Storage is a topic that has increased in prominence over the past two years, and one I believe should now be a key element in building solutions to business problems such as compliance and increased operational efficiency, rather than purely as a technology issue.
Storage has moved from something that was necessary, but not terribly exciting, to an area that, used properly, can provide competitive advantage and reduce costs. What has really brought storage to the forefront is the exponential growth in data, which has seen storage requirements doubling each year and the need for more efficient storage and management of information.
The need for more efficient ways of storing data and utilisation rates has resulted in the growing popularity of storage consolidation, which is often linked to server and application consolidation. In terms of storage, consolidation typically means implementing a storage area network and centralising the storage on a single site.
Benefits of consolidation include the ability of IT staff to manage more with less and the delivery of a return on investment of between 15% and 25%, depending on the scope and scale of the consolidation. Cost savings can be achieved by simplifying the systems environment and consolidation also offers an ideal opportunity to review and update disaster recovery provision.
Part of the drive towards consolidation is a desire on the part of consumers to purchase IT from fewer suppliers. This is an area that suppliers such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard are able to exploit, as they provide a wide range of hardware and software, along with the associated services.
This is also driving pure-play storage suppliers to widen their appeal by moving into other areas, so that a number of hardware suppliers now also provide software. EMC has taken this a stage further by expanding into enterprise content management through its acquisition of Documentum. In the long-term, it is going to be difficult for the small, single-product storage suppliers to survive against the larger multiple-product competition.
Compliance is also driving the need for more efficient ways of storing data and this is another area storage suppliers are addressing. For some time suppliers have been talking about information lifecycle management, which integrates information management and storage into business processes, for example by enabling organisations to more efficiently store data that needs to be retained for regulatory purposes. Many storage suppliers are entering into agreements with enterprise content management (ECM) suppliers to integrate storage hardware and software with ECM functionality. A recent example is the partnerships between FileNet and Network Appliance, and StorageTek and Ixos.
For customers, any software implementation should include considerations of how the resulting data is to be stored, and this is where partnerships between ECM and storage suppliers play a part. Some storage suppliers are working on the problem of controlling the type of data users want to store by providing the ability to monitor the nature of the data. By applying rules, users can be prevented from saving certain types of content. This could benefit customers who combine an ECM product with software from a storage supplier.
Another area in which storage suppliers are leading the way is utility computing. The reason storage is the first area for which a utility computing model has been developed is that it is easy to quantify the amount of storage used by a line of business as the products already exist to monitor storage usage.
Although there is not yet a significant demand for utility computing, interest is growing and it is only a matter of time before line of business managers are expected to be more directly accountable for the IT resources they use. This will be an important element in the drive towards making organisations more efficient and also in reducing the amount of content companies store. It is models such as utility computing that will draw together issues that are currently driving storage, in particular consolidation and compliance.
Tim Jennings is research director at Butler Group
This article is part of Computer Weekly's Special Report on Storage produced in association with Hitachi Data systems.