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Storage's historic role as an island in IT architectures is changing. As using, managing and protecting information becomes a top priority for organizations, storage technology faces growing demands to work with security, networking and enterprise software and systems.
The result has been a changing and expanding role for storage technology, both for vendors and storage professionals.
EMC senior product manager Scott Delandy said he is hearing some common themes from IT organizations:
- IT organizations must manage growth, which means more and more information and increased complexity.
- IT organizations are often being asked to manage information risks by not only making sure the information is available, but that it's also managed properly.
- And organizations are constantly being asked to do more with less and to manage more efficiently while delivering high service levels.
To solve these challenges in an effective and efficient manner, Delandy said it all starts with information.
"While people tell us that information is the organization's most important asset, surprisingly, it usually isn't managed that way," said Delandy. To change this, he said, organizations are looking to deploy an "information infrastructure" that provides a "comprehensive set of shared services that store, protect, optimize, and leverage information."
EMC, perhaps more than most, has been positioning for the change.
"We have recognized and reacted to customer-driven changes in the marketplace, which has directly influenced EMC's transition from the world's leading storage provider to the world's leading information infrastructure provider," said Delandy. "And although storage products and services still form the core of EMC's business today, the drive to deliver higher value at lower cost demands a shift in thinking from component management to information management."
Server Virtualization's Influence
Other storage companies are exploiting the trend by enabling industry-standard networks to utilize storage for virtual servers.
"Storage vendors will naturally approach this from a storage-centric point of view and have the inherent conflict that they want to sell their own proprietary hardware and software," said Sanrad CEO Dave Dupont, who said his company is "taking a more holistic perspective on storage as an integrated part of the IT infrastructure. Customers benefit, too, because they are no longer victims of vendor lock-in."
But another industry official sees the storage industry's proprietary nature as a competitive advantage.
"This is where the storage industry's relative immaturity (in terms of time in the market) and proprietary nature play well for the industry, as it is far easier for a storage company to move in to a more mature market such as networking than the other way around," said Jim McDonald, CTO of WysDM Software.
Not surprisingly, IT generalists think they have the upper hand.
Patrick Eitenbichler, director of marketing for HP's StorageWorks division, said it will be very difficult for storage-only companies to address the needs of customers across the IT infrastructure.
"As storage and servers converge and customers focus more and more on delivering a holistic SLA approach for each of their applications, they will look to IT infrastructure providers who can provide comprehensive solutions to meet their business needs," said Eitenbichler.
Seizing the Opportunity
Many storage vendors agree that the convergence of storage with the broader IT infrastructure represents an opportunity for storage companies to establish a better model for working with other IT disciplines.
Mark Goros, CEO of Caringo, said his company developed its CAStor product with the objective of simplifying storage, specifically content or file-based storage, to enable software and system players to interoperate more easily.
"By providing simple HTTP and file system interfaces, it is easy for software vendors to integrate and the storage environment can be managed as an element in the network by systems management platforms via SNMP," said Goros. "I believe that the storage layer should encapsulate a number of functions so that applications and networking can focus on their core competencies."
These functions, he said, include guaranteed data integrity, data replication for distributed recovery, compliance and regulatory adherence, automatic backup and disaster recovery. Goros said all these functions are built in to the CAStor storage layer, which can then be accessed by multiple applications via industry standard protocols.
Wayne Yamamoto, CEO of Call/Recall, said companies such as EMC and IBM are making strides in the area of IT and storage convergence and storage vendors will continue to develop integrated networking solutions that tie into all aspects of storage and security, but he added that there is no "one size fits all" solution which means opportunity for everyone.
"Today, many network applications already have levels of encryption, replication and data protection attributes for both storage and security," he said. "Disk backup solutions can play a role in making these solutions easier to implement, store, protect and retrieve data at lower costs of ownership."