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2009: Do more with less

According to Storage magazine's 2009 Storage Priorities survey, budgets earmarked for storage technologies will increase on average by only 3.8%. Tighter purse strings will affect most, if not all, companies, but mid-sized businesses may get hit a little harder than their smaller and larger cousins. But having less to spend doesn't mean storage managers will have less to do in 2009.

Storage managers will have to cope with tighter budgets next year despite rising disk capacities.

two things appear certain as we look forward to 2009: storage managers will have more data to deal with and less money to do it. According to Storage magazine's 2009 Storage Priorities survey, budgets earmarked for storage technologies will increase on average by only 3.8% vs. an average 6.2% increase reported last year (see "About our survey," below). Tighter purse strings will affect most, if not all, companies, but mid-sized businesses may get hit a little harder than their smaller and larger cousins. Last year, mid-sized companies expected to increase their storage budgets by nearly 7%, but this year's estimate is a much more modest 2.5% (see "Expected change in storage budgets," below).

About our survey
About our survey: The 2009 Storage Priorities survey was conducted in September and October of 2008; a similar survey was conducted at the same time last year. Some Storage magazine subscribers were invited by email to participate in the survey, and there were a total of 224 valid responses, which didn't include representatives of storage vendors or consultants. Respondents represented a broad range of industries, and were roughly split among small- (revenue of less than $100 million annually), medium- (revenue of $100 million to $1 billion annually) and large-sized (revenue greater than $1 billion annually) companies.

"I would say at the very least, a modest increase," says Jon DeMersseman, manager of infrastructure services at Thomas & King Inc., a restaurant franchise company in Lexington, KY, describing the prospects for his 2009 storage budget. DeMersseman did a lot of IT expense trimming this year, but says "for 2009, I'm kind of out of novel things to do to save our company huge dollars."

Last year, 58% of the firms participating in our survey expected their storage budgets to increase by at least 5%; this year, only 43% believe their 2009 budgets will rise at that rate or higher. And the number of respondents who anticipate lower budgets than they had this year nearly doubled to 15% (vs. 8% last year).

Adden Wagner, data center manager at Lexington Clinic, also in Lexington, KY, expects his 2009 budget to be a bit higher. "It'll definitely be higher," he says. "How much higher I don't know; a lot depends on these [pending] projects."

But some budgets will go down as planned, not necessarily in response to a sluggish economy. "It will go down because we've had so many one-time costs the last two years, and we've already paid our maintenance," says Zach Wood, senior systems administrator for the City of Fort Collins, CO. Wood says they stretch out maintenance to "reach into our next budget cycle" to regulate costs and keep their budgets under control.

While there might be less cash in the till in 2009, there will be more disk capacity in respondents' shops; the average amount of disk capacity they expect to add next year is 39TB, approximately an 11% dip from last year's 44TB (see "Anticipated disk capacity additions," below). But 39TB isn't a trivial amount of new capacity, and that number is in the range of expected capacity additions we've seen on other surveys we've conducted.

Compared to last year, the biggest change in anticipated new disk capacity is among mid-sized firms, who indicate they'll add approximately 22% less capacity than they planned for last year. For smaller and larger firms, their 2009 estimates are off just a few percentage points compared to a year ago.

Key projects for 2009
But having less to spend doesn't mean storage managers will have less to do in 2009. Asked to name their top three storage priorities for the new year, slightly more than 40% say backup will be priority No. 1 (about the same as last year). Last year, adding more storage capacity and data archiving ranked second and third after backup; in our latest poll, disaster recovery (DR) planning nudged archiving out of the top three.

"We're revamping our whole DR plan," says Wagner. "Our goal is to make it as easy as possible. What I want to do is have a two-page document in a lock box somewhere--kind of 'In case of emergency, break glass.'"

What's perhaps most interesting about our respondents' priorities is that, once again, their top three areas of concentration are directly related to protecting growing data stores (see "Top storage priorities for 2009," below). This isn't new to them: data growth has moved from a one- or two-year phenomenon to business as usual; and in an age where a company's data is often its key asset, data protection is paramount. And company size doesn't appear to shift that emphasis. Backup was the top priority for 2009 for all companies, and dealing with burgeoning capacities and disaster recovery ranked second or third across all company sizes.

Top storage priorities for 2009
Survey respondents were asked to choose their top three storage-related priorities for 2009.
adding capacity
disaster recovery
data dedupe
storage management
storage tiering
capacity management

Beefing up disk systems
With an average 39TB of additional capacity needed, companies will be adding new storage arrays and disks for already installed systems. For 56% of those surveyed, their capacity efforts will be focused on primary storage systems. That's about eight percentage points less than last year, but it's somewhat offset by a rise of a few points in the number of respondents who say they'll address nearline storage in 2009. The pickup in nearline storage plans should come as no surprise with so much attention being paid to data protection technologies and processes.

