Like just about everybody else, storage vendors and administrators are wondering how the financial crisis will affect them. But while vendors brace for a slowdown, people who buy and manage storage say data growth makes storage a top priority and often results in new projects.
Some IT pros say they're busier -- and consuming more storage -- than ever in an effort to support sales forces under pressure to maintain the bottom line during recession.
Carfax.com has seen car dealers stricken by high gas prices over the summer and tightening consumer budgets this fall, but new projects continue in the data center. "We're trying to get data into our salespeople's hands quicker," said Kris Knutson, director of infrastructure services. "They're the ones on the front lines and are looking for ways to help dealers sell cars when nobody's buying."
"To keep sales up without increasing headcount, we recently rolled out mobile devices for sales field staff so they can do scans and order products without having to write everything down, come back to the store and place an order for a customer," Dulek said. "You have to have infrastructure to support that."
Although projects already planned for this year are moving forward, some niche storage technologies may get cut out of future budgets.
"If you need disk space, you need disk space, but superfluous stuff, like an SRM [Storage Resource Management] tool, was shot down this year," Dulek said.
Data reduction sought, but may not be mature enough
Data deduplication and compression can help tame data growth and allow companies to spend less on disk, but these technologies are in their early days for primary data.
"Three of the eight people I work with have come to me looking for ways to reduce the amount of data we're keeping on line," said Tory Skyers infrastructure engineer with a major financial institution that has escaped the current crisis relatively unscathed. The problem, he said, is that none of the products available seem mature enough to be a good risk in a risk-averse climate. "Right now, about the only thing I can offer them is NetApp's V-Series gateway with data deduplication, but it's still a relatively young product for their liking," Skyers said.
David Ping, a data center storage team lead for a major California utility, said that data management will only be solved with an improved process, rather than new tools. "It's going to take the support of the CIO to make a mandated project with a definite deadline to create good data policies to begin with," he said. Most organizations remain in a "keep everything" mode with legal compliance a high priority these days, Ping added
A darker picture emerging?
For now, rather than a crisis, IT pros said they're feeling a milder slowdown – a lengthening of sales cycles and a tendency to hold on to older equipment and technologies longer. But it's hard to ignore the way publicly traded storage vendors have been downgraded in recent weeks by Wall Street analyst firms.
Some industry analysts see a darker future still to come for the storage market as 2009 budgets are drawn up. "Companies with good credit should not be impacted. They can borrow money to continue funding capital purchases," said Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Brian Babineau. "Those that do not have good credit are having trouble funding their overall business operations, including technology purchases. I think if you sampled a large set of global customers, budgets for 2009 are being readjusted and Q4 budget flushes may not be as big as some people think."
Preliminary results for R.W. Baird & Co.'s third-quarter enterprise value-added reseller (VAR) survey "were as bad as we've seen in several years, validating general market turmoil and uncertainty" according to a note issued by Baird's Jayson Noland. However, Noland added, that storage was a bright spot with more than 80% of resellers hailing storage as their strongest IT category in the second half of 2008.