What storage managers are buying and why

Our second installment of the 2006 edition of Storage magazine's exclusive Purchasing Intentions Survey reveals key storage technology purchasing decisions by storage managers across all industries.

The second installment of the 2006 edition of Storage magazine's exclusive Purchasing Intentions Survey reveals...

key storage technology purchasing decisions by storage managers across all industries.

Like the proverbial certainties of death and taxes, storage managers can count on two factors affecting their budgeting bottom line: data growth and the need to protect that data. Those two themes weave in and out of the results of the second installment of Storage magazine's 2006 Purchasing Intentions Survey.

Our purchasing survey is administered twice a year: in the spring when budgets are fresh and optimism prevails, and in the late summer when hard reality forces some adjustments to planned projects and associated spending. Historically, our second survey has served to confirm technology planning and to point out where adjustments have been required (see "About the survey").

Overall, storage spending is up, with an average budget increase of approximately 5.2% indicated by respondents. That figure is marginally higher than the 5% anticipated increase reported in the spring, which may mean that some additional funds were allocated to handle underestimated growth or unexpected expenses (see "Storage growth drives buying plans," Storage, June 2006). Fifty-four percent said their budgets increased, with 29% citing a rise of more than 10%; less than 12% said their budgets decreased.

Based on the 477 respondents who provided budget information, the average storage budget for 2006 is $3.6 million--a figure that, not surprisingly, has risen steadily. One year ago, the average storage budget was $3.3 million. While $3.6 million is a fairly substantial budget, it should be pointed out that 48% of the companies surveyed reported storage budgets of less than $1 million.

As in the past, disk storage takes the biggest bite out of storage budgets, accounting for 44% of the pie--a number that has remained essentially unchanged for two years. The rest of the average budget is consumed on a roughly equal basis by staff, storage software, switches/networking hardware, removable media and services (see "Where your budget dollars go," at right).

Dollars for disks
As past surveys have shown, the need for more disk capacity is the leading reason why storage managers make new storage technology purchases. Last spring, respondents planned to add an average of 37TB of storage capacity; in the most recent survey, that number edged up to 40TB--33% higher than one year ago. That's not a total of 40TB of installed storage, it's 40 new terabytes of capacity: additional disks in existing arrays and entirely new disk subsystems (see "Planned disk storage purchases [2006]," at right). Given the level of growth, it's not surprising survey respondents indicated that 59% of their disk expenditures in 2006 will be for new SAN arrays (see "Primary disk storage expenditures [2006]," below).

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange's (CME) storage budget rose approximately 10% this year, with much of that increase earmarked for new storage systems. But increasing capacity isn't the firm's only issue. "It's less about capacity," says Joel Kulesa, storage architect at the CME, "but more about transaction rates and number of physical volumes, which have been increasingly fast."

Adding disk to achieve better performance doesn't necessarily mean upping the number of spindles in existing arrays. "We get better transaction rates by adding more storage frames and fewer single points of failure," says Kulesa. He also sees some economy in adding entire frames, rather than increasing the number of disks in the firm's existing tier-one EMC Corp. and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) Corp. arrays. "Adding drives costs almost as much as adding another storage frame," he notes.

Kulesa says the CME has looked into alternatives to high-end arrays, but the prospects haven't been compelling as yet. "We've been a little hesitant to jump on those platforms for our high-availability projects," he says. "Their costs aren't dramatically low enough to make it worthwhile to try."

For some companies, disk represents a major portion of their storage budget because they've undertaken major storage restructuring projects. Stewart Taylor, manager of information technology at Creative Benefits, a Vista, CA-based benefits outsourcing firm, reports that his storage budget rose approximately 10%, with the increase almost entirely earmarked for revamping the storage infrastructure. Taylor replaced a mostly DAS environment with a Compellent Technologies Storage Center array. "This was a major deal," he says, and not necessarily representative of typical budgeting at the company. He says dramatic price decreases for storage arrays made the transition feasible. "When I first got onboard, they told me to look into it [a SAN] and it was over $300,000," says Taylor. "Now we're down to $70,000."

Creative Benefits also evaluated other vendors' arrays, with Compellent and Network Appliance (NetApp) Inc. emerging as its two finalists. In the end, functionality and price were the decisive factors. "The NetApp had a lot of whistles and stuff," says Taylor, "but, boy, each one of them costs."

