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Buying update: Storage managers' purchasing plans

The second installment of Storage magazine's 2007 Purchasing Intentions survey reveals some subtle changes in storage managers' buying plans but, for the most part, many storage shops are following through with the goals they laid out in the spring edition of the survey. With capacity growth seemingly under control, more attention is being paid to newer storage technologies.

The fall 2007 edition of Storage magazine's exclusive Purchasing Intentions survey reveals some subtle changes in storage managers' buying plans as new technologies gain greater consideration.

A quick scan of the results of Storage magazine's fall 2007 Purchasing Intentions survey might suggest a new chapter in our ongoing barometer of buying plans called "All quiet on the storage front." But with just a little digging, it's plain to see that life isn't quite that tranquil among storage buyers.

We conduct our survey twice a year (see "Storage managers in control," Storage, May 2007), so the fall edition often reveals the reassessments storage managers will make to bring what might have been lofty springtime goals back down to earth. To be sure, these survey results reveal some of those readjustments but, more significantly, they show that many storage shops are following through with the plans they set out earlier in the year. Juggling plans and setting new priorities may mean spending more than planned, which may be the case this year. The average storage budget reported was $3.4 million--approximately a 5% increase compared to last spring's average.

Capacity is still an issue
Over the years, our surveys have reflected the tremendous growth in installed storage capacity, precipitated largely by compliance and legal readiness efforts. Consequently, as recently as last fall, survey respondents reported they were adding an average of 40TB of capacity--approximately twice as much as two years ago. In this year's spring survey, the average amount of additional storage dipped to 37TB. At that time, we speculated that many storage managers anticipated future needs and purchased arrays that had room to grow. In the most recent survey, that number nudged upward to 38TB (see "Average storage capacity to be added this year," below). While the change isn't statistically significant, adding 38TB to the average storage environment is--and storage managers will continue to juggle resources to cope with rising capacities.

All of that new capacity isn't necessarily coming in the form of brand-new arrays. Last spring, our survey group said that 35% of their disk-related expenses would go to new or replacement disks for existing arrays. That was nearly triple the number recorded on previous surveys, and was counterbalanced by a big drop in planned new Fibre Channel (FC) SAN spending. That trend appears to be continuing, as the percentages from the fall survey jibe almost exactly with the spring results.

Click here for all charts about this buying update: Storage managers' purchasing plans. (PDF).

Another indicator of the capacity dilemma is the physical crunch storage managers are facing. Nearly 40% of respondents say they were involved in building or renovating a data center and of those, almost two-thirds cite the need for data center capacity as the principle reason for their expansions. If you're adding nearly 40TB of disk each year, it isn't surprising that floor space could become a precious commodity.

Further evidence of the capacity quandary is borne out by respondents' wish list for storage management software. Repeating and building on the results of previous surveys, the primary factor driving respondents' management software purchases is to "manage more storage with the same staff," with more than 50% of those surveyed citing it as their key factor. The second most urgent need (far back at 17%) is to "simplify the management of different storage environments."

HP rising?
Disk hardware--historically approximately 40% of the pie--takes the biggest bite out of the storage budget. This is fairly consistent regardless of company size, although disk hardware accounts for a slightly larger slice in smaller companies.

EMC Corp. has been the dominant provider of disk systems for midsized and larger companies. Smaller firms typically find it more comfortable to deal with an "end-to-end" vendor that can supply their servers, networking gear and storage. It makes purchasing easier and provides a "one throat to choke" approach to technical support.

In this survey, EMC is still king of the hill, cited by nearly 25% of all respondents as their prime disk system vendor. Among large companies, EMC has an even greater presence, with 37% saying the big "E" will be their primary disk vendor in 2008. As far as purchases made or planned for this year, EMC is once again the overall leader, with approximately 41% of respondents stating they bought EMC systems. But at 34%, second-place vendor Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. has shaved approximately four points from EMC's springtime lead.

HP has also lengthened its lead over the third most-popular source of disk systems, Dell Inc., by approximately six percentage points; last spring, IBM Corp. held the third slot, four points behind HP. HP shows strength across the board in this survey; regardless of company size, 35% to 36% of respondents purchased or plan to buy HP storage systems this year. To achieve this, HP's numbers for medium-sized companies went from 29% last spring to 36% this time; among smaller companies, a similar rise was shown from 29% to 36%.

The main factor in choosing a disk vendor is still the features and functions of the equipment in question, according to 28% of respondents, about the same as last spring. Twenty percent say they favor a vendor that provides other technology to their companies, while approximately the same number indicate tech support is a decisive factor.

Some growth for newer storage techs
While analyst firms like IDC predict a rosy future for iSCSI storage--seeing impressive growth and considerable sums being deposited in the coffers of iSCSI vendors--survey respondents appear to be proceeding more cautiously. In our survey, gains for iSCSI run the gamut from modest to impressive, with 36% of those surveyed saying they have already or will deploy an iSCSI system this year; last spring, 32% indicated they were opting for iSCSI.