"The only capacity we'll be adding is to our VM cluster, and we'll probably be adding anywhere from 6TB to 9TB of SAS drives," says the City of Fort Collins' Wood. Over the past couple of years the city has built up its LeftHand Networks storage systems (LeftHand was recently acquired by Hewlett-Packard Co.), so only incremental additions are likely for 2009. "We've sunk a significant amount of money [into storage systems] this year and last year, so it's just going to be adding capacity for virtualization," adds Wood.

Once again, the storage protocol of choice in 2009 will be Fibre Channel (FC), but not by last year's wide margin. This time, 49% say they'll add an FC array in 2009, a considerable drop from the 65% who had the same plans last year. Much of that difference has been taken up by plans to acquire iSCSI systems, with 34% suggesting they'll go that route--a six point hike from last year. FC is still king in large enterprises, with 80% of them planning to add FC arrays next year. But iSCSI is popular across the board, with approximately 33% of those surveyed (regardless of company size) indicating that it's in their 2009 plans. (See "Planned purchases: Types of storage arrays," below.)

Thomas & King's DeMersseman would like to replace an aging EMC Corp. CX array next year, putting the escalating maintenance costs toward the purchase of a new array. "I hate to throw that kind of money against old technology," he says, noting that he has little excess capacity now. "If we have any new line-of-business applications that come online in 2009, we don't have any storage left on our SAN."

Many storage shops are attempting to address increased disk storage demands by considering new technologies that make better use of installed capacity and manage it more effectively. Among those technologies, thin provisioning has provoked the most interest among our survey group, with 55% of respondents indicating they'll deploy or evaluate that technology in 2009; enterprises show an even keener interest in thin provisioning with a 63% rating. The rise in interest in thin provisioning (only 41% expected to deploy or evaluate it last year) can be attributed to it being offered by most storage vendors as a built-in or add-on component. It's also one of the easiest methods of ensuring that installed capacity doesn't lie allocated and unused because it doles out disk space only when it's actually needed, thus avoiding overprovisioning.

Last year, file virtualization was the most popular disk management technology, with 55% expressing plans to implement or evaluate it. That figure fell to 44% this year, but that drop is almost identical to the big jump in the number of those who have already implemented file virtualization. Last year, approximately 12% of those surveyed said they had virtualized their file system storage; this year, 22% have done so. Block virtualization also garners considerable interest, with 49% (about the same as last year) saying they'll look into it or deploy it in 2009.

Based on vendor pitches these days, you'd expect "green" storage to be the top priority for every storage manager. Everyone is looking to reduce power and cooling costs, but with so many shops struggling just to keep up with the storage requirements of their business units, green hasn't yet risen to top of mind in most cases, according to our survey. Its lack of traction may also be attributed to storage vendors' sometimes questionable conservation claims. Whether it's one or both of these factors, power concerns still aren't pivotal issues for most storage managers. Thirty-eight percent of respondents to this year's survey say storage equipment's power and cooling requirements were either minor considerations or not factors at all in their purchase plans. Only 12% (slightly off from last year's 15%) indicate that power consumption is a very important factor that could determine their final choice in equipment selection. On a more promising note, 48% say power issues are important factors even if they wouldn't determine a final choice (see "How much will power and cooling influence storage systems purchases?" below).

Planning for data protection
With backup the top-rated 2009 priority for storage managers, and data protection concerns like DR not far behind, it's no wonder so much attention is being paid to technologies that can enhance data protection operations. And the current poster child for improving backup is undisputedly data deduplication. In our survey, 62% of respondents plan to implement or at least evaluate dedupe in 2009, the most popular backup technology by a good margin (see "Data protection tools to be deployed or evaluated in 2009," below).

Dedupe was similarly a popular option last year when even more respondents (69%) expressed their interest in the technology. The drop in the dedupe deploy/evaluate number this time around can be attributed to the number of shops that have implemented it since last year. Eighteen percent say they have dedupe up and running this year vs. 12% last year.

Large- and medium-sized companies currently lead the dedupe charge, with 22% and 23%, respectively, saying they have dedupe systems installed. But even small companies are in on the dedupe play: 12% say it's already been implemented, while another 52% will evaluate or deploy dedupe in 2009. Perhaps even more telling evidence of dedupe's compelling value proposition can be found in the number of companies that have no plans at all in 2009 related to the technology--a mere 20% say they'll pass on the technology.

