When it comes to predicting the year ahead for the data storage market, few can see past the economy.
"Assuming the recession deepens and IT budgets are constrained if not reduced, expect people to try to continue to manage capacity growth with fewer resources," said John Webster, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. "That forces them to do things like storage virtualization, cloud storage and de-duplication to try to wring all the efficiency and capacity they can out of storage that is on the floor."
Most storage vendors concur with Webster's view.
"One dominant trend in 2009 is storage efficiency driven by economic uncertainty," said Larry Freeman, senior marketing manager for storage efficiency solutions at NetApp (NASDAQ: NTAP). "Enterprise data growth remains constant at 30 to 60 percent per year, while IT budgets are flattening and under heavy scrutiny."
Assuming, then, that economic challenges and advancing virtualization will continue throughout the year, let's take a look at some of the other trends that are likely to dominate the enterprise storage market this year. The ones that come up most often in conversation with vendors and analysts are de-duplication, cloud computing and iSCSI, all of which promise to do more with less, and one technology that might actually buck the trend: flash-based solid state drives (SSDs).
Talkin' 'Bout De-duplication
Dedupe has become almost a cause célèbre in the storage world. As well as the pure play specialists like Data Domain (NASDAQ: DDUP), the likes of Quantum (NYSE: QTM), Symantec (NASDAQ: SYMC), EMC (NYSE: EMC) and HP (NYSE: HPQ) have taken up the banner and are either offering it or partnering with others to provide it to customers.
"The economic situation in 2009 is going to drive customers to actively seek ways to increase the utilization of their existing infrastructure," said Janae Lee, vice president of marketing at Quantum. "As well as virtualization, customers will increasingly adopt de-duplicated disk solutions to provide a disk tier for their backup environment which is 10 times more cost-effective than native disk, freeing the disk storage currently used for this purpose to be used to satisfy growth needs in primary disk storage."
A state of the data center survey commissioned by Symantec found that de-duplication is one of the most in-demand technologies, with 70 percent pursuing it, behind storage virtualization at 76 percent, according to Marty Ward, senior director of product marketing for the data protection group at Symantec.
Analysts are making similar predictions.
"De-duplication is becoming a must-have across the board in data protection," said Lauren Whitehouse, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.
Forecast Includes Clouds
Another common thread among vendors and analysts is cloud computing. Variously defined and tending to either embrace Storage as a Service (SaaS) or accompany it, the term has certainly captured the imagination of the multitudes.
"A new administration, unprecedented financial turmoil and ongoing conflicts overseas will require global organizations in 2009 to be much smarter in how they evaluate and manage risk," said Philippe Jarre, general manager of business continuity and resiliency services at IBM (NYSE: IBM). "From a technology perspective, that trend is driving many companies to evaluate the role cloud services can play in cost-effectively and efficiently addressing the risk management imperative, while guaranteeing the most stringent standards for business security, continuity and resiliency, and compliance."
The Symantec survey had SaaS scoring at 64 percent. No wonder HP is firmly on the bandwagon, spurred on by the huge amounts of storage required by cloud mainstays such as internet search engines, Web-based e-mail and social networking services (see Facebook Friends Storage Vendors).
"The common thread of cloud is inexpensive storage, easily managed at petabyte levels that easily scale and is designed to support cloud-like services," said Kyle Fitze, director of marketing in the storage platforms division at HP.
In the past, deploying a storage-intensive cloud-based service required a lot of custom development and so was only possible for companies that really wanted to devote themselves to being in the cloud services business, such as Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) or HP's Snapfish online photo sharing service. Over the last year, the components needed to support the cloud have become more packaged and available, driving the creation of new services and even allowing some enterprises to deploy internal clouds.
"We're seeing organizations that have extremely data-intensive applications start to adopt a cloud-like infrastructure internally," said Fitze. "We're working with digital content creation and distribution companies, oil and gas companies, and biotechnology research organizations, which all have individual applications that generate and consume multi-petabyte data sets."
"Cloud-based technology is here to stay, will rapidly become pervasive, and will change the way you're doing business," said Jeff Boles, a senior analyst at Taneja Group.
iSCSI on the Rise
Another solution to cost, of course, is to ditch Fibre Channel (FC) and make do with iSCSI using existing Ethernet networks. As well as saving on equipment and networking, there is also the factor of training. If you don't have the in-house personnel already in place, educating existing staff on the esoterics of FC can be expensive as it can be to recruit in a new team.
Lee Caswell, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Pivot3, tells the tale of a casino in Las Vegas that already had an FC storage network set up. When it came time for a massive upgrade of its surveillance system, it decided to dump its old low-capacity FC RAID array and move to iSCSI. That new surveillance system can house 300 TB.
"The difference in cost in FC is $4 to $5 per GB, versus $1.5 for iSCSI," said Caswell. "Where a company has never erected an FC SAN, I'd recommend they move directly to iSCSI."
The strength of iSCSI is also shown by the fact that 2008 marked the acquisition of two of the major iSCSI players by Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) (EqualLogic) and HP (LeftHand). Expect it to continue to thrive in 2009.
Flash Gordon Moore, That Is
Anyone who remained on the fence about the future of Flash-based SSD drives was quite possibly swayed by the enthusiasm of Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) co-founder Gordon Moore towards flash (see Intel Sees Gold in Solid State Storage).
Many others are also getting firmly behind SSD. Jason Schaffer, senior director of storage products at Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA), is one example.
"Flash technology will radically change system/storage design and data center efficiencies," he said.
As well as its currently available Hybrid Storage Pools (designed into Open Solaris to enable flash to be optimally used within the storage and memory path of server and storage devices), and 100GB (read optimized) and 18GB (write optimized) flash SSDs in the Sun Storage 7210 and 7410 Unified Storage systems, Sun has big plans for SSD.
"We plan to ship further flash technologies from a variety of suppliers in both servers and storage systems throughout 2009," said Schaffer. "We expect to see both changes in how storage architects achieve higher storage performance as well as how software vendors write their code to leverage flash for higher application performance."
The performance of flash, he said, will quickly expose the network as the bottleneck once more and drive storage architectures to incorporate more direct attached storage (DAS) than is used today.
Meanwhile, Jieming Zhu, an HP distinguished technologist, predicted that SSD will emerge as tier zero storage. As such, it brings much faster access rates than the fastest FC disks.
What makes this trend toward SSD so fascinating is that its high price should be putting it out of reach. Yet it appears to be one of the few technologies that will transcend economics in the months ahead. And therein lies a silver lining for the storage sector.