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EMC envisions "Information Plants"

The eventual arrival of cheaper storage, higher bandwidth, and improved management technology will foster the creation of "Information Plants", which can potentially store petabytes of data and beyond, according to Jim Rothnie, senior vice president and CTO at EMC.

Managing huge amounts of storage from a common resource such as an Information Plant will require technology that can intelligently manage the complexities of a multivendor storage environment, said Rothnie.

"In order to do that, it is essential that higher levels of functionality be delivered; higher levels of functionality such as replication and multipath file sharing, things like data protection, and things like data placement optimisation," which is a method of placing data closest to the point where it needs to be used, Rothnie added.

EMC is testing components of Information Plant technology with more than 1,000 customers worldwide. The company plans to move quickly to a level of storage expertise that brings together all aspects of enterprise storage including multi-vendor servers, storage network connectivity, and storage management, according to EMC officials.

EMC is betting this broad approach towards storage management and the Information Plant model will place the company way ahead of competitors like IBM and Hitachi, which Rothnie believes are still focused primarily on hardware.

"Our competitors today are focused on the physical [hardware] layer," Rothnie said. As a result, he predicted, EMC's competitors would be less capable of moving up the chain of higher functionality.

But analysts say EMC still has a hefty fight on its hands.

"EMC, which has had a less encumbered ride up to now, is looking at a scenario where some of the best competitors have regrouped and are counter-attacking," said Jim Porter, principal analyst with California-based Disk/Trend. "There is no doubt that on high-end storage they are the leaders. Their problem is to hold onto what [market share] they've got."

EMC feels the high-bandwidth requirements of Information Plants should be met sometime before 2005.

Rothnie predicted that by 2005, more than 1 billion miles of optic-fibre relays would be available, whereas only 20 million miles exist today. He said the resulting bandwidth would increase "a million-fold" over the same time period.

Rothnie also expects the price of storage to plummet to 0.01 cents per megabyte by 2005, down sharply from last year's average of 0.30-0.40 cents per megabyte.

"Even in an economic downturn, these long-term drivers remain," said Rothnie.

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