While dedupe tends to hog the spotlight, there are other data protection technologies storage pros will be considering in 2009. Lagging dedupe by only a handful of percentage points is archiving software (for file systems, email or databases), which 56% of our respondents say is on their 2009 agenda. That figure is almost identical to last year's, and the percentage noting that they've already implemented some form of archiving (26%) is an exact match of last year's results. That suggests that while there's considerable interest in archiving, other data protection needs may have superseded it over the past year, although it remains a high priority in many shops.

Slightly more than half of the respondents also rate continuous data protection (CDP) apps high on their 2009 to-do lists. That's about six percentage points fewer than last year but, unlike some other technologies, implementations don't cover that discrepancy, as the same number of respondents as last year currently report using CDP (12%). The benefits of the technology are clear so interest has remained high, but acceptance has been hampered because it was typically offered as an additional application that would run alongside a company's mainline backup application. That stumbling block is being whittled down as backup application vendors are increasingly offering CDP as an integrated tool (see "Second-generation CDP," Storage magazine, October 2008).

"As far as backup software and data management itself, that's probably more for 2010," says the City of Fort Collins' Wood. The city expects to add functionality to its CommVault software, but that will have to wait for now. "As far as adding stuff in 2009, it's just adding the onesie-twosie licenses as we add servers," notes Woods.

Backup issues go beyond just getting data onto disk or tape. With most companies still using tape to some degree--and many still shipping tapes to offsite vaulting facilities--securing tape cartridges is a growing concern. LTO-4 tape drives provide greater capacity and performance than their predecessors, but they also allow hardware-based encryption for protecting tape content. Last year, 41% said they would install or evaluate LTO-4 drives in 2008; this year, that number was trimmed by about 12 points. But, as with some other examples we've seen, offsetting that drop was the number of respondents reporting that they've implemented LTO-4 technology: 21% vs. 10% last year.

Those respondents who anticipate adding LTO-4 drives in 2009 are more likely to put them in new tape libraries this year, as 29% plan to acquire at least one new tape library in the coming year. Eighteen percent say they'll add new drives to existing libraries, about 8 points lower than last year; this suggests that libraries may be reaching their capacity limits in some firms.

Disk-based backup systems appear to be built out in many organizations, as 28% of those surveyed don't plan to purchase any additional arrays or disks for the backup disk systems (about 10 points higher than last year). Of those who do anticipate additions to their disk-backup operations, there's a relatively even spilt among those planning to add disks to existing systems and those planning to purchase new backup arrays.

The storage net
It doesn't look like many companies will tinker with their data center storage networks in 2009, as about one-third of respondents report no plans for any additions and only 20% expect to add switches to their existing fabrics. Some will add ports to currently installed switching gear (16%) and 9% expect to replace some switches. These numbers are in line with last year's, so they probably reflect typical technology refreshes rather than any apparent shifts in networking infrastructures.

There also doesn't appear to be overwhelming interest in some newer network technologies at this point. Eight percent say they'll implement WAN optimization next year, and another 27% will evaluate those devices--numbers generally the same as last year's returns.

Managing operations
The days of massive SRM-type storage management applications are not only numbered, but seem to be gone entirely. Information we've collected in other surveys and interviews shows that storage pros tend to use the tools that come bundled with their hardware, complemented by that old management standby, Excel spreadsheets. Our survey results imply that the dissatisfaction with many management applications is growing, with 57% of respondents stating that storage management apps won't be on their 2009 shopping lists, which is an 11 point hike over last year (see "Will you buy any storage management software in 2009?" below).

If you're a developer of storage management software, you should note that some interest was expressed in our survey for change management software, with 34% indicating they would evaluate or implement a change management application in 2009. Interest in that particular type of storage management capability is likely due to the amount of capacity being added annually and the key role that change management plays in keeping DR plans up to date.

"Our top priority would be trying to get an accurate handle on growth," says Lexington Clinic's Wagner. "A new tool would be nice, but given all the purchases we need to make, that one would be a hard sell."

Uncertain economy
Our survey was conducted when the unsettling news of the worldwide economic woes was breaking, which is almost certainly the key reason for the expected decline in 2009 storage budgets. But storage is a fundamental data center component and keeper of the corporate intellectual property, so it's unlikely that any seismic shifts in storage operations will occur in most companies.

Still, an economic downturn of current proportions will undoubtedly have some effect. "As my boss likes to say, 'We have to keep the wheels on the bus,'" notes Thomas & King's DeMersseman. Wagner is equally pragmatic: "We'll have to work out contingencies on how we do it. You can't stop the data."

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