SANs frustrate, iSCSI motivates in latest IDC survey

Could 600 IT managers be wrong about their view of enterprise storage, storage area networks, iSCSI, Linux and virtualization? IDC research analyst Robert Gray thinks they're right on.

SAN JOSE -- The world of today's enterprise storage manager has more harrowing turns, missteps and frustrations in it than an action movie summer blockbuster. Yet, despite the challenges most managers face, many are decidedly "gung ho" about such cutting-edge or newer technologies such as iSCSI and Linux.

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These were some of the sobering findings of a recent IDC survey of 600 IT managers, according to Robert Gray, research director of worldwide storage systems at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. Gray shared his findings during his keynote address at the IDC Storage Forum here Tuesday and warned "what end users have been telling me is not all positive."

Those interviewed already had a storage consolidation strategy, Gray said. Most interviewees also had 10T Bytes or more of storage, were major storage buyers and had multiple sites.

"The biggest problem [among users] is not that the disk drives are not efficiently used," Gray said, "The problem is proliferation -- the number of elements [they] are trying to manage."

Gray cited examples where companies continue to add new applications, which result in further proliferation of the IT storage infrastructure. At the same time, the data processing executives are "madly scrambling to consolidate." When you add in multiple storage systems, with 1U or bladed servers, it quickly becomes a prescription for IT overload.

"These are killing the IT function. They're dying under the workload of trying to manage all this stuff," he said.

It's no surprise that IT managers also said storage needs to be simpler in order for their staff to manage it. The mantra for the industry? "Do more with less -- less people, less dollars, less skills," Gray said. "They don't want products requiring an engineering degree or various kinds of certification to use."

Several factors appear to be pushing today's IT manager toward consolidation. There's the on-going paper-to-digital revolution, business continuance initiatives and frequent problems with the shrinking backup window, Gray said. Then, there's the fact that the data warehouse is doubling every year, e-mail attachments are putting a huge storage load on Exchange servers, and MP3s and digitized movies are also now on the enterprise storage scene in abundance.

First-time SAN installation experiences were also fraught with their share of problems such as lack of trained sales and support staff.

While Gray acknowledged confusion in the industry had contributed to slower SAN adoption and consolidation rates, he also noted a silver lining.

"They all want professional services from you," he told the audience. He said most managers interviewed already expected to spend anywhere from 1-2 times the cost of the equipment for professional services. "Start offering them," Gray urged the audience. "They are ready to sign up."

IT managers also shed some light on what they'd like to see in next-generation storage products. Included among these are features like "plug-and-play SAN technology," storage consolidation that starts in a smaller, more digestible way, and simplified administration of consolidated storage that goes beyond command line interfaces.

They want more common management of both NAS and SAN. "The trend among the people I've spoken to is they increasingly want to be out of the infrastructure business," he said. "They want to be able to manage [at] the data and application level." "They don't want to be managing at the wire level we've been forcing them back into."

On a more upbeat note, customer expectations were high on the promise of iSCSI. Most managers interviewed seemed "ready to move to adoption." Gray said they saw plenty of potential with Gigabit Ethernet, believed they already have the interconnect pipes required to scale as needed, and expected the cost of iSCSI would be much lower than that of Fibre Channel.

"All customers wanted to talk to me about Linux," Gray said, which they indicated was "more stable than Windows," and "a lot less expensive than Unix." Most already had been part of Linux pilot programs and planned on "forklifting out" the Unix boxes when they failed, to be replaced by Linux.

In the end, the key customer message to the storage industry is around management tools to help them consolidate and better manage their storage. "The first plea from end users is about management tools," Gray said. "Our customers do not want all their data in a single SAN. They want a single management, yes, but not a single SAN."

Storage vendors need to provide solutions to customers, via strong partnerships and alliances, if necessary. According to Gray, there are few customers out there who want to do their own integration. So, the industry needs to step up to the plate.

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