Storage managers in control

For the first time in five years, the amount of capacity storage managers plan to add this year dropped, according to the results of Storage magazine's latest Purchasing Intentions Survey. To be sure, the decrease was more of a sign that relief may be on the way for storage managers who have spent the last few years trying to keep up with runaway storage growth.

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There may be a slight respite for storage managers who have spent the last few years trying to keep up with runaway storage growth, according to the results of Storage magazine's spring 2007 Purchasing Intentions Survey (see "About the survey"). But make no mistake--while it looks like the breakneck pace may be slowing down a bit, increasing capacity is still high on nearly every storage shop's to-do list.


For the first time in the five years we've been conducting our survey (which gauges what storage technology purchases storage managers are likely to make in the coming year), the average amount of storage our 680 respondents say they'll buy dropped from the previous year's level. The expected additional capacity is still considerable--an average of 37TB--but approximately 8% lower than last fall's average and roughly equal to the spring 2006 estimate (see graph 1, "Storage growth may moderate in 2007," above).

But not all storage shops plan to cut back on new disk purchases. Ken Boyer, SAN infrastructure specialist at Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia, expects to increase installed capacity this year. "We just went through a major storage migration project that just completed this year," says Boyer. "Our next goal is to start doing some tiering." Boyer expects the tiering project to account for most of the company's purchases of 50TB or more of additional storage.

A few less dollars to spend
Overall storage budgets will dip a bit from last year's level; at an average of $3.3 million, 2007's budget number represents a drop of approximately 8% from the $3.6 million reported last fall. Not coincidentally, that 8% decline almost matches the drop in planned new capacity (see graph 2, "Average storage budget for 2007 is $3.3 million," above).

Survey respondents report that even with a lower average budget, the new budget figure still represents an increase of 3.7% over the previous budget. It's a relatively modest increase, especially considering that the average increase last fall was 5.2%.

Other purchasing details also reflect the dip in budgets. For example, the types of disk purchases shifted dramatically, with 35% of respondents indicating that their primary disk spending this year would be for additional drives to use in existing storage systems--more than three times the number reported in last year's surveys. That increase corresponds with a similarly striking drop in primary disk spending earmarked for Fibre Channel (FC) arrays, a 30-point tumble to 29% from last fall's 59%.

$2.1 billion
Average annual revenue for companies represented in survey

"We just added 50[TB] in the USP," says Kim Visher, senior storage administrator at The Timken Co., Canton, OH. But in addition to beefing up the capacity of an existing system, Visher says the company is "looking for another 20[TB] at our DR site in the form of an AMS Tier-2-type box from Hitachi." Most of the new capacity is related to an SAP migration project but, "a lot of it is still plain old growth," says Visher.

While some good old-fashioned belt tightening might explain those lower numbers, there's more behind the shifts in spending priorities. Companies have been fighting an uphill battle to cope with capacity. This year, it looks like storage managers are filling out the capacities of arrays bought within the last couple of years.

Boyer at Independence Blue Cross says the company's storage budget will be lower than last year's. "That was done purposely by the way we did our purchases the previous year," he says. For this year, Boyer expects the company to cut its disk spending by approximately half, mainly for Tier-2. "We're probably not going to have to buy any Tier-1 at all this year," he says.

3.7%
Average increase in storage budgets

Disk vendor preferences hold steady
Array purchases planned for this year break down in much the same way as they have over the last year and a half or so. Midrange arrays will garner approximately 43% of disk system budgets, followed by low-end systems (32%) and high-end arrays (22%). Over time, there's been a subtle shift--two or three points a year--that indicates low-end and midrange arrays are encroaching on high-end systems.

Vendors vie for mindshare

EMC Corp. held onto its top spot as the vendor considered the primary supplier of disk systems by the companies surveyed, garnering a nod from 25% of respondents. Despite losing a few points since last fall, EMC still maintains a double-digit lead over the second most-preferred system vendor, Hewlett-Packard Co. (see "Vendors vie for mindshare," above).

