Storage Technologies for a Slowing Economy

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DALLAS — Given the weakening economic backdrop, it is no surprise that improving corporate computing efficiencies and streamlining costs captured a lot of attention at this week’s Storage Networking World conference.

With data center terabyte requirements growing 55 percent a year and hard disk drive capacities growing 30 percent a year, speakers focused on a variety of approaches to meet a challenging environment of space limitations, soaring power costs and new technology choices.

Green storage was a big theme at the conference, revealing a growing attention to the potential of an approach that can be applied at a variety of corporate levels.

In a talk on the real costs of storage power and cooling, David Reinsel of IDC said being green “means a lot of different things.” Green business, technology and energy activities come together at some level in every corporation, and a majority of respondents in an IDC/Computerworld survey are studying power and cooling issues or taking action to reduce their costs.

IDC’s suggested methodology for calculating storage power and cooling examined six factors, such as installed drives, total watts, lifecycle and workload, combined with geographic locations and costs to project an average annual cost to power and cool one HDD in 2008 at $35.73. Reinsel said remedies to curb this cost could include temperature and alternative energy use at the data center, tiered storage, consolidation, solid state storage (SSD) and green hard disk drives in hardware; and de-duplicationand Virtualizationin software.

Erik Reidel of SNIA’s Green Storage Initiative (GSI) identified “potential paths to green,” such as improving usage efficiency, minimizing energy consumption and focusing on new technologies like solid state storage and alternative storage architectures.

Reidel said enterprises need scientific measures and common vocabulary to assess green performance. Storage users can turn to the GSI and other active green associations like the Green Grid, 80PLUS, Climate Savers and the EPA EnergyStar data center energy efficiency initiative for developing standards on what they should measure, how they should measure, and goals and achievements.

Saving Money Through Technology

New technologies and approaches also anticipate lean times ahead. Diane Bryant, CIO of Intel (NASDAQ: INTC), spoke to a global workforce increasingly collaborating and sharing data and information. The world is going green, said Bryant, and Intel’s goal is to efficiently manage information and data to enable business growth and agility.

Bryant outlined an approach for managing the explosion of information based on policies and procedures for information lifecycle, data, capacity, security and rights management, and engineering innovation through SAN/NAS virtualization, thin provisioning, next-generation backup and recovery, fabric unification, and FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet).

The Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) featured a multi vendor FCoE demo, and the SNW Hands-On Labs featured FCoE exercises from Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO), Intel, NetApp (NASDAQ: NTAP) and QLogic (NASDAQ: QLGC). An FCoE case study presented by SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) tutorial speakers Sunil Ahluwalia of Intel and Errol Roberts of Cisco found that FCoE delivered the same performance as FC at 25 percent less cost. With a target specification completion in 2008, more FCoE solutions should be available to storage architects and managers next year.

Intel also sees an opportunity to integrate new technologies such as solid state drives into storage tiers, which can enable users to meet the highest performance, highest reliability and lowest power demands using 39 percent less heat and 91 percent less power under load compared to a 15k RPM hard disk drive. SNIA’s recently announced Solid State Storage Initiative (SSSI) led to solid state disk demonstrations that emphasized power reduction and footprint consolidation for critical corporate applications.

Marty Smith, CIO of ChoicePoint, outlined the challenges that were faced by the company’s many business units that had different business modes, no enforced server standards, a fragmented infrastructure with no shared services, and an inflexible maintenance schedule. ChoicePoint had been a hosting facility for the business units that would buy and stand up servers on their own.

Smith called for using a shared storage model, optimizing the data center to increase performance and generate cost savings for business unit customers. Smith first developed a short and long term technology road map, built a process and governance strategy, and started small with simple implementations. ChoicePoint then expanded, measured as they went and communicated their successes. Since beginning the project, ChoicePoint has eliminated 500 rack units of servers and low-density storage, consolidated 23 SAN islands to one core-edge SAN, and cut costs by 40 percent. Smith emphasized that software licenses were his biggest savings, and to ignore them could lose all savings from virtualization.

Consolidation strategies were also highlighted in a number of sessions. A well attended SNIA tutorial on virtualization presented by Rob Peglar of Xiotech examined steps for implementing storage virtualization, including adding the virtualization infrastructure in steps before establishing the high-availability environment and creating and using single storage pools. Striping/mirroring, load sharing and balancing, and offloading host systems and caching where possible can help achieve performance in a virtual environment.

The Analyst Take

Among the analysts at the show were Greg Schulz, founder of the StorageIO Group, who came away with the impression that “spending on non-essential, discretionary, nice-to-have and want-to-have new and emerging technologies will take a spending hit, and some startups will be squeezed. However, vendors who have strong value propositions to address need-to-have technologies and solutions that keep business and services running will see some softness but will continue to do well. It’s back to the basics, and it will be about better efficiency in terms of getting more work done faster as well as maximizing usage.”

Jayson Noland of R.W. Baird came away with a more upbeat assessment.

“End-user commentary on 2009 IT spend was constructive,” he wrote in a research note earlier this week. “We continue to view enterprise storage spend as less discretionary than many IT categories.”

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