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Economy and capacity at odds

With fewer bucks in the budget, storage managers are facing some constraints in dealing with growing storage capacities. But, according to Storage magazine's Purchasing Intentions survey, they're responding by earmarking some of those dollars to newer technologies like data deduplication that will help them cope with burgeoning data stores.

Storage managers are starting to feel the pinch of a slowing economy, but they still have to store and protect more data than ever.

The weak economy hit storage managers with a double whammy: less money to store more data. According to the latest edition of Storage magazine's Purchasing Intentions Survey, the average storage budget reported by respondents was $2.6 million--not a meager amount, but 19% off the average figure reported last spring and 24% less than last fall's tally (see "How storage budgets break down," below). And if you turn the calendar back a couple of years and compare it to the fall of 2006, the drop is even more precipitous at 28%. It looks like some belt tightening is the order of the day, at least for the foreseeable future.

But even with fewer bucks in the bank, dollars are earmarked in much the same way as in the past six years, with the biggest chunk (42%) going toward disk hardware (see "Where storage budget dollars go," below). While disk and disk system prices have decreased significantly over the same period, the portion allocated for those items has hovered steadily around the 40% mark. It's simple math: Prices might be lower, but capacity requirements are up, so disk expenditures still gobble up the largest slice of the budget pie.

Disk and more disk
Storage managers expect to add about 39TB of new disk capacity; that's down from the 47TB reported last spring, but about the same as the anticipated new capacity registered on both surveys in 2007 (see "How much disk capacity will you add this year?" below). Last spring's 47TB was the highest number we had ever seen but, given recent results, it could be that managers, still reeling from unchecked storage growth, overestimated their needs. Or to put a more positive spin on it, maybe they're employing more efficient storage management technologies like deduplication and thin provisioning to cut their capacity needs. We're also seeing growing interest in SAN/NAS gateways and multiprotocol arrays, more signs that storage managers are trying to use their disk capacity more efficiently.

Christine Winsor, systems administrator at Olympic Associates Company, a Seattle engineering and design firm, says the firm recently acquired two EqualLogic arrays to complement two NAS systems already in place. "We have added over 10TB of usable space with the addition of these storage arrays," says Winsor, noting that Olympic Associates had to increase its 2008 budget to accommodate purchases. "This is the largest purchase I think we've ever made," she adds.

Winsor started looking at EqualLogic's products before it was acquired by Dell Inc. "The timing was fortuitous," says Winsor of the acquisition. "We're pretty much an all-Dell shop. They gave me a deal I couldn't refuse."

Distribution of disk dollars
An interesting trend we first saw early last year (and that has since been borne out over four surveys) is a significant shift in how respondents plan to spend their disk money. Of the budget dollars slated to go for disks and disk subsystems, 36% of them will be spent to add disks to existing arrays (see "Primary expenditures for disk storage in 2009," below).

Storage managers obviously bought big back in late 2006-early 2007 and are filling out the available capacity of many of their arrays; it will therefore be interesting to see if a shift back to funneling budget bucks into new arrays is imminent as existing systems reach their limits and leases expire. Currently, 22% of respondents' disk dough will be used to buy new Fibre Channel (FC) arrays, with iSCSI, NAS, multiprotocol arrays and DAS sharing the rest of the budget relatively equally.

The types of storage arrays managers have bought or intend to buy this year continue to swing toward midrange systems as those arrays gain sophistication, performance and capacity rivaling traditional high-end systems. For smaller companies, 43% say they will purchase a midrange array vs. 34% last fall; midsized companies saw a similar jump in midrange interest, from 46% a year ago to 55% today. But enterprises are also hitching a ride on the midrange bandwagon, with 47% saying they'll go that route vs. 40% last year.

EMC Corp. still leads the pack among the disk system vendors our respondents say they bought from this year. But Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. has been slowly closing in on EMC (moving from seven or eight points behind in 2007 and early 2008) and has cut EMC's lead down to only five points. Picking up EqualLogic helped propel Dell past IBM Corp. and into third place.

