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A look ahead: The data storage industry in 2011

The 2011 data storage industry will face questions about vendors and technologies such as solid state, cloud, primary dedupe and Fibre Channel over Ethernet

Nobody has all the answers for what will happen in the data storage industry in 2011, but here is a list of the best questions to ask entering the new year.

What will Dell Inc. do for an encore? After a year of acquisitions (Compellent Technologies Inc., Ocarina Networks, Exanet) and one near-acquisition (3PAR), Dell execs say they're not finished shopping yet. Brad Anderson, Dell vice president, said data management remains high on the vendor's wish list. Dell also bears watching to see how it uses its new technologies and how long its relationship with EMC lasts.

Will Cisco Systems Inc. or Oracle Corp. buy a big-time storage vendor? This was a big year for storage technology mergers and acquisitions, leading to speculation that even larger deals are coming. Cisco and Oracle may decide they need to gobble up storage vendors to grow. EMC Corp. and NetApp are the most likely targets.

Will the EMC-Dell relationship outlast IBM-NetApp? The storage industry is waiting to see if EMC and Dell divorce, but IBM and NetApp also seem to have less use for each other these days. IBM has expanded its in-house storage portfolio with its SONAS clustered NAS and a new midrange storage virtualization platform (Storwize V7000), and added its own primary data reduction technology. The percentage of NetApp's sales from IBM is down, yet that has hardly put a dent in its strong revenue growth.

Can 3PAR solve Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co.'s storage problems? HP is looking to get a lot of mileage out of its $2.35 billion investment. 3PAR gives HP innovation it has lacked for years, and HP wants to ride 3PAR to the cloud as well as into traditional midrange and enterprise storage shops.

Will Symantec Corp. break up? Speculation that Symantec will split off its storage/backup products from its security products is nothing new, but it probably makes more sense than ever considering today's acquisition climate. The old Veritas product portfolio would make a nice addition to Microsoft or Oracle if they want to shell out for it.

Who will win the race to the cloud? This starting line has more entrants than the Boston marathon. The major vendors are pitching everything as cloud, while startups see a cloud-only focus as a head-start to viability. Customer reaction to cloud storage will likely look a lot different a year from now.

Is this the year for solid-state storage, storage clouds, primary deduplication and/or Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE)? This is actually four questions, or the same question asked about four technologies that have had proponents in the data storage industry pushing them for several years now. They will all get a look from enterprises in 2011, and be judged on their maturity and usefulness.

Is FalconStor Software Inc. the next Isilon Systems … or the next BakBone Software? In 2010, FalconStor found itself in a similar position to Isilon in 2007 and BakBone in 2004. Like those companies, FalconStor required a management shuffle after questionable sales practices caused a lack of public trust. Isilon rebounded by quickly building out a strong management team and continuing to develop its market-leading clustered NAS platform, making it worth $2.25 billion to EMC this year. BakBone needed years to figure out its accounting problems, fell behind on technology, became less relevant and was finally bought by Quest Software for $55 million. FalconStor CEO Jim McNiel's strategy is to sharpen the vendor's various technologies into what he calls "service-oriented data protection."

How far can CommVault ride Simpana 9? CommVault won accolades and got off to a good start with its latest product update, which combines source and target dedupe for backup. The vendor still has a long way to go to catch backup powerhouses Symantec and EMC, but could make a nice acquisition target for a large vendor looking to establish or increase a data protection presence.

Will Quantum Corp. thrive or merely survive? Quantum has refreshed its entire DXi deduplication disk backup platform and formed new formal and informal partnerships, but has yet to see much gain in mindshare or market share. Its products line has improved in performance and covers SMBs to the enterprise, but the dedupe competition is getting stiffer.

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