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Enterprise data storage outlook 2010: industry predictions for storage pros

After a year of change and a bleak economy, the storage industry looks ahead to loosening IT budget strings, cloud storage and storage efficiency in 2010.

While capital budgets are loosening for many IT departments and the economy is apparently stabilizing, enterprise data storage industry experts say a full recovery from the most recent downturn is still a ways off as 2010 arrives. That means capital and operational efficiencies will continue to rule purchasing decisions this year.

Experts see IT concentration on operational costs

The economy's effect on business processes and new technology innovation will likely dominate the IT and data storage landscape in 2010. According to IDC's "Worldwide Storage 2010 Top 10 Predictions" report, IT will undergo "a shift away from capital cost efficiencies to operational cost efficiencies." The bottom line is the development of "a business-level bias in most companies toward virtualized and/or services-oriented offerings for storage solutions."

In addition, IDC said business units will look to establish greater independence from IT. "Clear signs of this development include explosive expansion in the use of SharePoint, lots of interest in software as a services (business applications), and a preference for 'appliance' packages for decision support/analytics or content archiving," the report reads.

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The cloud and virtualization

The discussion about cost reductions quickly blends into a conversation about outsourcing and managed services, which leads directly into a debate about cloud computing. IDC predicts "strong interest by [business units] in cloud-based application services and increased influence of [business units] in storage solutions investments. Storage solutions providers need to increase sales and market efforts targeted not only at IT but also at [business unit] leaders."

There's no clear consensus about how big a role the cloud will play in data storage in 2010 and beyond, however. Jeff Boles, senior analyst and director, validation services at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group, predicts "2010 will be the year of real cloud, where we see useable, problem-solving technologies bubble up that take advantage of the cloud. Those solutions in 2010 will determine whether the market sticks or not."

But Analytico Inc. analyst Tom Trainer said cloud storage was the most overrated technology in 2009, and he doesn't see that picture changing over the next year.

"What started out with a bang in the beginning of 2009 quickly turned into the scent of gunpowder and smoke as businesses that are deploying clouds are finding that not all cloud-oriented storage is the same, and their actual cloud storage requirement can vary greatly," Trainer said. "That the industry has made progress in this area there is no doubt. However, we have far to go through 2010 and 2011."

Wikibon analyst David Vellante isn't sure server virtualization -- one of the foundational building blocks for cloud infrastructure -- will have fully taken off by the end of 2010. "By December 2010 we'll still be hearing virtualization is 'poised' to support mission critical apps," he wrote in a recent blog post. "Give it a couple more years."

Technology theme: Data storage efficiency

Vendors, analysts and data storage customers point to other methods of gaining data storage efficiency and cutting costs that could gain steam in 2010.

This will be the "year of deletion," Symantec Corp. claimed in a predictions list it circulated in December. "The last time storage technology kept up with information growth was 2002," the report reads. "In order to keep up, storage admins will need to begin to lose their 'pack rat' mentality and start deleting information. The 'delete' mentality will lead to a shift from using backup as the long-term storage location. Backup will return to its intended use and recovery, while archiving will step in to manage the long-term retention and disposition of information."

IDC predicts data archiving and backup will grow increasingly intertwined in the next year.

"In certain market segments, firms have the need for archiving functionality but may lack the budget or resource bandwidth for separate archiving applications," IDC's storage predictions report claims. "For these segments, IDC expects to see signals of the consolidation of distinctly separate archive and backup uses cases under common management frameworks."

In 2009, some storage administrators found that they could achieve backup efficiencies using data archiving and retention plans.

Other storage efficiency technologies that will remain hot topics in 2010 will be familiar to anyone following the industry in 2009: thin provisioning, data deduplication and solid-state storage. Admins especially said they would be keeping an eye on the latter two areas of the market. "Data deduplication at the storage system level seems to be losing some steam, as it should," Brandon Jackson, chief information officer of Gaston County, N.C., wrote in an email. "Data dedupe belongs with the application – where the data business rules lie."

He added: "Solid-state disk [SSD] is gaining momentum, but is still overlooked – primarily due to cost. Once cost comes down, SSD will take off."

While he's bullish on cloud storage, Taneja Group's Boles said he's not so sure about how 2010 will shape up for SSDs. Storage vendors such as EMC Corp. and Compellent Technologies Inc. are offering automated tiered storage software within disk arrays, in part as a means of driving further adoption of SSDs. But Boles said customers might just pick up the tiered storage automation and skip Flash altogether.

"Enterprise SSD adoption will be a lot slower than expected, with users realizing array-level sub-volume tiering will give them advantages even without SSD, while the different SSD drives on the market and lack of commoditization will continue to present them with uncertainties that reduce adoption rates," Boles said.

Another focus for the enterprise data storage market heading into 2010 is the concept of scale-out storage, commodity hardware and open-source software changing the economics of storage. Derek Kruger, IT and communications supervisor for the city of Safford, Ariz., said he's using open-source software with commodity hardware as a cheaper alternative to expanding storage capacity on proprietary arrays, particularly for unstructured data.

In its report, IDC predicted that scale-out network-attached storage (NAS) will also be a popular item evaluated in the coming year for data storage efficiency.

"2009 was the year that organizations got serious about evaluating new storage investments based on efficiency," reads IDC's report. "This year, these same IT organizations will need to prove that promised efficiency gains are actually achievable, sustainable, and extensible to new use cases."


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