And while array features/functionality is still the most important selection criteria, power consumption is gaining attention. Last spring, 33% of those surveyed said power consumption was the most important consideration or a major factor for selecting a disk system; this time, that figure rose to 39%.

iSCSI juggernaut?
iSCSI deployments continue to grow--not in leaps and bounds, but at a more leisurely pace. In this survey, 32% of storage managers have iSCSI storage in place, a solid increase over the 27% reported last spring. And while the 40% of respondents who say they have implemented or will implement iSCSI storage this year is a fairly healthy figure, it's the same percentage reported last spring, but still about a nine point jump from two years ago.

Surprisingly, the largest increase in planned iSCSI deployments was among larger companies, with 38% opting for iSCSI vs. 32% last spring. Enterprises also seem to be shaking some of their reliability and performance concerns about iSCSI, as 24% of those surveyed say they would use it for mission-critical apps. And 29% of big companies plan to run email on iSCSI, the highest percentage we've seen to date (see "What applications will you put on your iSCSI SANs?" below).

But for some companies, iSCSI isn't stirring up much interest. "We're happy with our [FC] SAN and local disk," says Stan Horwitz, senior systems manager at Temple University in Philadelphia. For other storage pros, it took a change in perception to consider a non-FC system.

"You have that FC mentality of 'Why would anybody use iSCSI? Fibre Channel works,'" says William Clemons, VP of technical services at ProAssurance Corp. in Birmingham, AL. "It really was a learning experience for us to kind of break away from just thinking of it as disk." Clemons and his group finally settled on a pair of NetApp arrays on which they'll run iSCSI along with FC and CIFS.

While the move to iSCSI has been something less than a stampede, it's definitely occurring. Compellent, LeftHand Networks and Nexsan Technologies Inc. have all moved into the Top 10 list of vendors that respondents from larger companies say they have purchased an array from or plan to. All three are primarily iSCSI vendors, which is just a little more evidence that iSCSI isn't just an SMB play.

Downsizing tape libraries
Last spring we finally saw a significant downturn in planned spending for tape backup systems--one that we had anticipated for quite some time given disk's emergence as the backup target of choice.

By doing our surveys twice a year, we can often detect budgetary "corrections" that occur during the year; that is, adjustments from what managers hoped to accomplish in the spring to what they can realistically get done in the fall. For planned tape system spending, we often see that kind of mid-year adjustment.

In the current survey, 25% of respondents say they'll decrease tape spending this year (a few points off last spring's numbers), while 32% will increase spending in this area vs. 29% in the spring. It's a small shift to be sure, but it suggests that storage managers might have been more optimistic last spring about the degree they could reduce tape reliance.

But even if they couldn't achieve planned reductions in tape system purchases, storage managers appear to be successful at downsizing the tape libraries they do buy. The average number of slots in planned library purchases dropped by approximately 40% to 78--the lowest level we've seen to date. While we've seen similar drops in slot numbers comparing spring to fall surveys, 40% is the largest margin yet. And these reductions go across the board, regardless of company size. Last spring the average number of slots in new libraries for smaller firms was 71; this fall, it's 35.

"Tapes are just a pain," says ProAssurance's Clemons. "Our plan is that before the end of the fourth quarter that we will be off tape completely."

Still, for those who predict tape's demise, it's not likely to happen soon, as 84% of disk-based backup users say they spin some or all of their backup data off to tape. So tape isn't gone, it's just getting smaller.

"Most of the stuff goes directly to tape," says Temple University's Horwitz, but his shop is looking to reduce its use of tape. "We have an RFI out now for some sort of intelligent disk target for backups, and more than likely it'll be some VTL [virtual tape library]."

For tape systems, LTO is by far the format of choice, accounting for 70% of planned purchases, with about 32% of respondents opting for LTO-2/3 drives in their libraries. LTO-4 adoption, which appeared sluggish at first, seems to be picking up some serious steam; 26% say LTO-4 is their primary format for 2008 drive purchases, more than double the number from just a year ago (see "Adoption of LTO-4 tape format," below).

"We're investigating possibly using LTO-4," says Olympic Associates' Winsor. With big changes in store for their production storage systems, she says, "I think it would be a good time to re-evaluate our tape backup."

While those saying they'll increase disk-to-disk (D2D) spending contracted a bit from the spring, 80% will continue to spend at previous levels or increase spending for D2D backup this year, which is consistent with the results we've seen over a three-year period. And of all the features storage managers want to see in their backup apps, the ability to back up to disk continues to top the charts (60% vs. 56% last spring).

