By all accounts, 2008 was the year storage virtualization graduated from the University of Testing & Quality Assurance and matriculated into the real world of business production.
Industry researchers Forrester, IDC, Gartner, Enterprise Strategy Group and The Yankee Group have all reported that virtual machines — whether used for storage, operating systems, enterprise applications or databases — are now in production in 75 percent of all IT systems. It’s been a fast ascent; 18 months ago that number was around 25 percent.
Looking ahead to 2009 with its recessionary complications, indications are that virtualization in all its forms will help the next 12 months become IT’s Year of Finding More Efficiency. In data storage, this means finding and utilizing as much disk capacity as can be identified to make best use of existing hardware and software, so that costs can be contained.
In many cases, this means IT managers will be utilizing new capacities previously untouched by storage controllers — places such as Web, database and application servers that previously were single-purpose machines.
It’s getting crowded in the storage array neighborhood. The creation and flow of digital information in all of its formats continues to pick up momentum. Thousands of Web pages pop onto the Internet every minute. E-mail, text and instant message documents are written and saved by the thousands every second. Financial service and retail sales records are filling up databases. Photos, music files and video streams are pouring into storage coffers from PCs, desktops, servers and handheld devices at an ever-increasing pace.
More capacity for all this digital data must keep coming online to serve as the backstop for this explosion. Enterprises and consumers alike continue to invest in storage hardware and software, although the numbers crunchers are getting nervous. Nonetheless, most storage providers are in the pink, while a number of other IT product and service vendors are seeing red.
Still a Relatively Bulletproof Sector at This Time
Last year’s quarterly financial reports bear it out: Recession or no recession, the most economically bulletproof sector of the IT business is data storage and its immediately peripheral subsectors, including disaster recovery, e-discovery and deduplication software.
Will this continue in 2009? Industry experts are near-unanimous in their assessment: Yes, the flow of data will continue to increase, despite a general slowdown in business, and yes, storage and storage-related IT products and services will continue to remain in demand for the near and long term.
Trends in the data storage business in 2009 are pretty well defined. Here are the key ones as eWEEK sees them:
–Virtualized storage and any other IT product that reduces costs will be in demand.
–Automation of virtualized resources will become more strategic to the success of enterprises. “Efficiency” is the operative term here.
–Storage and services in the cloud will move beyond the talk/testing stage and get into regular production, most likely later in the year.
–A new generation of mainframes is well-positioned as the default “security blanket” for IT organizations.
–Green IT data center strategies will continue to be deployed — spurred first by cost savings, and secondly by environmental purpose.
Let’s examine each of these in more detail.
The 2009 Mantra: At All Costs, Reduce Costs
The 2009 IT Mantra: At All Costs, Reduce Costs
All data roads eventually lead to some kind of storage, whether it be on 15K RPM Fibre Channel disks, a slower-running SATA (Serial ATA) drive, or a tape cartridge stored in an Iron Mountain vault. Thus, efficient data storage is a key factor in a well-run enterprise IT operation.
Redundant data is the enemy; it is costly, wastes energy and generally slows storage I/O, traditionally the major bottleneck of storage.
Data deduplication — not a new idea but one which has evolved into its own market in the last few years — eliminates redundant data from a disk storage device in order to lower storage space requirements. In turn, this lowers data center power and cooling costs and lessens the amount of carbon dioxide produced to generate power to run the hardware.
“Data deduplication is no longer a fad,” Beth White, Data Domain’s vice president of marketing, told eWEEK. ” ‘Dedupe’ is now a proven technology. We’re starting to see these very large organizations adopt dedupe in volume and even as a standard. We see this as continuing to develop.”
Thin provisioning is also gaining stature in this drive to new efficiencies. This is a method of storage resource management and virtualization that lets IT administrators limit the allocation of actual physical storage to what applications immediately need. It enables the automatic addition of capacity on demand up to pre-set limits so that IT departments can avoid buying and managing excessive amounts of disk storage.
Simply deleting old files that are no longer necessary and/or legally required is another way to add efficiency, because it adds immediate capacity.
“A lot of people haven’t embraced a ‘cleaning up’ approach for two reasons: One, things are going well and they don’t want to be bothered with it — they’ll just keep everything. Two, there is really no way to integrate it into a movement,” said Dave West, marketing vice-president of automated storage provider CommVault.
