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Storage growth drives buying plans

The results from our exclusive semi-annual Purchasing Intentions Survey are in. Storage growth is a key concern for storage managers, as additional capacity has a ripple effect that touches many other components in the storage environment.

Adding capacity is job No. 1 for many storage managers, and this new storage is creating a ripple effect for other purchasing initiatives.

Storage managers continue to add capacity to their existing storage environments at an unprecedented pace. The additional storage, in turn, has caused a ripple effect across the entire storage infrastructure, influencing buying priorities for the remainder of this year.

According to the latest edition of Storage magazine's Purchasing Intentions Survey, companies will add an average of 37TB of new capacity this year--up from 30TB last fall and 23TB one year ago--taking a 22% bite out of total budget allocations. Charlie Orndorff, vice president of infrastructure services at Plano, TX-based Crossmark Information Services, a consumer goods services company, is feeling the capacity crunch. "We added about 15TB this year to get us through the year," says Orndorff. That brings his shop's total installed capacity on primarily Hewlett-Packard (HP) arrays up to approximately 40TB. But Orndorff isn't complacent about his capacity needs. "We're growing at around 350GB to 400GB a week," he says.

For other companies, budgets may not be bumped up this year to add disk, but capacity issues haven't gone away. "Last year we did major acquisitions, major enhancements of our storage for both the SAN and NAS systems," says Anthony Maceroli, managing director of information technology at New York City-based Fitch Ratings. "This is the year to get all that in place--getting all the replication working and managing growth."

Overall, storage budgets for 2006 will average approximately $3.4 million, 5.2% higher than last year. The 5.2% figure was consistent across all sizes of companies (see "2006 storage budgets" and "Storage budgets rise 5.2% on average"). Fifty-six percent of our surveyed companies say they're increasing storage budgets to some degree, a 16% rise vs. the same time last year.

Network consolidation slows
Another indicator that growing data stores may affect overall storage spending is the shift away from director-based networks (see "Director-based networks dip"). Last fall, when asked to describe their networking environments, more respondents indicated that their network architectures were built around director-class switches rather than smaller switches used in SAN islands. But in the latest survey, "island" architectures are becoming more prevalent once again.

While the gap between these two architectures is still small, the shift from director-based architectures represents a swing of 6%--previously, 35% of respondents had director-based storage networks vs. 32% with islands of smaller switches. But in the most recent survey, these numbers have essentially reversed, with 31% of respondents indicating directors and 34% noting their use of small-switch islands. Storage capacity growth is the most likely culprit at the root of this change; with so much storage being added to existing environments, consolidation projects are bound to be relegated to the back burner as storage managers cope with accommodating added disk capacity. Thus, network consolidation using director-class switches is delayed--at least temporarily--while additional ports in the form of smaller switches are used for the new capacity.

Perhaps underscoring that companies have back-burnered network consolidation for now, the number of SAN fabrics reported by respondents grew to an overall average of 3.3. All business sizes reported an increase and indicated that these numbers would grow across the board, with an anticipated average of 3.7 SAN fabrics by the end of the year.

A downturn in the use of directors after a couple of years of relatively steady growth may not be sufficient evidence to consider it a significant indicator at this point or to predict rough sledding for director vendors, but it bears watching. It's also important to note that at large businesses (those with revenue of $1 billion or more), directors continue to gain favor.

Asked to name their primary switch vendor for 2006, 37% picked Cisco Systems Inc., enabling Cisco to surpass Brocade Communications Systems Inc. for the first time (see "Switch at the top for switch vendors") and by a margin of five percentage points. Last fall, Cisco and Brocade each garnered 31% shares.

Disk takes big slice of budget pie
Disk and disk subsystems will account for the biggest chunk of 2006 spending, with respondents reporting that, on average, 43% of their budgets will go toward adding disk capacity. This planned allocation was consistent across all sizes of businesses, varying by only 1% or 2%, but the types of storage arrays companies will purchase correlates directly with their size. Bigger companies are opting for high-end arrays, midsized firms are casting approximately half of their disk budgets toward midrange systems, while smaller companies are targeting SATA/ATA arrays for more than half of their disk spending. Crossmark's Orndorff saw his storage budget rise this year, but the increase was earmarked primarily for added capacity. Even with the additional disk, Orndorff expects his HP Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) to "max out" this year.

