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Hot technologies in 2004

In 2004, flexible, affordable new technologies are beginning to emerge that will open the door for smaller companies and allow them to sample some advanced storage strategies.

For the last few years, enterprise storage has been a game that only the big boys could really play effectively. Only they had the resources to build storage area networks (SANs), mirror massive amounts of data and replicate data over long distances. In 2004, new technologies will dramatically lower the price of networked storage, opening the door for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to finally get their chance to try out advanced storage strategies for themselves.

Storage management standards
2004 promises to be a breakthrough year for storage management standards, which are considered essential if multivendor, cross-platform storage management is to become a practical reality. Leading the standards effort is the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA). It is planning to put out its first industry storage management road map along with its newly released management specification, the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), V. 1.0. Vendors have already started writing to the SMI-S specification, which is being rushed to ANSI for certification.

"Our goal is for 50% of new products to be SMI-S compliant in 2004," says Sheila Childs, SNIA chairwoman. SNIA hopes to achieve the following milestones: SMI-S, V. 1.1, slated for completion in the fall of 2004 and 100% SMI-S compliance for new products in 2005.

To ascertain SMI-S compliance, SNIA has introduced the Interoperability Conformance Test Program (ICTP).

And what are the technologies they will be able to seriously play with? Storage networking has been brought within their reach by iSCSI, affordable data replication using IP and tons of flexible, low-cost storage capacity courtesy of serial ATA (SATA).

"2004 will see major [storage] infrastructure changes for midsize companies," says Arun Taneja, consulting analyst at the Taneja Group, Hopkinton, MA. The march to networked storage by large companies that started four years ago as they began adopting Fibre Channel (FC) SANs will likely accelerate in 2004, as midsize companies start using iSCSI.

There will be many factors driving the storage industry in 2004. Companies will continue to consolidate storage, moving from direct-attached storage (DAS) to networked storage. The benefits are compelling: increased management efficiency and utilization levels as high as 85% to 90%, resulting in lower TCO and higher ROI.

Second, the economy is improving and companies are saying they'll buy more storage. In a recent Storage magazine survey of 500 managers, 58% plan to increase spending in 2004. (See "Surviving and thriving: facing recession and growth".) Of those planning increases, 46% plan increases of 5% or greater.

Hard-strapped IT departments working at recession-level staffing, however, can expect little relief in terms of hiring or significant pay increases, despite increased IT spending. For example, although a large number of Storage survey respondents intend to increase spending on storage management, more than half of them are doing so with the primary objective to manage more storage with the same or fewer staff.

Third, government regulatory compliance is forcing companies to spend more money on their storage infrastructure. HIPAA regulations, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the Patriot Act and various financial industry edicts mandate that companies store more data and protect it, often by replicating it to distant locations.

Yet what's not a factor is the technology itself. None of the analysts, consultants or managers interviewed for this report expect any major storage technology breakthroughs. At best, they expect modest technology enhancements and continued price/performance improvements for the technologies they are deploying.

Here are Storage's picks of technologies that will be hot in 2004:

  • SAN/NAS gateways: permit NAS/SAN integration
  • iSCSI: provides the foundation for IP-based storage
  • SATA: enables organizations to capitalize on inexpensive disk capacity to drive down costs
  • Storage resource management (SRM): ushers in a new generation of storage management capabilities
These products aren't new, but in 2004, they'll emerge as key building blocks of the storage infrastructure. The selection of these building blocks isn't based on sales, market share or vendor drum beating, but are conclusions reached after discussions with leading storage analysts and managers, combined with the observations of Storage editors and writers. Results from Storage's survey also reinforce these findings.

Eagerly anticipated
The following are technologies to watch out for in 2004.
Information life cycle management. This technology is emerging as the successor to hierarchical storage management and is a promising solution for meeting compliance with regulations that call for information to be stored over long periods.
Virtual SANs. This technology is already being touted by Cisco to solve the storage area network (SAN) scalability problem, along with alternatives being developed by others.
Intelligent storage networks. Somehow intelligence has to find its way to the storage network. But exactly where and how remains unresolved, although intelligence in the switch is enjoying early momentum.