The storage budget for the City of North Vancouver, British Columbia, also increased. While much of this year's budget growth was to accommodate salary increases, a portion of the budget was designated for a DAS-to-networked storage migration, among other projects. "We're pretty much redoing our operational infrastructure," says Craig Hunter, manager of IT for the city. The keystone of North Vancouver's upgrade project was the addition of a NetApp array with 3TB of capacity. Hunter is well along with preparations for his 2007 budget, which he expects to be similar to this year's. "At this point, it's probably in that range for next year," says Hunter, who hopes to add another array. "Longer term--six months, I guess--we'll have a DR [disaster recovery] SAN at our business-continuity site."

The storage purchases made by Kulesa, Taylor and Hunter reflect the disk subsystem purchasing patterns of the aggregate survey responses. Larger companies overwhelmingly opt for high-end disk systems, such as the EMC Symmetrix and HDS TagmaStore USP that Kulesa says are staples of his shop. Predictably, midsized businesses are more likely to purchase midrange systems, such as the Compellent and NetApp boxes acquired by Taylor and Hunter.

EMC still the most favored
Among our survey respondents, EMC is still the major supplier of disk subsystems, with 46% saying they've already purchased--or plan to purchase--an EMC array (see "Who you bought your disk systems from," at right). Consistent with past surveys, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. ran second, with 33% saying they added HP storage to their shops. IBM Corp. (with 29%) surged past Dell Inc., coming from five percentage points behind in last spring's survey to six points ahead in our most recent survey. That was the most dramatic change among disk vendors, and may suggest that IBM's alliance with NetApp to fill holes in its low-end and midrange product lines may be bearing some fruit.

Once again, features and functionality were cited by 32% of respondents as key factors in making a disk subsystem purchase--criteria that have been consistently cited as most important across all product categories in this and past surveys. Having a foot in the door also gives a vendor an edge, with 21% saying that having other technology installed by a vendor will likely influence new purchasing decisions. Company size is also a factor, with larger companies more focused on support issues and small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) being more price sensitive.

Is iSCSI turning a corner?
While the overall buying plan for iSCSI technology was unchanged in last spring's tallies, there was a striking change in how companies plan to use iSCSI- based systems (see "Planned iSCSI deployments," at right). In both the earlier survey and the most recent one, 31% of companies indicated plans to implement iSCSI. Last spring's number represents a significant jump in interest in iSCSI, and the current number suggests companies are carrying through on their buying plans.

Because iSCSI is easier to install and less expensive than Fibre Channel it remains more popular among SMBs, with 35% of midsized companies and 34% of smaller firms saying they're implementing iSCSI systems. Only 24% of large organizations say they're on the iSCSI bandwagon.

However, the strongest indicator that iSCSI storage may be approaching some level of maturity is the types of applications it now hosts. While iSCSI is still used primarily for end-user storage and backup, more companies are starting to use it for their mission-critical applications and e-mail. Forty-two percent say they'll deploy mission-critical apps on iSCSI vs. 30% only six months ago (see "iSCSI SAN applications," at right). Similarly, e-mail is gaining favor as an iSCSI app, with 37% indicating they'll deploy their e-mail on iSCSI storage--a nine percentage point jump from last spring.

Creative Benefits' Taylor didn't opt for an all-iSCSI array in his move from DAS, but he did the next best thing. "We went with a mix and got iSCSI and Fibre Channel," says Taylor, describing the dual-protocol capabilities of his Compellent system, although he may not be quite confident enough of iSCSI performance to put the company's key apps on it. "Our main production stuff is on the Fibre Channel," says Taylor, "and anything that's back end is running on iSCSI."

Net effects
Storage networking infrastructure trends remain generally stable. The average number of installed SANs at responding companies is 3.4, with all company size segments reporting a slow, but inexorable rise. A year and a half ago, a significant drop in the number of installed SANs (2.4) was reported across all company sizes. That dip may be attributed to consolidation efforts; if so, the subsequent climb in the number of SANs suggests that storage growth has caused a shift in gears from consolidation to accommodation.

Network architectures built around director-class and other high-port switches are also becoming more prevalent. Twenty-nine percent of responding companies say they'll acquire switches with more than 128 ports this year. Nearly 47% of large companies report having director-class switches at the core of their storage networks. The CME has a dual core-edge fabric in place, but it's built around fairly hefty directors and switches. "We have core chassis-type machines functioning as an edge to provide a little higher availability and make scaling a little faster," says the firm's Kulesa.