Some respondent companies are reluctant to designate a "prime" disk vendor. "We don't like to get nailed into one vendor," says Tracy Kirsteins, SAN administrator at Temple University Health System in Philadelphia. "With one vendor, we have no choices; but I don't think we'll go with more than two."

$3.3 million
Average storage budget

For anticipated file storage purchases, DAS is still the favored option among respondents, with 35% opting to beef up file-server storage. That represents a six-point jump from last fall, which might suggest a move away from networked file storage; however, 19% chose NAS filers for file storage, a slightly higher percentage than in the previous survey. The file storage options that attracted less attention this time around include file virtualization, NAS gateways and clustered file systems, all of which either dropped or held steady with relatively low numbers.

Virtualization--seemingly always on the verge of wider acceptance--doesn't appear to fit prominently in more storage department plans than last year. "That's something that we're looking at," says Visher at The Timken Co. But there's concern about virtualization's ROI.

Perhaps the most interesting revelation in disk system purchase intentions is the "why" factor. Over the last five years, when asked "What's the key factor in selecting a primary storage vendor?," the leading response has always been functions and features. That criterion topped the list again in the spring survey, but its lead dwindled to a mere four points over technical support and service. This suggests that storage managers may be finding that feature sets are basically equivalent from vendor to vendor, allowing service and support to become differentiating factors.

37TB
Average capacity to be added in 2007

Not quite the "Year of iSCSI"
There has been a lot of talk about iSCSI storage recently, which has clearly been gaining acceptance; but as with many newer technologies, the hype around iSCSI might be outstripping the reality. Our survey results are likely to have a dual effect on iSCSI vendors--both encouraging and discouraging--but they demonstrate that storage managers are sticking to a cautious approach to iSCSI implementation.

We found that approximately 70% of respondents don't have any iSCSI deployment plans for 2007. That's essentially the same level of enthusiasm--or lack thereof--we found in last year's surveys. Although iSCSI is often thought of as a low-cost alternative to FC storage for smaller companies, when we sliced up the same data based on company size, we found that deployment plans actually grew the most for large companies (up six points). For small companies, the percentage of those planning to install iSCSI storage went up slightly; midsized companies--often considered the "sweet spot" for iSCSI--appear to be less inclined to implement IP storage, with a seven-point decline from our last survey.

For The Timken Co., iSCSI isn't likely to appear in the data center soon. "Once you've gone Fibre, there's no reason to head down that path," says the firm's Visher. But one of the company's remote sites recently installed an EqualLogic Inc. system and Visher says "they've been really happy with it."

55.2%
Respondents who haven't implemented storage security

The most encouraging news about iSCSI is that firms are using it to host some of their most important apps. Last fall, there was a 56% jump in the percentage of respondents who said they'd park their mission-critical apps on iSCSI and the current survey proves that wasn't an anomaly, with 31% still confident iSCSI can serve key apps adequately. Backup (57%) and email (39%) are gaining favor as apps that will be hosted by iSCSI storage, picking up 12 and 11 points, respectively, compared to last fall's rankings.

The ability to use existing network infrastructure is generally considered a plus for iSCSI, but it can also be a cause for concern for storage specialists. "We don't control the network; the network's controlled by the university," says Kirsteins at Temple University Health System. "It does go down twice a month for maintenance, and we just can't afford those windows."

Price matters to iSCSI implementers, with 28% saying its lower cost vs. FC storage was their primary reason for deploying it. But almost as many respondents (22%) say iSCSI's performance is adequate for their applications, and consider that the key to its deployment. As other industry studies have suggested, it seems iSCSI is slipping out from the shadow of being a cheap storage alternative for those who can't afford the "real thing."

14.8
Average number of currently installed switches

Disk-to-disk keeps pressure on tape
As disk-based systems continue their incursion into backup environments, many industry pros are quick to point out that tape's role, although changed, won't be significantly reduced. Past surveys have supported that thesis, showing that tape spending held its own while disk backup systems steadily grew in popularity. The current survey, however, suggests that a more definitive shift from tape may be taking place.