Plans to implement VTLs also eased a bit, with 24% saying they'll go that route vs. 32% last spring, but we saw a similar spring-fall shift last year.

Deduplication still generates the most sizzle among backup technologies, topping our hot list with 67% of those surveyed planning to implement it or evaluate it this year. Sixty-six percent say they'll maintain or increase spending levels for dedupe, which is about the same as last spring, but nearly 10 points higher than spring 2007. There's also been a steady drop in the number of managers who say they have no dedupe plans (37% in spring 2007 vs. the current 30%).

For Winsor, updating Olympic Associates' tape systems to LTO-4 drives is a backup priority, but dedupe is also on the list. "We're definitely going to have to take a look at that," she says. Horwitz is even more emphatic about Temple University's interest: "I'd be really surprised if we don't implement some sort of dedupe solution within the next six months."

Additional evidence of the increase in interest and spending for dedupe is Data Domain Inc.'s rise into the top five vendors respondents cited as their main D2D vendor last spring; in this survey, Data Domain solidified its hold on that place by adding a little more than a point to its tally.

ProAssurance's Clemons says they will implement dedupe on backup and some primary storage. "We're supposed to get our first Data Domain box by the end of the year," he says. For primary storage, Clemons will tap the ability of his NetApp boxes to compress data. "We expect to have some decrease in disk utilization because of the deduplication from the NetApp," he notes.

Deterring disaster
There was a slight uptick in planned overall disaster recovery (DR) spending vs. last spring, with levels coming back to those we saw last year. Nearly half of our respondents say they'll increase DR spending this year, a figure that's up three points from the spring but still considerably lower than two years ago. However, if you combine the groups either increasing or maintaining spending levels, it's been pretty consistent over the last four years.

Wide-area replication continues to gain ground with 41% of those surveyed saying it will be the main focus of their DR spending. That's less than a point above the second choice, offsite tape, but you have to go back two years to find more respondents opting for replication than offsite tape services. Again, this suggests a continuing shift from reliance on tape.

For WAN spending, DR extended its lead as the top driver by picking up a full 10 points over last spring's level. With 54% of respondents saying DR was the chief motivation for their wide-area spending, it's the highest ranking we've seen since the spring of 2007.

The use of archiving applications also picked up, with an increase of nearly six points over last spring's numbers. There's ample evidence that the archiving market is maturing as it's now far more common for companies to be using some form of archiving than not, with nearly two-thirds saying they use archivers.

There's also renewed interest in email archiving, with 29% saying they plan to purchase one of those products this year. That's a full eight points higher than in the spring, and also higher than the levels we saw last year. "The only way that email will be manageable is if we start archiving," says Temple University's Horwitz, "so that has to happen." (See "What types of data archiving products are you currently using?" below.)

If you've been holding your breath waiting for storage virtualization to take off, get a grip and keep holding. We do see some year-over-year increases, with 26% of respondents virtualizing some or all of their block storage vs. 21% a year ago. But 67% say they have no plans to purchase storage virtualization products in 2008, which is approximately the same figure we've seen for the last year and a half.

"Right now it's not something that's a big item for us," says Clemons, whose hands are full with a number of other projects.

Among those taking the virtualization plunge, no method has emerged as the favorite; roughly 12% say they'll opt for array-based virtualization and approximately the same number will go the appliance route.

On the file storage virtualization front, there's a slight increase in interest, with 11% expecting to go in that direction. It's still a relatively modest number, but about twice that of two years ago.

Click here for a listing of
top 5 companies (PDF).

On the horizon
As noted, dedupe is still the leading interest-getter among newer technologies; data encryption ranked second with 62% saying they'll implement or evaluate it this year. More than half of our respondents still don't use any form of tape encryption, but apparently a good number of them expect to remedy that situation.

At the other end of the spectrum, a few technologies appear to have worn out their welcomes or not lived up to expectations. A whopping 70% say they'll pass on automated provisioning products, with only slightly fewer eschewing storage chargeback systems.

A tough economy coupled with growing capacity needs can put a crimp in users' plans to evaluate or implement new technologies. We'll have to see how the economic and capacity issues play out over the rest of this year and into 2009 when we survey next spring.

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