Among switch vendors, Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. continue to duke it out for the top spot. The two companies are in a statistical dead heat, with 43% of respondents saying they bought or plan to buy switches from each company this year (see "Switch purchases in 2006," at right). When asked to name a prime switch vendor for 2006--a question that reflects mindshare more than market share--Brocade and Cisco are deadlocked again with 33% each. But Cisco might have the upper hand; when asked to name their primary vendor for 2007, Cisco outscored Brocade 39% to 32%, representing the first time Cisco has led in this respondent ranking. Of course, Brocade's recent acquisition of McData Corp. is likely to have a significant effect on user preferences and ultimate buying patterns, which weren't recorded in our latest, late-summer survey.

Casting the net wide
Spending on building out WANs increased by five percentage points vs. last spring as storage managers fortify their DR readiness with long-distance replication. Once again, DR is the most cited factor for increased WAN spending, as indicated by 67% of responding companies vs. 60% a year ago. (See "Key reasons for wide-area storage network purchases," at right)

Another key component of a business-continuity plan is ensuring that there's ample bandwidth between geographically distant data centers. Forty percent of survey respondents noted that connecting data centers was at least part of the motivation for WAN investments. To ensure adequate connectivity, 45% say they'll buy more or faster long-distance communications lines.

A fair amount of interest was reported for relatively new wide-area technologies such as wide-area file systems and WAN acceleration, with 22% and 19% of respondents, respectively, planning 2006 purchases.

Disk and tape together
The number of large companies that indicated they'll increase disk-based backup spending jumped from 58% to 65% since last spring. But at the same time, plans for tape-related purchases increased by 10 percentage points. In fact, across all company sizes, plans for tape purchases--or actual purchases--increased.

With tape spending bouncing back up (as reflected in our most recent survey results), a pattern spanning the last two years is beginning to emerge. In the spring edition of the survey, respondents tended to express their intention to lower their expected tape expenditures, while responses to the fall survey edition reverse that trend. This is likely caused by a combination of two factors: overly optimistic expectations that disk in the backup process will eliminate tape and the sooner-than-anticipated wearing down of aging tape libraries.

"The old library was giving us fits and starts," says Creative Benefits' Taylor, "and I saved some big bucks on a fax server deal." He applied the money he saved toward a new Spectra Logic Corp. Spectra T50 tape library. While the T50 tape library solved his tape problem, Taylor doesn't view the new library as a final solution. "Our plan is to move to disk-based backup next year," he says.

New data protection technologies, like continuous data protection (CDP) and single-instance storage, are beginning to gain some traction among storage managers. For CDP, 22% of respondents say they already have or will implement it, while 45% will evaluate the technology. That latter number is down from the 50% reported in the spring, and may reflect the caution with which storage professionals approach data protection technologies that are significantly different from what they have in place.

There may be other issues besides revamping data protection schemes. The CME's Kulesa has an interest in CDP, but "so far we haven't seen any solution that can remotely keep up with our transaction rate."

Planning for next year
For many storage managers, planning for the next year's budget starts right about the time the current budget is approved. It's an arduous process that requires company-wide vision and the ability to anticipate the unexpected. But the process of deciding how much you'll spend and what you'll spend it on typically also involves finding places to trim current costs.

"So far, we've been relatively immune to cutting costs," says Hunter with the City of North Vancouver, but even stable budgets can look a bit shaky when costs are rising. "We're also looking at ways of maintaining my headcount."

For others, reining in costs is a matter of revisiting current practices. "We've been finding ways to centralize licensing," says Kulesa, referring to the CME's current licensing arrangement for Symantec Corp.'s backup app. He thinks they might be able to trim costs a bit through consolidation and by reducing the number of licenses required.

"We had to cut costs," says Taylor, as he explains how his company accommodated the purchase of its new array. They cut back a little by delaying some work on a few app projects and security enhancements. "I know that's going against the grain," says Taylor, "but if you don't have any data to secure, what does it matter?"

About the survey:
Storage's Purchasing Intentions Survey is administered twice a year. This is the fourth year we've asked storage managers to respond to the survey. Survey responses for this edition of the Purchasing Intentions Survey were gathered in August 2006, with a total of 564 responses overall, representing a broad cross-section of industry sectors. The number of responses for particular questions varies because respondents were asked to only answer questions in the product categories for which they have purchasing authority.

This was first published in October 2006

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