Twenty-four percent of respondents indicate they plan to decrease their spending for tape systems in 2007, a fairly hefty increase over the 18% reported last fall (see graph 5, "Tape feeling brunt of disk-based backup as companies cut back on spending," at right). Perhaps even more telling is that only 33% say they'll increase tape spending vs. 47% in our previous survey. The jury is still out on tape's demise or at least its diminished role until further surveys can establish this spending pattern as a trend.

But there's further evidence that the love affair with tape may be waning. For those respondents who plan to purchase tape libraries in 2007, the average number of slots indicated is 130 vs. the 159 reported a year ago, a drop of approximately 18%. Higher capacity media certainly contributes to the lower slot count, but less reliance on tape is another apparent factor.

Although Independence Blue Cross added one tape library last year and one this year, it's building out its virtual tape environment. "I don't think we're going to be adding any more tape," says the firm's Boyer. "If anything, we'll probably add more space in the virtual tape space as we deploy that out to more and more apps."

Increasing interest in two key disk-based backup technologies--data deduplication and continuous data protection (CDP)--are also bolstering the shift away from tape. A little fewer than 10% of respondents say they're using CDP, while almost 8% have deployed some form of data deduplication. Modest numbers, perhaps, but they double the percentages reported in the previous survey. And plans for 2007 deployment of these technologies register even higher: 16% for CDP and 12% for data deduplication.

Storage managers may have cast a wary eye toward CDP and data deduplication in the past, but appear to be warming up to--if not embracing--them now. Twenty-nine percent of respondents say they plan to increase spending for CDP, while 31% say the same for data deduplication. Perhaps storage managers, getting a bit of a breather from dealing with rampant growth, now have time to implement newer technologies to enhance their management of installed storage.

"I would love to get rid of tape," says Kirsteins at Temple University Health System, "but hospitals and healthcare in general are hoarders; they hoard all their data." Kirsteins' group is planning to add another tape library to handle the retention of voluminous healthcare data. "We have to keep it long term and we'll probably never use it; to back up that data and keep it offsite on disk is crazy," says Kirsteins.

Slimmer switch vendor field
As expected, Brocade Communications Systems Inc.'s acquisition of rival switch maker McData Corp. gave Brocade the boost it needed to regain the top spot from Cisco Systems Inc. Cisco had closed the gap between the two companies over the past couple of years, but this time Brocade slipped past Cisco with 44% of respondents citing it as their primary switch vendor vs. 40% for Cisco. What's surprising is that Cisco seems to have benefited from the acquisition as well, perhaps because users with both Cisco and McData switches have decided to standardize on Cisco for future purchases.

Boyer isn't concerned about the merger. "We've gone through the Brocade user meetings and heard everything they had to say when the merger went through," he says, "and I don't think it's really going to affect us."

Seasonal shifts
Because Storage conducts its purchasing survey twice a year, we're able to see short-term shifts in buying patterns as well as longer term trends. We'll see if the second 2007 purchasing survey confirms this spring's changes. For now, it looks like spiraling storage capacities might be easing a bit, giving storage managers a chance to evaluate some newer management tools, although continued caution is likely. "We're a manufacturing company so we're not going to get all bleeding-edge anything," says Visher at The Timken Co. "We try to wait for things to settle down a little bit." And Visher is also girding for another round of capacity increases. "Maybe it won't be 100[TB], but I'm sure it will be another 50[TB] at least."


ABOUT THE SURVEY: Storage magazine's Storage Purchasing Intentions Survey is conducted twice a year (in the spring and in the fall). Storage subscribers are contacted by email and invited to participate in the survey. For this edition, we had a total of 680 respondents. Respondents are asked if they have purchasing authority in four areas: disk subsystems (643 respondents), storage networking (506), backup and disaster recovery (471), and storage management (407). Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey.

This was first published in May 2007

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