Hot technologies for 2007-2

"Storage" magazine's editors reviewed technology developments, product introductions and storage standards to come up with this short list of must-have technologies for 2007.

High-capacity disk drives
Various experts periodically predict that magnetic disk is approaching its capacity limit, as the magnetic dots can't get smaller or be packed closer together. Yet engineers always find a new way to stuff more data onto a disk.

"Think of it as the relentless march of Moore's Law," says Peter Steege, enterprise disk segment marketing manager at Seagate Technology LLC. This year, perpendicular disk-recording technology, which stacks data vertically on the disk, is enabling Moore's Law.

Using perpendicular technology, Seagate expects to introduce a 1TB disk drive in 2007 with larger disks to follow. A 2TB disk drive within a few years is quite likely. Current enterprise-class SATA drives boast a 1.03 million hour mean time between failures (MTBF). The 1TB drives will have a 1.2 million hour MTBF. Other vendors, primarily Maxtor Corp. (acquired by Seagate) and Western Digital Corp., are expected to follow with similar capacity disks.

The 1TB enterprise-class SATA disk drives are coming along just as data centers are feeling the squeeze to store more data while conserving rack space, floor space and energy. "The array vendors are asking for bigger capacity drives," says Steege. A 750GB drive requires no more power than a 500GB drive. A 1TB drive will deliver 50% more capacity per watt than existing drives using the same enclosure.

Although extremely large drives present challenges in terms of RAID rebuilding time, storage managers are welcoming them. "We're definitely interested in the 1TB disks," says Seth Mitchell, infrastructure team manager at Slumberland Inc., which has a chain of more than 100 mattress stores in the Midwest. Today, Slumberland uses 500GB FC disks. The larger drives will save the store money because its array vendor, Compellent Technologies, charges by the spindle. Expect to see the drives deployed in high volume, low-performance situations such as archiving, data retention, compliance and backup to disk.

Two years ago, we picked virtualization as one of the hot technologies for 2005. Well, as the old saying goes, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." (See "Report card on our 2006 predictions") In 2007, we expect virtualization to embed itself throughout the infrastructure. "When virtualization is used right, it will be everywhere," says GlassHouse Technologies' Foskett.

Virtualization shows up in practically every part of networked storage and is a central component to any unified storage strategy. Any automated heterogeneous storage management strategy will require a virtualization layer to mask the complexities and intricacies of the underlying storage devices. We don't think 2007 will see the issue of where to put virtualization resolved, but we do believe that there won't be any question about its value.

File virtualization will be especially hot in 2007. With NAS growing rapidly in the data center, Robert Stevenson, managing director, storage practice at New York City-based TheInfoPro Inc., says in 2007 storage managers will focus on improving their file content with file virtualization products such as Acopia Networks Inc.'s Adaptive Resource Switch (ARX) and EMC's Rainfinity.

Thin provisioning
The best way to understand thin provisioning is to think about airline overbooking. By analyzing passenger behavior, airlines know that a certain number of passengers won't show up at departure. So they sell more seats than they have available.

"[Thin provisioning] is no different than overbooking," says Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst, The StorageIO Group, Stillwater, MN. "You tell each host that it has more storage available to it than it actually has, knowing that it's unlikely to need all that storage anytime soon."

The key to thin provisioning is to track usage closely and install more physical capacity before you need it. "A lot of vendors are offering thin provisioning today. The difference is how well they track and predict capacity usage," says Schulz.

3PAR pioneered thin provisioning, but other vendors, such as Compellent, LeftHand Networks Inc. and Network Appliance have jumped in, says Mark Bowker, analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, MA. Pillar Data Systems Inc. will add thin provisioning to its Axiom array early next year and Bowker expects more companies to do the same.

Thin provisioning differs from storage on demand. With storage on demand, the extra capacity is physically resident in the array, but not accessible until you purchase the key and provision it. In thin provisioning, there's no extra physical capacity. When you need more physical disk, you just plug it into the array when it arrives. As far as the hosts are concerned, the capacity, fully provisioned, has always been there.

Report card on our 2006 predictions

Poised to take off in 2007
Those are the five technologies we feel will be "hot" in 2007. Large enterprises with mainframe data centers will find tape-based hardware encryption an enticing solution to securing corporate data. Small and midsized organizations have gravitated to iSCSI SANs and more will follow. Now large organizations can add iSCSI SANs to their infrastructure to give them options when aligning storage with business needs.

Almost every organization can take advantage of large-capacity disk drives for backup, compliance or archiving. Thin provisioning provides what amounts to just-in-time storage acquisition, which saves money. Finally, even though we've listed virtualization as a hot technology before, trust us: This is the year virtualization, especially file virtualization, really becomes hot.

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Alan Radding is a frequent contributor to Storage.

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