SAN/NAS gateways
Networked storage remains the No. 1 hot trend and a fundamental building block of storage going forward. Networked storage has been steadily gaining ground. International Data Corp. (IDC), Framingham, MA, expects it to represent 75% of enterprise storage within a few more years. Already, it's a well-established fact--at least for large companies--that they need to consolidate their DAS. What will be popular in 2004 are new ways to network storage and the opportunities they offer to SMEs. Put it another way: It won't be just Fibre Channel (FC) anymore.

SAN/NAS gateways, which ranked high among technologies to be implemented in the Storage survey, will play an essential role in 2004 as companies attempt to simplify their networked storage environments by combining SAN, NAS and content-addressable storage (CAS) on a single network fabric. The gateways typically feature Ethernet connections on one side and FC connections on the other. Some leading vendors such as Hitachi Data Systems Inc. (HDS), IBM Corp. and Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) introduced such gateways in 2003. Analysts expect the technology to be widespread in 2004 because it addresses a clear and immediate need as it simplifies the storage environment.

IDC and other research firms began predicting a growth market for iSCSI in 2003. By 2004, iSCSI will have moved beyond the early adopters and into the mainstream, where it will be used with FC in large storage environments to bring storage networking into SMEs for the first time. The adoption of iSCSI by SMEs will begin in 2004, but won't become widespread until 2006.

iSCSI allows for block-level storage over common IP networks. The appeal of iSCSI comes from its ability to take advantage of the existing IP network infrastructure and IP skill sets. From switches to adapter cards to even the storage devices themselves, IP storage will save the organization money. Early adopters report saving 30%, 50% or more over the cost of the equivalent amount of FC storage. SMEs will find iSCSI especially attractive for this reason.

The publication of the iSCSI standard in 2003 triggered a flood of new iSCSI-compliant products. 2004 will see the introduction of iSCSI-compatible components from most vendors, says Robert Gray, research director, IDC. Even some of the major FC storage product vendors, such as EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and IBM, either already have iSCSI-enabled products or will in 2004. Rather than replace FC, iSCSI will coexist with FC in large data centers.

As the foundation for IP-based storage, iSCSI creates many opportunities. In addition to enabling companies to create affordable SANs using their existing IP infrastructure and skills, it allows companies to leverage existing TCP/IP network links to move large volumes of block-level stored data over long distances. TCP/IP lowers the cost of asynchronous mirroring and replication, putting it in reach of more companies and making it feasible for more uses.

Companies can use IP-based remote snapshot/replication to maintain concurrent or nearly concurrent data at remote sites for purposes of balancing workloads between multiple data centers, application development and testing or business continuity and disaster recovery. The last "will be very important in our post-Sept. 11 world," says David Hill, Aberdeen Group VP of storage research.

Storage survey respondents ranked snapshot/replication alongside SAN/NAS gateways at the top of their implementation interests. Snap/replication, when combined with inexpensive disk drives, creates even more possibilities in how organizations can handle their storage needs.

iSCSI isn't perfect, especially at this still-early stage in its evolution. For example, users must contend with considerable IP overhead. The solution is to move the IP processing into a TCP/IP offload engine (TOE), which can be built as a chip and integrated into iSCSI cards and devices. Expect more chip-level TOEs to come in 2004.

Not yet their time
The following technologies look promising, but 2004 will not be their year.
Serial SCSI: Early products may be introduced late in 2004, but this is shaping up for 2005 and beyond.
Stored data encryption: This is happening in selected instances today, but widespread encryption of stored data will not happen in 2004--if ever.
Infiniband: Although it offers some interesting possibilities for storage, InfiniBand is regarded mainly as a high-performance server and clustering technology, and it's unlikely it will make much headway in the storage world in 2004.
10 Gigabit storage networking: 10GbE will remain too expensive in 2004; 10GbE Fibre Channel is plagued by the problems of backward compatibility and its high cost.