Buying or leasing disk aren't the only options, as John Williamson, manager of capacity and availability at Philips Semiconductors North America in San Jose, CA, attests. The company has approximately 21TB of installed capacity, primarily on Network Appliance (NetApp) Inc. boxes. It owns some of the NetApp devices, but other capacity is delivered on demand. "We have a utility agreement, storage on demand," says Williamson, "so we basically pay for usage." There may be some modest overall cost savings but, according to Williamson, the real advantage is that "we get to spread it out and we're not taking the risk."

SAN arrays are the top disk subsystem priority for companies of all sizes (see "Where disk spending will go"). SAN array spending outdistanced NAS and DAS spending--even for small businesses. SAN arrays are expected to account for more than a third of disk spending, easily outdistancing NAS (22%). DAS was the leading choice for file storage, but was favored by only a slim point and a half over NAS gateways. In the last two years, NAS gateways have become increasingly popular alternatives for file storage, growing from being the choice of approximately 20% of respondents in the spring of 2004 to nearly 35% in the current survey (see "NAS gateways gain favor for file storage"). Consolidation efforts and the desire to tap into underused SAN capacity appear to be leading this trend toward gateways. File virtualization also garnered increased interest after its steady climb was waylaid by a substantial drop last fall.

Storage virtualization has yet to find firm footing, with 65% expressing no plans at all to implement this technology. Users continue to be cautious about virtualization because of the significant impact its implementation would have on a storage environment. "It's high on my list of things to look at," says Fitch Ratings' Maceroli, "[but] it's not high on our purchase agenda for this year." Maceroli says that if his firm's evaluation of virtualization pans out, they would consider adding it to their 2007 budget.

Among those planning virtualization deployments, there's a fairly even split among implementation approaches, with host-based virtualization slightly favored over array- and appliance-based alternatives.

The favored disk vendor, reflected in both actual purchases and consideration as a prime disk system source, is EMC Corp. Thirty-one percent of respondents named EMC as their prime disk system vendor (see "EMC leads again as prime disk vendor"), while 46% said they'll buy or have bought a storage system from EMC in 2006. Who users consider their primary disk vendor is more a gauge of mindshare than actual purchases, but EMC has come out on top on both counts since surpassing HP three years ago. While EMC's prime vendor number dipped slightly in this survey, HP's prime vendor rating sagged even more; so despite a bit of slippage, EMC has widened its margin.

iSCSI picks up steam
There's been a recent flurry of activity in the iSCSI market, which is beginning to be reflected in the purchasing plans of storage managers. Thirty-one percent of respondents say they're planning iSCSI implementations this year, which is up from 24% six months ago and the highest level of interest we've seen in the year and a half we've been tracking iSCSI deployment plans (see "iSCSI implementations on the rise").

iSCSI adoption is particularly strong among smaller companies, with 35% saying they'll opt for iSCSI storage in 2006. For the first time, small companies' intentions for iSCSI outranked the number of large- and medium-sized companies planning to implement iSCSI storage. The upturn in small companies' iSCSI plans is particularly dramatic, up 12 percentage points since last fall's survey and 20 points since the fall of 2004.

San Francisco-based CMG Mortgage Insurance Co. plans to move from DAS to networked storage this year. "We're just starting to get into a SAN," says Darrick Wilson, a systems consultant at the firm. "We're looking at an iSCSI SAN." Wilson expects his firm to start with approximately 3TB of SAN storage, and likes the fact that iSCSI arrays don't require a special network. "Cost is definitely a derivative here--we are a small shop," he notes.

iSCSI represents a low-cost route to storage networking. But low prices aren't the only attraction for small businesses. Because iSCSI can leverage existing IP network infrastructures, these companies don't need to develop entirely new skill sets or hire specialized personnel to operate and maintain their storage systems. Vendors that have been actively catering to the small- to medium-sized business (SMB) sector have rolled out a variety of iSCSI arrays, some with entry-level configurations that make networked storage affordable to companies with decidedly modest IT budgets. Most of the large, entrenched vendors now offer iSCSI alternatives to Fibre Channel.

Disaster recovery tops data protection priorities
After an apparent blip in the fall of 2005, tape usage seems to be leveling off as disk-based techniques gain further acceptance for backup and disaster recovery. Forty percent of respondents say they're increasing their use of tape, a figure considerably higher than the 31% recorded a year and a half ago, but down substantially from last fall's 48%. More significantly, 20% say they're decreasing their tape usage, while 49% indicate they won't buy any tape libraries in 2006. That proportion of storage managers opting not to add any tape libraries to their environment matches the level of two years ago, and may indicate that users now have a little breathing room after beefing up their backup infrastructures over the past two years.

