It's that time of year when analysts return from their Turkey-day hiatus with two things on their minds: technology predictions for the upcoming year and their annual year-end bonus.
I spend most of my time in the techno-weenie world of security, so I'm exposed to the entire technology spectrum. I'm also fortunate to work with some of the smartest storage people around. In addition, since I cut my tech-industry teeth in storage (EMC, class of 1987) and write this column every month, I keep my ear to the ground. With that, let me describe some trends I anticipate for 2006.
Trend 1: The rise and maturation of intelligent storage networking
This prediction is pretty easy as we've already seen a ton of cool appliances and defined network storage application platforms in 2005. As a broad market observer, however, I can safely say, "You ain't seen nothing yet." Peek over the fence at your peers in networking and you'll see a harbinger of things to come.
In the IP space, inline devices are cracking open packets to perform all kinds of services. Equipment from companies like 3Com, Cisco, Citrix and F5 look at Layers 4 through 7 of the venerable OSI stack and then make security, content routing and application-processing decisions. This network magic is available courtesy of cheap microprocessors and network accelerators from a bevy of other vendors such as Broadcom, Cavium Networks and Hifn. Cisco storage is on top of this trend, probably because its Catalyst (IP switching) team runs into the MDS gang every once in a while in the hallways of Cisco's campus in San Jose, CA, or at some bar in Palo Alto after hours. The rest of the storage networking and application vendors aren't far behind.
On the demand side of the equation, ESG Research points out that users are embracing intelligent storage networking, as more than half of all firms with more than $1 billion in revenue rank among the early adopters of intelligent storage networking. Why? The three top reasons were as follows: to simplify management of storage resources, to reduce overall spending and to improve the ability to provision new storage resources. These pioneering users say they're happy with their intelligent storage networks and have seen results exceeding ROI expectations in some cases.
It's a classic economic case: Supply meets demand. Look for loads of "big, honking, smart multiprotocol storage switches," new appliances and gobs of network storage software in 2006.
Trend 2: iSCSI penetration grows
After an initial splash, iSCSI hasn't received the volume of press it did in the past. Ironically, this lack of visibility has had nothing to do with actual implementations, which continue to grow at a steady pace. At ESG, we're tracking literally thousands of iSCSI deployments in large and small organizations. Organizations like Alacritech, EqualLogic, LeftHand Networks, Network Appliance (NetApp), Overland Storage and Sanrad have very quietly built up nice iSCSI businesses.
The interesting thing about my prediction for iSCSI in 2006 is that it has a lot more to do with what happens elsewhere in IT rather than on what happens in storage.
Next year will be the start of an "extreme network makeover" at many large organizations. In network speak, this means loads of 10-gigabit network backbones and gigabit-to-the-desktop-type deployments. As this happens, the price per port of both of these technologies will plummet at an accelerating rate—far faster than limited-volume Fibre Channel (FC) components.
This networking transition will have two storage repercussions: First, to justify these big purchases, CIOs will push the storage guys to fill the new fat pipes with traffic (think enterprise storage VLANs). So storage professionals will have more exposure to IP next year than ever before. Second, financial considerations will get many storage folks to evaluate iSCSI gear. When they do, they're likely to be pleasantly surprised. The ESG lab guys have consistently seen lightning-fast performance from iSCSI, with no requirement for add-on (and costly) TCP offload engines.
We can also anticipate further Linux penetration and the release of Vista, the next generation of Windows. These operating systems ship with native iSCSI drivers, so they're likely to be factors that influence more iSCSI interest.
To be clear, iSCSI won't sweep FC off the floor by any means, especially in the data center. Still, iSCSI penetration will significantly increase as it comes in through IT "back doors" based on new networking and server purchases. iSCSI is "good enough" for many SAN applications, and the storage masses will realize this "big time" in 2006.
Trend 3: Storage meets security (finally!)
For the last two years, I've felt a bit like Chicken Little saying "The sky is falling," although as an analyst, I tend to come up with pithier statements like "Without security, information lifecycle management is DOA." After lots of blank stares, I'm certain that users and vendors now understand the requirements here.
On the demand side, the lost tape debacles at Bank of America, Citibank and Time Warner certainly served as an industry wake-up call. Because only 7% of storage professionals "always" encrypt their backups (an ESG research statistic), CIOs suddenly realized they were paying little attention to a significant risk. The press picked up on this security vulnerability, too, and suddenly my phone was ringing.
On the supply side, 2005 was an active year for security. NetApp sent a shot across the industry's bow by acquiring Decru. NeoScale Systems' storage security appliance sales took off, especially around encrypting backup data. Kasten Chase saw increased interest in its storage security technologies and services, while storage services expert GlassHouse introduced a storage security assessment practice. Other vendors like Hitachi Data Systems, Nexsan and Spectra Logic also jumped on the bandwagon with security-focused features, and EMC told the world that security would be incorporated into everything it does.
The momentum is certain to build next year. In the first quarter of 2006, the ANSI T11 committee will likely ratify the Fibre Channel Security Protocol (FC-SP) standard that will initiate a race to see which vendor can announce FC-SP-compliant products first. I also expect storage vendors to move beyond their myopic "storage security equals encryption" mindset and to beef up their products with things like syslog support, role-based access control (RBAC) and public-key infrastructure (PKI).
Let's not confuse opportunism with altruism, though. A storage vendor's main driver for adding storage security support is profitability and differentiation. As 2006 progresses, users will expect strong security in all storage products. As an IT manager told a senior guy I know at EMC, "We let you storage guys slide on security for a long time, but you can't slide anymore."
The bottom line
These three trends are the first half of my list; I'll expand on it further in my next column. In the meantime, users should prepare for these first few trends by spending time with their networking and security peers, scheduling adequate training for the entire storage team and setting up confidential road map meetings with their strategic storage vendors. Be ready to address regulatory compliance and data privacy issues as well.
On behalf of everyone at ESG, we hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year. Spend some time with your family, go skiing and enjoy your time off. It's likely to be a busy year for storage in 2006.