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Peaks and valleys, expectations and disillusionment

Gartner's Hype Cycles make for interesting reading. But they might also be a handy way to evaluate storage technologies.

Gartner's Hype Cycles make for fun and interesting reading . . . and they just might be a good way to evaluate storage technologies.

I'll come clean: I'm a Gartner Hype Cycle junkie. I'm almost giddy with excitement when I get my hands on one of those things. You've probably seen them -- they're those neat little graphs that place new and emerging technologies at some point on the road to mass acceptance (or rejection). Gartner defines the five stages in a technology's life cycle as the technology trigger, the peak of inflated expectations, the trough of disillusionment, the slope of enlightenment and the plateau of productivity. Given those stages, you can guess what the curve on the graph looks like.

For me, the most interesting stages are the peak of inflated expectations and the trough of disillusionment. Basically, it's euphoria followed by depression. Who can't identify with that?

Put in more practical terms, think of all your vendors' marketing and sales people gleefully balancing at the top of the graph at the peak of expectations and most storage managers putting a fine edge on their cynicism down in the trough of disillusionment. Eventually the two sides may get together -- depending on the technology in question -- but it's still a considerable gap to bridge.

Joking aside, the Gartner graphic is a neat and concise roadmap of what's coming and what has arrived. But the Hype Cycle I recently saw disappointed me a little as that edition seemed to overlook storage in favor of more consumer-oriented technologies. I guess you can't blame them; a lot of the technologies it charts are pretty cool, and storage might not be dramatic or sexy enough to earn a place at the "peak" or in the "trough."

It seems a shame, though, with so many new and evolving storage technologies poised to have an impact on data centers. So, with apologies to Gartner, I figured it was OK to borrow its Hype Cycle methodology for a few minutes and apply it to storage so we could get a reading on where we're at with some of the cooler storage technologies.

Let's skip the technology trigger stage entirely. Anything that's at that stage is really new, and we all know storage managers aren't about to lay it on the line for something that's brand new and untested. (And by skipping it we can get to the exciting peaks and troughs parts faster.)

That brings us to the peak of inflated expectations, which seems to be the time at which we truly believe all the hype and we really want whatever it is that's being hyped. Solid-state storage might be a peak-of-inflated-expectations candidate. It's gotten more than its fair share of hype, and most storage managers would love to get their hands on a few terabytes of the stuff, but it still costs an awful lot and hasn't been fully tested in enterprise environments. And if you find yourself explaining to management that the solid-state storage you plugged into your array isn't quite as quick as expected and you mortgaged the data center to pay for it, you'll know exactly what the trough of disillusionment feels like.

Cloud storage might be teetering on the peak of expectations, although it's been around long enough for a lot of the services to have already worked their way through disillusionment so they're now helping users climb the slope of enlightenment. Cloud storage has some mileage on it, and a lot of users swear by it (others swear at it), so it might even be resting comfortably on the plateau of productivity by now.

Data deduplication seems to have skipped a lot of the stages and zoomed straight from being a new, untested technology to general acceptance in the backup arena. That's not to say it hasn't had its share of over-hyping and more than a few users have been disillusioned, but it obviously filled a need, and filled it well, to compress the stages significantly. We'll see if the same is true of data reduction technologies for primary storage. NetApp and a few others can honestly claim they're already on the plateau, and have been for a while, but until we see more products from more vendors, primary storage data reduction is probably still trying to pull itself out of its hype phase.

Gartner has done a great job with providing a succinct snapshot of technology development with its Hype Cycle. It should be considered a tool to help evaluate storage technologies, too. Maybe the next time, before you try to convince your boss to shell out a million bucks for some new storage tech, you might put it to the Hype Cycle test. Are you deluding yourself about the technology's usefulness? Have you examined it with an appropriate amount of skepticism? Just don't think that being at the peak of inflated expectations is the same as being on the plateau of productivity -- they may be very far apart.

BIO: Rich Castagna ( is editorial director of the Storage Media Group.

* Click here for a sneak peek at what's coming up in the February 2011 issue.

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