The history of the last two decades of storage is not just a tale of increasing capacity and a move towards open storage but provides a classic example of how a once neglected part of the industry can step out of the shadows and take the limelight. Once ridiculed as being the boring bit that nobody wanted to talk about, the percentage share storage now takes of the IT budget has increased to levels that make the subject certainly an interesting one for financial directors.
At the same time, MP3s and digital cameras have provided a strong home market for storage that has emerged in the last few years in the form of flash memory devices and a plethora of CD burners. Storage experts have put away their lab coats, dusted off their suits and found themselves much in demand, and while there have been more than a few sea changes in this industry, this has to be one of the most dramatic.
Other changes include the obvious advances in capacity from bytes to mega to tera and beyond. The last few years have involved numerous discussions about network storage as storage area networks and network attached storage became the products to sell.
One of the more interesting developments, that can be dated back to CeBit last year, is the emergence of low-end network storage products that are being sold by dealers. For a long time, the channel for storage was selected only after extremely tough accreditations had been met.
But as the market has become more commoditised and the interest and appeal of selling storage extended, more dealers have been given a chance to get involved.
For a vast majority of dealers, what is becoming increasingly interesting is not hardware but software, as virtualisation and storage management become the buzzwords. With budgets still tight, customers are turning to the channel to help them get the most out of the storage they have already bought.
Various analyst surveys have estimated that nearly all firms are under utilising a third of their storage and the current challenge is to get the most out of those wasted resources.
The days of firms chucking more storage at a problem might well have disappeared, but those selling hardware expect the current round of belt tightening to ease off next year.
Chris Atkins, storage sales specialist for computer systems at Sun, claims that the next eight months are going to be very hard work as the enterprise market gears itself up for a return to increasing IT budgets.
Looking back over the last two decades is about watching the choices widen. In the 80s, the choices were limited to disk drives or tape. Optical storage and CDs came near the end of the decade and were joined in the 90s by hard disks. The noughties added the choices of network storage.
A personal summary of the last two decades is provided by Mike Sousa, regional sales director for Central Europe at tape library specialist Spectra Logic.
"My entrance into this market was about 1982, just about the time of the first 5.25in disk drive. The 5.25in form factor was a major step in storage that helped enable both desktop and open systems computing," he recalls.
"In the mid-80s, the SCSI interface became the dominant connectivity choice and open systems computing was emerging. The 3.5in form factor emerged once again downsizing the space and power requirements required for storage. This allowed storage to be disaggregated from the computing system itself and an emerging set of companies that could provide storage peripherals for open systems, freeing the users of these systems to pick and choose best of breed storage solutions that were not tied to the systems vendor," he adds.
He believes the late 80s and 90s could be characterised as a period when storage software specialists emerged to support data management, backup and archival.
As in other areas of the IT world, the Internet had a serious impact on the storage market and delivered a great deal of revenue for anyone lucky enough to get business from the dot com companies before they imploded.
"This trend continues today and has brought forth the reality that the user is spending, in some cases, twice as much for their storage resources as they do for computing resources. This has driven the growth of companies like EMC, Network Appliance, Hitachi and Spectra Logic and attracted many of the systems suppliers back to a focus on storage," adds Sousa.
1981 highlights include Symbios Logic, which later became part of LSI Logic, co-writing the SCSI industry specifications. A year later in 1982 it develops the first SCSI protocol chip. Also that year, Sony introduces the 3.5in (88.9mm) micro floppy. The single sided version is able to contain 360Kb. Celebrating our own anniversary, the Maxtor Corporation is founded. For those dealers with contacts in the broadcasting world, the launch of BSkyB means there is suddenly more demand for storage. Storage networking specialist McData is formed and celebrates its 20th anniversary in style this year making 1 August 'McData Day' in Colorado.
The year 1983 is an interesting one with the launch of the first disk drive to use the 3.5in form factor from Rodime. It goes on to become an industry standard. A year later, 1984, and IBM releases its first thin-film 18-track head in a tape drive and its first half-inch cartridge, the 3480, which offers one million bits per square inch with a transfer rate of three million bytes per second. The move towards the CD-ROM starts with Sony coming up with the first one. Imation introduces the 3in diskette.