Among those who will be making tape library purchases, LTO is the overwhelming favorite tape format, with 60% of respondents saying their new libraries will support that format (see "LTO is clear choice for tape media"). LTO has risen steadily over the past three years, mostly at the expense of DLT and SDLT formats. Among LTO buyers, LTO-3 sprung ahead in the latest survey, leading LTO-1 and LTO-2 by 37% and 23%, respectively, which is essentially a reversal of last fall's numbers. The sudden surge can be attributed to the consistent drop in LTO-3 drive and media prices (as reported monthly in "The Real Deal" in our Trends section), which on a capacity-per-dollar basis, pegs LTO-3 at a lower cost than earlier LTO generations.

Although tape's days as a backup medium are far from numbered, it's impossible to overlook disk's steady incursion into the backup environment. Fifty-eight percent of users--the largest portion recorded in our surveys to date--say they'll increase spending for disk-based backup products. This is yet more proof that disk has assumed a key role in data protection strategies at a majority of companies (see "Disk-to-disk backup established as core data protection technology"). The overwhelming impetus for injecting disk into the process is to improve backup performance so that growing data stores can be backed up within the allotted window (see "Speedy backups key reason for D2D"). For 42% of those who haven't ventured into disk-based backup, the reason is simple--their current tape-based systems are handling the job fine. Philips Semiconductors' Williamson says his firm's tape-based backup works well. "The whole thing with disk sounds great in theory," he says. Adding disk to the mix might make life a little easier, he notes, "but it costs money."

"We are looking at some of the devices that emulate tape," says Crossmark's Orndorff. In the meantime, Crossmark does use disk in its backup process, taking advantage of the lower cost Fibre Attached Technology Adapted (FATA) disk in its HP EVA array. "We do scheduled dumps to disk and then we back that up," explains Orndorff. "That's what we use the FATA drives for."

WAN expenditures will likely remain flat in 2006, with the percentage of respondents increasing or holding the line on WAN budgets approximately the same as last fall. Disaster recovery is the runaway leading reason for WAN purchases, as reported by 70% of respondents vs. 60% last fall. More than 50% of those surveyed also say remote replication will be their primary storage-related disaster recovery expenditure in 2006, a number confirmed by remote-mirroring spending plans, where 43% plan increased spending.

Archiving apps have also established a presence in many shops to protect data and reduce the amount of online data that applications have to churn through. File-system archivers have the largest installed base (34%), followed by e-mail (30%) and database archiving (22%) products, with similar numbers of respondents planning purchases of each technology this year. Rather than purchasing an archiving app to run internally, some companies like CMG are considering alternatives such as managed services. "We are looking at Postini," says the firm's Wilson. "Postini is coming out with a business-continuity planning service."

Storage management software languishes
Costly storage management software remains a relatively low priority, as managers are content to stick with point products or the apps bundled with hardware. Approximately one-third of those surveyed report that they have a management product, while approximately 30% say that limited budgets and high prices would deter any purchase considerations this year.

Among those who have purchased storage management software, one-third consider EMC their primary vendor and 18% name HP, a figure that has trailed off a bit since last fall's 21% share.

Many newer technologies are on storage managers' radar screens, along with several more established technologies receiving renewed interest. The top technologies of interest are directly related to the themes of coping with data growth and protecting stored data.

Seventy-two percent of respondents say they plan to either implement or evaluate wide-area replication, again bolstering the growing concern with disaster planning. Hand in hand with replication, continuous data protection was rated at nearly the same level of interest, and data encryption--the headline grabbing storage topic for much of the last year--is up for implementation or evaluation by 62% of managers. Interest in several other technologies--most notably, SAN/NAS gateways, service-level agreements (SLAs), global file systems and SAN routing--address the issue of dealing with ever-growing data stores. It's particularly interesting that SLAs were rated so high (56% will implement or evaluate), suggesting that making business units pay for storage may help to control growth.

Functionality wins out
Throughout the most recent and previous surveys, storage managers say the main criteria for choosing a particular product or considering a vendor as a prime supplier are product features and functionality. Despite tight budgets and the crisis of the moment, managers expect their products to deliver as advertised and are willing to shell out a few extra bucks to ensure that. In fact, a product's price was consistently one of the lowest rated criteria. Current hardware and software suppliers are also favored, underscoring the importance of building solid partnerships for both storage users and vendors. "We try to limit ourselves to market-leading technologies," says Fitch Ratings' Maceroli.

About the Survey: This is the fourth year Storage has published its twice-yearly Purchasing Intentions Survey. This survey was conducted in March 2006 by e-mail. The results are based on answers from 680 respondents, all of whom had specific purchasing authority for the product categories they were queried on.

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