| In 2008, are you willing to spend money to save money?
I see two categories of IT departments this year: those who will sign up for a technology refresh and those who feel their last upgrades were extensive enough to let them sit tight in 2008. For IT departments that have marked 2008 as the year to upgrade, it could be a mixed bag. New technology is like the latest toy--it offers a fresh set of features to utilize. However, being an early adopter has risks such as compatibility issues and/or unavailability of the features you currently have on the existing platform. Many vendors announce a refresh with fine print stating delayed availability for certain new or improved features. Whatever the reason for the upgrade, make sure you'll benefit from it.
Also expect accelerated adoption of updated speeds and feeds for IP and Fibre Channel (FC) SANs. Vendors now offer cards and ports that work at (faster) full line speeds, so selective updates may allow you to update only those components that provide benefits to servers that can push the real-life maximum of a storage port or host bus adapter (HBA). The rule of two (i.e., two HBAs per server) used to work well because most servers could hardly push anywhere close to 200MB/sec. With the advent of faster CPUs, backplanes and buses, that rule needs to be revisited. When systems are refreshed, ensure there's adequate bandwidth between the servers and storage.
Systems virtualization will also bring with it speedier adoption of iSCSI. iSCSI has been quietly making inroads into the FC space and will continue to do so while keeping a clear demarcation between its functions vs. those of FC. It's only a matter of time before storage teams will need to deal with both technologies concurrently, if not already.
But storage virtualization seems to have reached a bit of a plateau. Most big vendors have released roadmaps for their products. We know the virtualization strategy that vendors like EMC, HDS, Hewlett-Packard (HP), IBM and Network Appliance are pursuing. So unless someone announces a major change in direction, this space will remain relatively calm. Adoption will rise, but not at a surprising rate.
If you implement storage virtualization this year, do it for the right reasons: not because it's cool, but because it offers the ability to create homogeneous storage pools, seamless data mobility and, more importantly, storage tiers that can be tied to the business value of the data they store.
The open-source movement will also play a bigger role in the storage world. Several firms, such as IBM and Sun, are contributing significantly to open-source software. The Aperi project, for example, is aimed at creating an open-source suite of storage management apps.
Another technology to watch is ATA over Ethernet (AoE). The rise of Linux and the need for low-cost storage has resulted in AoE getting high praise. The technology brings with it open-source AoE tools, and storage from vendors such as Coraid that's relatively cheap and easier to deploy than FC or iSCSI. Coraid claims the deployment cost of AoE is less than $0.64/GB.
If you're upgrading your systems, power and heat consumption should make it to the top of your list of important criteria. I believe environmental issues will bubble to the top of most vendors' marketing messages and will eventually force them to improve their products. Disk vendors will also be forced to introduce drives that consume less power and generate less heat. It shouldn't be that difficult to take a cue from CPU manufacturers!
I'm not saying everyone will jump into storage as a service, but this could very well be the year that redefines the market. It will likely start with consumer products and services, and eventually make its way to small- to medium-sized businesses and then perhaps to the enterprise. There are plenty of things to be resolved--chief among them being security--but nothing is impossible. If the cost of managing storage in-house is a big burden to your organization, this may become an attractive option as the offerings mature.
So that's what to expect this year. The industry could have a surprise in store for 2008 that would make for a fantastic splash. But if history is any indication, storage professionals will take measured steps in adopting newer technologies, waiting until they're tried and tested, especially when some economic indicators have people watching their wallets. If it's any consolation, at least we have the Olympics to watch for excitement.
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