For many companies, the immediate result of e-business is not necessarily profit, but spiralling volumes of data. Even the most conservative estimates suggest that the amount of information produced in the enterprise is doubling each year, which means IT directors need to do some hard thinking when it comes to storage.
Over the past few years, one of the main debates has been the question of whether to use disc or tape. Mick Turner, IBM's storage solutions manager for Europe, the Middle East and Asia, believes there is ample space for both technologies in the market.
"IT managers are looking for efficiency and although disc drives are getting cheaper the cost to save onto tape is minimal," Turner explains.
With IT directors facing data volumes in Terabytes and Petabytes, the storage medium used is of paramount importance.
IBM's storage product is called Enterprise Storage Server (ESS), otherwise known as Shark. Launched last summer, Shark is seen by many as IBM's last shot at the storage big time. Shark is being positioned by IBM as a rival to EMC's popular Symmetrix storage system.
IBM marketing manager Sergio Resch says users are attracted to the price performance ratio on Shark. He also says Shark can offer high performance in any server environment.
"The internal structure of the box has been designed to avoid bottlenecks and it is also easy for the customer to make changes such as adding storage," he says.
EMC's Symmetrix uses "an old storage approach" according to Resch. "Symmetrix is controlled by microprocessors so it is difficult to introduce new technologies," he explains.
Describing itself as "the caretaker of the world's information", storage giant EMC is aiming to exploit the lucrative service provider market. The company sees its recently announced E-Infostructure Service Provider Program as "the most significant storage-focused program for service providers ever introduced".
The initiative includes customised solutions based on EMC's storage systems and software and a portfolio of professional services. EMC president Joseph Tucci explains, "At a time when the ability to manage growing volumes of information is a competitive advantage, service providers are realising to view IT merely as a commodity utility is a recipe for failure. Customers cannot afford to rent access to critical information assets without ensuring the service is based on a world-class infrastructure."
StorageTek swears by products such as the Shared Virtual Array (SVA) 9500 disc sub-system as a means of providing storage management flexibility.
The company claims that SVA increases productivity with automatic media management and non-disruptive configuration changes.
StorageTek also argues that self-tuning and automatic disc management reduces the amount of unproductive I/Os caused by "housekeeping".
One user of StorageTek's enterprise systems is Lincoln Financial Group. In October 1999, it announced a consolidation project using StorageTek's SVA product at its Uxbridge datacentre and cut at least three hours off its batch processing.
Asghar Hussain, head of computer services at Lincoln Financial Group, says, "We wanted to build a best of breed datacentre and virtual technology was a logical choice for us. What was effective was the software that went with it such as the Snapshot replication product."
Hussain believes that IT directors are looking for a "one-box" solution from the storage suppliers encapsulating the storage area network (San). "More and more are seeing the cost of management and are aware of the cost of Sans and how they are lowering the cost of management," he says.
In this way, Hussain feels the user community is demanding a single file structure that can be shared across the enterprise.
For Sans to work across a heterogeneous environment, management becomes an important issue. Robin Pilcher, Tivoli's Emea marketing manager, says, "The San will do the same for storage as the Lan did for workstations. Sans across the enterprise will meet up, just as Lans did."
Whether you are looking to build a San or control your boxes, Sun's storage marketing manager Chris Atkins says, "The dotcom companies we look after double storage capacity every six months, so the issue is how can you have an environment that keeps data available and expand without increasing the cost of storage."
Sun is developing Jiro technology as a means to manage storage. Based on Java, Jiro does not manage devices itself, but is used by developers to write the software applications that do.
Atkins says, "In the second half of this year there will be more Jiro-compliant software and hardware pieces in the market, but it will be next year when people are running Jiro-compliant networks."
Another area where storage is becoming increasingly important is disaster recovery. Compaq announced an alliance with BT to trial a range of fibre channel disaster-tolerant San services. The project is targeted at the London area, with sites in Holborn and Docklands providing protection for Windows NT server and open VMS datacentres.
Compaq storage business manager Donal Madden says, "In terms of availability the days of tape back-up are numbered, in its place will be real-time data replication. Replicating data to remote sites has been around for a while and Compaq has taken the industry standard approach, we are using fibre channel and standard applications, as can be seen in our service set-up with BT."
Madden believes issues such as availability have gone from the back-page to the front-page and customers no longer see storage as peripheral to the server.
Like many suppliers, he realises that the data revolution needs a heterogenous approach to storage. He says, "We would love our customers to have nothing but Compaq kit but we live in the real world." The future seems to belong to open Sans.
As far as the future is concerned, the growth of enterprise data means users are demanding more from suppliers. Tony Reid, storage solutions manager of Hitachi Data Systems, says, 'The next challenge is to provide the storage infrastructure, including hardware, to support the capacity and server performance customers require."
What's on offer
A number of suppliers are currently offering pay-as-you-go storage products to meet user demands for flexibility. HP claims its Surestore E Disk Array XP256 is the first multi-supplier instant capacity on demand (Icod) for storage solutions. Sun also markets its Storedge family of products as enabling customers to match storage to the application, while offering a pay-as-you-grow architecture.