The iSCSI adoption numbers for smaller companies (often considered the most fertile ground for the technology) actually dropped a little, with 34% going with iSCSI storage this fall vs. 37% last spring. Thirty-seven percent of medium-sized companies, another key market for iSCSI vendors, will deploy iSCSI this year, a big gain over last spring's 28%. Larger companies, which often consider iSCSI storage for remote offices and departments, also showed more interest in iSCSI, with 37% saying they'll deploy this year vs. 30% last spring.

Price is still the main motivator for buying iSCSI systems. Thirty-four percent of respondents say it was their reason for deploying iSCSI, which is six points higher than last spring's tally (see "Why iSCSI storage is being deployed," this page). Interestingly, having TCP/IP expertise ranked next to last as a reason for opting for iSCSI, possibly debunking the notion that iSCSI has an edge in many IT shops because of the entrenched TCP/IP experience.

Virtualization is another technology that always seems to be "on the verge." In this latest survey, the verge has been nudged forward--not dramatically so, but enough to indicate that virtualization is establishing a beachhead in storage shops. When asked "Have you virtualized all or part of your installed storage?" only 43% of respondents said "No" vs. last spring's 61%. Among those who have virtualized, most are taking a cautious approach, with 23% having virtualized some of their file storage and 17% indicating the same for block storage. Those numbers are roughly in line with what was reported in the spring survey.

Buying plans for virtualization had some modest increases, with interest split among implementing virtualization in the network, on the array or at the server. It might not yet be the "year of storage virtualization," but we seem to be at least a few weeks closer.

Tape hangs on
Last spring, storage buyers indicated they may finally be moving away from tape in their backup operations. At that time, the number of firms decreasing tape spending rose, while far fewer indicated they would increase spending on tape systems. It was the first significant shift we've seen away from tape, and this fall's results don't suggest that a comeback for the venerable technology is imminent.

Twenty-five percent of respondents say they plan to decrease their tape systems spending (vs. 24% last spring) (see "Plans for use of tape in backup operations," below). Over the period of a year, the number of storage managers planning to increase spending on tape dropped by approximately 12 points, from 47% in fall 2006 to 35% in the current survey.

Among those companies planning to add tape libraries, smaller is the operative word. In the fall of 2006, the average number of slots in planned library purchases was 150; that number dipped to 130 this past spring and plummeted to only 79 in the current survey. Compared to last spring, the scaling back of library sizes is happening in all organizations, with small companies expected to purchase 30% fewer slots, medium-sized firms cutting back to 48% fewer slots and large companies buying 26% fewer slots.

Click here for all charts about this buying update: Storage managers' purchasing plans. (PDF).

On the flip side, spending on disk for backup has held fairly steady, with 80% saying they'll maintain or increase their spending in the latest survey (the same percentage as last spring). Perhaps the most interesting development in disk-based backup, however, is the rising interest in data deduplication (or single-instance storage) technology. In the spring, approximately 12% of respondents said they planned to deploy deduplication; six months later, 20% of those surveyed now say deduplication is in their plans.

We posed a new question in the most recent survey, asking respondents to rank the importance of a specific functionality in the backup apps they'll consider. The ability to back up to disk is the most favored function (56%), which seems to dovetail with the declining interest in tape as a backup medium.

On the horizon
Encryption isn't a new technology, but many storage managers seem to treat it as something new and unusual. Last spring, we initiated a question about storage security and found that 55% of respondents hadn't taken any serious steps in that direction. This fall, the results are even bleaker, with 58% still sitting on the encryption sidelines. That's not to suggest that there isn't interest: 26% report they have implemented or plan to implement encryption this year (vs. 22% last spring), while another 39% say they'll evaluate it (vs. 40% in the spring survey).

Other new technologies and processes made some modest inroads, with more respondents implementing SAN/NAS gateways (37%), wide-area replication (31%) and service-level agreements (27%). Approximately 26% of respondents intend to bolster their disaster recovery (DR) plans with new DR monitoring tools. But some technologies are still struggling to gain acceptance and adoption, with more than 60% of respondents saying they have no immediate plans for or won't implement chargeback, ediscovery tools, automated provisioning systems, WORM media or wide-area file systems. With the exception of chargeback, these are all relatively new technologies and, in future surveys, the pendulum may swing in their favor.

ABOUT OUR SURVEY: Storage magazine's Purchasing Intentions survey is conducted twice a year (in the spring and in the fall). Storage subscribers are contacted by email and invited to participate in the survey. For the current survey, there were a total of 660 respondents. They're asked if they have purchasing authority in four areas: disk subsystems (595 respondents), storage networking (461), backup and disaster recovery (445), and storage management (334). Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey.

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