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Storage: Cost, technology and standards

Kevin Komiega

The storage industry is experiencing a renaissance. Companies like IBM and Hewlett-Packard are beefing up their storage offerings and investing millions of dollars into promoting the storage side of their business. Storage Service Providers, now a small segment of the market, are rapidly increasing in numbers and becoming viable storage alternatives for companies big and small.

With this rapid rate of growth there's bound to be problems, problems with cost, technology and standards. The SearchStorage news team talked with leading storage analysts, John Webster, Illuminata, Nashua, N.H., Doug Chandler, IDC, Framingham, Mass., and William Hurley, The Yankee Group, Boston, Mass., to talk about the major issues facing storage professionals and storage providers and whether any of it bodes well for the future of the industry.

SearchStorage: What's the number one storage issue professionals are dealing with today?

Webster:: It's a toss up between the cost of systems and the cost to manage the volume of data. Storage is getting less expensive, but the cost to manage storage is going up.

Hurley: I'll concur with that, but take it one step farther. The cost of the gigabyte is dropping. But, the cost for storage actually works out to be the same because the cost of managing the data has increased. But, add to that the frustration with the rapid maturation of the technology. IT's growing with great speed. Keeping up with the rapidly

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changing technology, rising costs and management of data are all major concerns for IT.

Chandler: When we talk to customers, they're saying that finding people who can manage all these storage requirements is really a major issue.

SearchStorage: Is the lack of skilled storage professionals seriously impacting the industry?

Hurley:It's the nature of the beast that it requires a certain skill set. The industry is experiencing a renaissance--there's a collision of needs.

Webster:If you take a look at an IT budget, you'll find that somewhere between as much as 80% is storage-related expense. That says to me that people need to manage storage. They can't expect a network administrator to know how to manage it because they have network management experience not storage experience. That's just not going to work. The need for storage as a skill set is going to continue to increase.

Chandler:I'll echo both those comments. It's key that storage is coming out of the closet. Now we need professionals who know about streaming video, for example, where they didn't a few years ago. They're getting more difficult to find. I don't know if it's going to get worse, but I know it won't be easy.

SearchStorage:Does that mean they'll be outsourcing storage services?

Webster:It's my sense that IT departments will look for ways to handle storage and storage as a utility is one way. There's all different ways to approach this. People are going to be looking to outside experts to solve storage problems. The Storage Service Provision (or Storage Service Provider (SSP)) model hasn't gained credibility yet. Users are still concerned that if they give their data to others, they won't be able to guarantee data security? Once they find it works, those stories get around and it will take off.

Hurley: Part of that outsourcing model is starting to look like the old school model. Some are calling themselves SSP by proxy. IT speaks to the complexity.

Webster:: As soon as the SSP model proves itself, you'll see many people looking into it. Soon, I think, you'll see some very high-profile customers coming to the table.

SearchStorage: Storage seems to be a pretty hot issue among some vendors like IBM, EMC, Hewlett-Packard and Seagate, but other vendors, and most users, seem to be disinterested. Are the quest for standards a ploy for market position or is the industry seriously in need of standards?

Webster:I think the fibre channel is the first interoperability standard for networking that is real, that is implementable today and it's a real step forward. There are other standards out there that will take a while to be adopted. But the big question is who's going to get us there? Right now, it's a consortium of vendors, but there's a grassroots movement of users getting involved and starting to push a user-based agenda on standards. There's been some ordering of priorities.

Hurley:But, SSP are missing from this picture. They have the talent, skills, and also have a good understanding of the maturation of the technology. Their silence regarding standards is making a large statement even though they would be the most to benefit from standards.

Webster:Their silence bespeaks a lot. The SSP space is a big user of networked storage. They implement and use this stuff. They know what works and what doesn't.

Hurley:They don't want to get into a shouting match with the Brocades of the world.

Chandler:They have to.

Hurley: There's a big open door for standards to be adopted by these folks.

SearchStorage:Why aren't they getting involved?

Webster:Most are just out of the gate. It may be early in the game. I've argued that these people would be the models for the storage industry because of the models they must support to stay in business--because of the volumes of data and scalability requirements. They will be the ones to set best practices. Because of that, I think they need to be more involved in the process than they are.

SearchStorage:Should users, SSP be concerned about EMC, Seagate?

Webster:Absolutely!

Chandler:Getting those standards may not be what their goal is at this point. Maybe they're more concerned about emerging technology.

SearchStorage:Where is the standards battle going to be fought?

Chandler: It's my experience that these standards are going to involve politics, it's rarely a case of committee. It does tend to revolve around factions, clout. Because the SSPs haven't jumped in on the standards � they've remained technology agnostic, they don't' want to be tied to a channel for Compaq, IBM, EMC. That's part of the reason they won't commit to one faction.

Webster: I think to the extent that interoperability issues drag on--the storage provision people look more and more attractive. If you're a user trying to resource these products you want a business that can say "Hey don't worry about it"�all you have to worry about is data integrity and performance. The longer these issues drag on, the more attractive these storage provision vendors will be.

SearchStorage:Who will emerge the winner?

Webster:I can't really say. The users will have to decide. But, I do think that the battle will be fought between the companies that sell infrastructures vs. storage provision folks that are selling complete solutions. In the next year or so, there will be that clear alternative. Do we go to the Storage Service Provision vendors? I think there's going to be that clear decision to make.

Chandler:How nimble can the storage provider be? That'll be the key to winning this movement.

Comments about this story> E-mail Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor

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