Storage Technologies to Watch – An Industry Perspective

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In today’s global marketplace, many companies have seen a significant increase in the volume of information being produced and stored. Enterprises are continually faced with the need for more and more storage capacity, while ensuring that the data stored can be accessed on an as needed basis. They must also, in light of the value of the data, ensure that it is protected against loss or damage. The safe and secure storage of data has always been a priority for business, but in the past it used to be that the available technology drove the data storage methods. Nowadays, with network storage, the tables have turned.

Network Storage: The Fastest Growing Market
Whereas in the past, business often had to sacrifice convenience for technological limitations, both Network Attached Storage (NAS) and Storage Area Network (SAN) technologies have enabled organizations to deploy storage in ways that are best suited for their particular business needs. Even so, as the amount of information increases, companies continually search for new ways to deploy storage technologies that not only meet their immediate needs, but that will also protect their technology and business investment into the future.

It is estimated that the global storage market is worth $44 billion a year. According to International Data Corporation (IDC), an independent research firm, network storage is one of the fastest growing segments of this market. IDC estimates that 1.3 million terabytes of storage will be sold by the end of 2002. Gartner Dataquest, another independent research company, predicts that the cost per megabyte of storage, which was 15 cents in 2000, could fall to as little as 3 cents per megabyte by 2003.

The Storage Technology of the Future
The traditional storage management model of one server type with one or more storage subsystems directly attached just doesn’t work once a storage system reaches the 500 gigabyte to terabyte level. Because of this, storage managers and the storage industry as a whole are constantly trying to figure out what technologies will help them best in their search for storage nirvana.

Two technologies that have received a great deal of attention especially from companies requiring flexible storage solutions, data storage security and disaster recovery functions, are IP storage and iSCSI. According to Todd Viegut, vice president of marketing for Storage Computer Corporation, Storage over Internet Protocol (IP) is the most intriguing technology to watch in the future. However, he also explained that, although it sounds very promising, “there are still some very interesting concerns regarding throughput and latency.”

While acknowledging that Storage over IP will be a significant part of the network storage landscape, Steven Toole, vice president of marketing for Precise WQuinn, a storage software company, believes that Storage Resource Management (SRM) is the technology to watch. “Any storage analyst will tell you that SRM must be in place before even considering supply-side storage technologies such as virtualization, SAN, and NAS.” Toole went on to say that without proper controls of how storage is being used, it’s senseless to keep habitually expanding capacity.

Rather than specify a single technology, industry figures like Alan Koifman, technical research leader for DataPeer, Inc. forecast that storage buyers should be watching more than one technology in the coming years. His picks for the ‘ones to watch’ include Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI), Fibre Channel over Internet Protocol (FCIP), Internet Fibre Channel Protocol (iFCP), and virtualization.

Other industry figures, including Steven Murphy, president of Fujitsu Softek, think that it’s the reliability and price of new technologies, rather than the technologies themselves, that will be the driving force for market acceptance of new products. “Any new technology must prove its reliability as well as meet aggressive price/performance goals,” says Murphy. He believes that if new technologies cannot demonstrate lower price points and improve performance, customers will be unlikely to migrate from existing solutions.

How does iSCSI fit into the future of the storage market?
One topic on which there seems to be universal agreement, at least in terms of technologies to watch, is iSCSI – though many people are wondering how, exactly, iSCSI fits into the future of the storage market. iSCSI is a solution that industry leader Fujitsu Softek has tested in its labs for years, but during testing has found that, at present, it doesn’t meet the price/performance thresholds for enterprise adaptation. Nick Tabellion, CTO of Fujitsu Softek explains. “The price of iSCSI is very attractive – unfortunately this solution is very low performance.” Tabellion goes on to say that Fujitsu does not see mission critical adaptation of iSCSI due to performance concerns.

SANs and IP-based storage solutions
Looking at the storage industry from a big picture perspective, survey after survey shows that, whatever the specific technology might be, the overall growth in the network storage market will be significant. Analysts at Gartner Dataquest believe that the SAN marketplace will grow 89 percent between 1999 and 2003, and the analysts at IDC forecast SAN implementations to grow tenfold by the end of 2002. In addition, some industry experts believe that SANs and storage networking in general will become predominately IP-based.

There are many reasons for this, including performance, reliability, scalability, and ease of management, as Koifman explains. “If we look at how the bandwidth usage standards have increased over past years, we can safely assume that IP-based storage solutions will be an excellent fit into existing IP networks. Corporations have already invested in IP technology and have accumulated extensive experience and knowledge of it. That said,” he cautioned, “IP storage has some technical refinements to make in the areas of security, and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) offloads.”

Back at Fujitsu Softek, many believe that any move to IP-based storage networking is going to be, as with other technologies, based more on meeting price/performance thresholds. “Users will need to see clear benefits before moving to a new technology,” says Murphy. Fujitsu’s Tabellion sees the costs of new technologies becoming a contributing factor in actual product development, and ultimately technical convergence. “With Fibre lowering its price points and IP improving performance, we may see a convergence of the technologies for different customers and applications,” he says.

The future of Fibre Channel and Infiniband
Although iSCSI is one of storage’s hot topics, it by no means has the spotlight to itself. Other technologies such as Fibre Channel and Infiniband are also on many storage managers minds, though the former is already the storage industry poster child to some extent. Fibre Channel is a technology for transmitting data at high speeds between computer devices, such as those used in storage systems, while InfiniBand is an architecture and specification for data flow between processors and I/O devices such as those found in storage devices. Of the two technologies, it is Infiniband that is tipped to become the new darling of the storage industry.

In the next few years, according to industry experts, InfiniBand is expected to gradually replace the existing Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) shared-bus approach used in most of today’s personal computers, servers and other computing devices. “However”, says Koifman, “Infiniband is struggling to identify itself outside of the bus connector realm. It may, however, find a home with virtualization boxes and will most likely play a key role in building distributed clustering solutions.”

According to LaPlante, although both Fibre Channel and Infiniband are important for hardware-to-hardware communications, it is more a question of compatibility than of one technology coming to the fore.”We still do not have heterogeneous fabrics because much of the hardware is still vendor specific.” LaPlante believes that the issue with vendor-specific hardware must be solved before either Fibre Channel or Infiniband become the future of network storage. “At a high level, it’s about the vendor-dependent issue. Customers want a multi-vendor strategy, they don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket. Therefore network storage solutions need to move away from being vendor-dependent.”

In common with just about every other part of the IT industry, there is one topic on which it is easy to get everyone to agree – the need for security in systems. As storage networks continue to increase in size and reach, the question many people are asking is ‘how are storage vendors going to help secure the data running through storage networks?’ Koifman believes that answer for storage vendors is to integrate existing technologies such as IP/sec, VPN, and wire speed encryption boxes into storage solutions.

In many cases, these existing technologies have proved themselves worthy in other areas of IT, as Viegut explains “In the IP world, technologies and products are readily deployed which ensure safe levels of data transport. With storage networks these do not exist in the same quantity as they do in the IP world.” Viegut predicts that we will start to see more products related to storage security emerge over the next few years.

Overall, it seems that the storage industry figures we spoke to are more focused on the issues that face the industry as a whole, rather than the specific technologies. Consensus is that over the coming years, the subjects of security, vendor independence and price/performance will drive the industry more than any one technology.


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Leslie Wood

Leslie Wood
Leslie Wood
Leslie. Wood is an Enterprise Storage Forum contributor.

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