“You can identify the data and see that it’s old, but what do you do with it? If it’s not identified with a data movement technology, you haven’t taken action — all you’ve done is identify it.”
Automation a Hot Ticket
Automation Software Will Be Hot
If there’s one word that spells out a major data storage trend for 2009, it’s “automation.” In its simplest form, we’re talking about the creative intersection of business intelligence, botlike software and data storage arrays.
Storage companies are finding ways to automate processes that used to be painstaking, tedious and expensive to handle. For example, storage tiering and change management priorities can now be dialed up from anywhere in the world on central, Web-based consoles supplied by a rapidly growing number of vendors.
Storage tiering keeps often-accessed data on a fast Tier 1 spinning or solid-state disk, by far the most power-hungry option; Tier 2 data, accessed less frequently, is kept on slower, cheaper SATA (Serial ATA) disks. Tier 3 is tape storage for data that may never see the light of day again.
An example of this is the recent spike in sales of storage appliances. A storage appliance is a plug-and-play tool which combines storage capacity control and tiering automation, and does it with a simple interface that a savvy business person can use. No scripts or other code need to be written.
STORServer, which marketed one of the first storage appliances back in 2001, has reported an upsurge of interest from SMBs in its wares. Sun Microsystems launched its first storage appliance, Amber Road, last fall, and reported immediate sales orders.
“We developed a relationship with VMware about two years ago to work with the ESX platform, and now we’ve actually begun to virtualize our own appliance,” Laura Buckley, CEO and COO of STORServer, told eWEEK.
“We have added new capabilities, such as email archiving, for example, into our appliance that used to be related to another physical server. We’ve added them into our product as additional virtual machines.”
Intelligent software in the data center is doing more of the heavy-and often very intricate-lifting. Old-school manual labor, where IT staff met once or twice a month to physically print out all the application patches and security updates on spreadsheets and walk them out to production locations, is finis.
“While virtual server environments promise lower internal resource requirements, unchecked virtual server sprawl quickly can create a hornet’s nest from a management perspective,” Jim Grant, BMC Software’s senior vice president of strategy and corporate development, told eWEEK.
“Management tools that give visibility into the virtual network will be critical.”
Cloud Services Ready to Roll in 2009
Cloud Services Poised for Growth
Since a lot of all this new data is going to reside on somebody else’s server array, to be accessed by a subscription storage service in the cloud, efficiencies outside the enterprise’s own data center are also becoming strategic.
Cloud, or utility, computing serves up computing power, data storage or applications from one data center location over a grid to thousands or millions of users on a subscription basis. Thus enterprises avoid capital costs for hardware, software and real estate.
“There is a lot of interest in cloud storage in all its forms, but when you step back, it’s still the year of early adoption,” Sajai Krishnan, founder and CEO of cloud storage provider ParaScale, now in beta with its first product.
“Mainstream America is saying they’re just getting comfortable with what cloud storage means. They’re not rushing to purchase just yet, but they will. People are questioning whether they really need to buy Tier 1 storage [in 2009] as opposed to buying cheaper SATA hardware or simply renting space in the cloud.”
New Mainframe, Green IT Also Big Factors
Back to the Future with New Mainframes
IBM’s z System mainframes — some using the Sun Microsystems open-source operating system OpenSolaris — are leading the way in that revitalized sector. Because this new generation of big hunk-type machines is much more power-efficient and environmentally friendly than previous generations from the 1980s and 1990s, data centers are beginning to junk some of their older pizza-box racks and replace them with heavier-duty equipment.
“Mainframes are poised to become the default security blanket for IT as organizations squeeze even more value from this investment,” Grant said.
“Management tools that encompass mainframe, distributed, virtual and cloud environments will add more value than those solely focused on the new virtual kids on the block.”
Green IT: Welcome Byproduct of IT Efficiency
Green IT data center strategies will continue to be deployed — spurred first by cost savings, secondly by environmental purpose.
Business is business: Frankly, bottom-line savings will trump anything else in importance in this tricky economy, including environmental concerns. While they are not willing to volunteer this information, many enterprises consider power savings and the shrinking of carbon footprints as simply a good byproduct of efficient data centers.
First-tier IT enterprises such as Hewlett Packard, Cisco Systems, IBM, EMC, Dell and Sun Microsystems are putting their R&D money where their mouths are. Each of those companies has a green IT division and is working to coordinate product focus toward power- and carbon-saving results.