ATA drives, formerly known as IDE drives, are the low-cost, high-capacity drives used with desktop PCs. They're now being loaded into storage cabinets to create large, inexpensive pools of storage, which can take the form of JBOD or RAID. SATA drew nearly as much interest in terms of implementation and evaluation as SAN/NAS gateways and snapshot replication in the Storage survey.

SATA specifies a new serial interface to the standard ATA drive, featuring a parallel interface connected with a short, wide-ribbon cable. SATA also uses the serial interface, which connects to a slim, round, flexible cable that allows for distances up to one meter--double the distance for an ATA drive. SATA drives use the same internal components as ATA drives, but they support hot-swapping of drives, and ATA doesn't.

Disk subsystem vendors--especially midrange vendors--are using ATA drives to build large, inexpensive disk arrays. Some vendors, such as EMC, are combining ATA and conventional server-class SCSI drives in the same storage system. The industry, led by Dell Computer Corp., is expected to make the widespread transition to SATA in 2004.

SATA will mean flexible, robust arrays of low-cost disk with such enterprise capabilities as hot swapping. The SATA disk arrays will be used for enterprise storage characterized by light-duty cycles vs. heavy-duty production transaction applications demanding nearly continuous reading and writing. Lightweight duty situations include bulk storage, nonproduction applications, backup, archiving, content serving and decision support applications.

"To me, it is just cheap disk," says Steve Gray, IT systems manager at Phoenix Newspapers Inc., Phoenix, AZ, which already makes extensive use of ATA drives in its data center. Arrays of SATA drives will become key to a variety of data backup and fast recovery techniques. Instead of backing up directly to tape, storage admins can now backup from costly SCSI disk to affordable SATA disks, and then to tape for archival purposes. SATA will enable an entirely new class of storage, dubbed midline or nearline storage. The combination of snapshot/replication and SATA will allow organizations to move less-critical data from expensive enterprise storage systems to low-cost midline storage.

Server-class SCSI disk drives, however, will continue to be used for heavy-duty enterprise applications. Organizations will mix SATA and SCSI in their enterprise storage as they establish tiers of storage consisting of first-line primary production storage, midline secondary storage and storage for archiving and backup. SATA arrays will also prove useful, analysts say, for protecting data by offering low-cost mirroring of primary storage.

For many organizations, storage management consists mainly of automating tape backup. The long-term storage management trend, however, is toward increasingly broad management, automation and provisioning. SRM--which addresses storage inventory and reporting--has emerged as the baseline for advanced storage management and will become widely adapted in 2004, according to Bill North, IDC's senior storage software analyst. But SRM is just the building block upon which more capabilities must be added if companies hope to control increasingly complex physical and logical storage environments. "Companies need management and automation to deal with all this complexity," he says.

Provisioning is the first function to build on SRM and will pick up steam in 2004. Fully automated provisioning, policy-based storage automation and heterogeneous storage management, however, are further out, adds North. This was confirmed in Storage's survey in which automated provisioning ranked low in terms of current implementation interest.

These building-block technologies will work their way into the storage environment. They're being built into the products of leading storage vendors and are appearing as appliances and devices provided by third parties.

All organizations don't evolve their storage at the same pace. "Many companies only just now are seeing the value of SAN," says Steve Kenniston, analyst, Enterprise Storage Group. Those companies will find iSCSI or SAN/NAS gateways to be exactly the building blocks they need to start networking their storage. Others are awaiting SMI-S management tools to begin deploying sophisticated, automated enterprise management. Wherever your organization is today and regardless of its size, some combination of these technology building blocks will likely play an important role in 2004.

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