with data deduplication in their backup operations and its relatively easy implementation, and they're eager to see similar results for their online or nearline storage.

Given that primary storage data reduction is still a relatively new concept and the field of players offering products is still rather small, a surprising 30% of respondents have either implemented it or plan to this year. Add to that the 33% who are currently evaluating primary storage data reduction technologies and products, and it's clear that more storage vendors will take note and roll out new products over the coming months. An interesting parallel can be drawn to thin provisioning, which was met with some resistance by storage system vendors who feared they might cannibalize their own disk sales. Ultimately, user demand won out and thin provisioning is now a checklist item on most system vendors' spec sheets.

Saving on operational costs is also an imperative in these days of pared-down budgets. Power conservation in storage systems has, traditionally, been met with mostly yawns from storage managers, who rated it little better than "nice to have" rather than "need it." Saving a few bucks on electricity is still hardly a top priority, but 5% note that conservation is their most important criteria when considering an array purchase decision -- a modest number but the highest we've seen to date.

Click here to get a PDF of the By the Numbers information on cloud services for backup and virtualized storage.

The state of solid state

Solid-state storage has captured the imagination of most storage managers, and a hefty chunk of the storage budgets for those shops that have implemented this diskless storage medium. There's an awful lot to like about solid state -- it's lightning fast, runs cool and sips juice -- but it's still significantly more expensive than traditional hard disk drives.

In the fall of 2009, when we first asked about solid state use, we found that just under 8% of respondents were using solid-state storage in some form. In our most recent survey, that slice has increased to more than 10%, with another 6% planning to deploy it this year. Thirty-five percent expressed plans to evaluate solid-state storage in 2010.

Among shops currently running solid-state storage, the average installation was 6.9 TB, which is a substantial amount of solid state. Despite the high average, typical installations appear to be smaller, with 38% of those surveyed reporting less than 1 TB currently installed.

While still substantially higher than hard disks prices, the cost of solid state is dropping sharply and users seem to be increasing their purchases. For users who indicated that they would be purchasing (or have already purchased) solid-state storage in 2010, the average amount they said they'll buy is 6.1 TB. If you factor in those respondents who said they weren't in the market for any solid-state storage this year, that average drops to 2.8 TB, which is still a hefty chunk of solid state.

The most popular place to put solid-state storage is in traditional storage arrays, hardly surprising, as just about every array vendor out there now offers a solid-state drive (SSD) option. Sixty-nine percent of solid-state users have implemented the technology in their arrays; 33% are using it as direct-attached storage (DAS) in servers.

Though solid-state storage has obvious appeal, its price still bars entry for many companies (61% said it's too expensive). For 43% of survey respondents, there's no need for solid state as they're quite satisfied with the performance of their hard disk systems.

Cloud storage isn't just an illusion

In a close race with solid state for buzzword of the year, cloud storage is taking shape as a viable alternative to building out in-house storage environments. The current survey marked the first time we asked questions specifically about using cloud storage services for things other than backup, and we were surprised at the results, especially considering all of the concerns we've been hearing from storage managers about putting their companies' data out there in the cloud.

Fourteen percent of respondents report using cloud storage now, with the most activity occurring around cloud storage for disaster recovery (6%). But 4% are using it to hold primary data from their data centers, and an equal number are using it for nearline data storage.

While those statistics aren't staggering at this point, plans for cloud storage services in 2010 tell a different story -- one that's bound to warm the hearts of service providers.

We asked respondents which types of data they will start using cloud storage services to store in 2010, and perhaps the most significant finding is that only 43% rule out using these services this year. Among the others, 17% will use it for disaster recovery and an eye-opening 9% will look to the cloud to store primary data. Six percent will use it for remote office data, and another 5% expect to tuck some nearline data into the cloud.

Backup technologies still top of mind

Once again, survey respondents plan to reduce their dependence on tape as a backup medium. Thirty-one percent plan to decrease their use of tape for backup in 2010, which is the highest number we've seen in years (it was 29% in the spring of 2009). Over the years, however, we've seen higher decrease-tape-usage numbers in the spring surveys tempered by more moderate, and probably realistic, numbers in the fall editions of the surveys.

That said, it's the bigger and smaller companies where we see the largest segments planning a reduced role for tape. Among large companies, 36% will decrease tape use in 2010, the highest we've seen to date. For small companies, the figure is 34%, a 6-point jump from last fall and also the highest recorded in years.

Still, some respondents (26%) report that they'll actually increase their use of tape. But among those who plan to buy new tape libraries, the size of the libraries they've already purchased or are likely to purchase continues to shrink. Overall, the average number of slots in planned new library purchases dropped to 97, compared to 101 last year and 130 in the spring of 2008. (Higher tape drive densities also play a big part in reducing the number of slots required in a library.)

The move away from tape has been a long, drawn-out process and, if the technology is truly dying, it has taken a page out of Generalissimo Francisco Franco's book in delaying its demise. We expect the slow downward spiral will level out soon, as tape still plays an important role in many companies of all sizes: 79% still spin off some or all of their backup data to tape.

But the biggest backup story continues to be data deduplication. Forty percent of respondents hope to increase their spending on dedupe technologies in 2010. That supports the 23% who are currently using dedupe in their backup operations and the 32% who plan to add it this year.

Generally, it looks like data deduplication for backup is maturing. It's not necessarily showing the impressive jumps in implementations and spending plans as it did a couple of years ago, but rather rising steadily with fairly consistent budget allocations.

While the cloud is just getting its grip on primary data storage, it's becoming well entrenched for backup and quickly gaining the confidence and budget dollars of our respondents. Last year, between 19% and 21% were using cloud backup services for one or more applications or storage types. In the latest survey, that number jumped to 34%, a notable increase that could signal the acceptance of cloud backup among companies of all sizes. Thirty-eight percent of small businesses are using at least one of these services and 35% of big businesses are using them -- a sign that a fair number of enterprises now have faith in cloud storage.

Using cloud backup services for email and database application data ranked at the top, with both used by 18% of respondents; backing up user files or desktop/notebook files are each used by 14% of those surveyed, while 13% use these services to back up remote sites or branch offices.

Looking ahead

Each year our survey wraps up with a question that asks about intentions related to new or newer storage technologies that may not yet have market penetration. On this "What's hot/What's not" list, data deduplication holds the top spot, as it has for the last four surveys, with 76% of respondents already implementing it, planning to or actively evaluating the technology. Encryption was ranked second (65%) and has been near the top of storage managers' priority lists for some time; however, this year it looks like some of those past plans for data encryption have carried through, as 60% are using encryption somewhere in the storage infrastructure vs. 43% a couple of years ago.

As noted earlier, there's renewed interest in file virtualization; 64% have implemented it, will implement it or expect to evaluate it this year. Primary storage data reduction garnered significant interest as well, racking up 63% in its inaugural year on the list.

As storage managers set their sights on 2010 and beyond, it's clear that using their shop's storage more efficiently will be Job No. 1 for some time to come.

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

This was first published in May 2010

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