Things are never quiet for long in the storage world and in 1985 Quantum releases Hardcard, a 10.5Mb hard disk mounted on an ISA expansion card for PCs built without a hard disk. In the same year, the Compact Disk Read Only memory appears. EMC also started shipping memory upgrades using 1Mb of RAM. Imation demonstrates its rewritable optical disk.
Sony is the first to get its name linked with the emerging CD-ROM technology, making a 650Mb disc available in 1986. The first Voice Coil Actuator 3.5in Drive also appears thanks to Conner Peripherals, which launches the CP340.
Connor is busy producing the low-profile 3.5in disk drive, which uses the standard 1in height. 1998 is also a major year in terms of storage networking. The channel networking technology begins, which later becomes known as Fibre Channel. EMC opens a European manufacturing facility in Ireland. Sony gets all magnetic with the introduction of its Magnetic Optical technology. One of the major names in storage software sets up shop as Legato is founded.
After having helped increase the power of HP and IBM machines, EMC unveils its Orion mainframe storage system in 1989. Sony launches its Digial Audio Tape (DAT), which it has co-developed with HP. Another huge name in the storage software world emerges as Veritas starts trading.
1990 sees LSI Logic deliver its first RAID storage system and the first drive to use magnetoresistive heads and PRML data decoding appears. IBM delivers the Redwing, a 857Mb drive. In the world of the floppy disc, the 20Mb 5.25in discs go on sale in limited quantities. IBM launches its RAID 1 systems.
There is more RAID to come in 1991 with LSI Logic launching a multi-node RAID controller and system and assist chip set. The vendor also finds time to launch a SCSI interface. IBM keeps busy launching its Pacifica mainframe drive, which uses thin film media on the platter surface instead of oxide media. Another name from the past, Integral Peripherals is also making headlines launching its 1820 hard disk drive with 1.8in platters, which later become popular in PC-Card disk drives. Toshiba does its bit, increasing the capacity of the humble 3.5in floppy to 2.88Mb. Dealers selling 5.25in disks find they have become obsolete as a result of the move. Other developments in this year include the emergence of hard disk drives with a diameter of 1.8in and a capacity of 20MN and 40MN. They are primarily designated for use in handhelds.
One of the first examples of a 20Mb hard disk comes from HP in 1992 when it releases its 'Kittyhawk'. Imation teams up with IBM to develop the 3490E cartridge. Meanwhile, Seagate introduces the 7,200rpm disk drive and develops shock-sensing technology for 2.5in disk drives.
The following year is busy as 1993 includes activity on the RAID front, with LSI Logic introducing a dual active controller. In the fibre channel world, Escon, offering switched access to storage devices, is announced by IBM.
First Fibre Channel disk drive
The delivery by Seagate of the first Fibre Channel disk drive gives a huge boost in 1994 to the network storage world. Elsewhere, EMC continues to think big and launches the Symmetrix 5500, a system offering a terabyte of storage.
The headlines are grabbed by the deal of the year in 1995 as Seagate buys Connor in a takeover worth $1bn. EMC launches the Symmetrix 3000, a system that is platform independent.
Anyone hanging around IBM's labs in 1996 is privileged to witness the vendor set a new world record in magnetic recording, getting three billion bits, 3Gbit, per square inch.
Big Blue keeps the innovations coming and in 1997 launches a magnetic hard disk drive with load/unload technology, the Travelstar. Elsewhere, OpenVision's bank manager gets a happy shock when Veritas merges with the company to expand its backup and hierarchical storage management offerings. Also getting some attention is Sun, which introduces its A5000 system, a second-generation fibre channel disk array.
Fibre channel, the backbone of a SAN, comes to Europe with the Fibre Channel Association being set up in 1998. Amacom Technologies delivers something for users on the move with its Flipback portable storage device. EMC enjoys reaping more than $1bn worth of revenue from Europe.
Veritas is busy again in 1999 extending its operations through the acquisition of the network and storage management group of Seagate Software. EMC chooses the year of corporate belt tightening to introduce its Clariion PC4500 systems. Meanwhile, the topic of the year 2000 elsewhere is all about network storage and the need for a move to open standards so everything works with everything else. That debate still continues.
Evidence of further consolidation and the need for hardware vendors to beef up their software operations is demonstrated in 2001 with Sun's acquisition of HighGround. The purchase gives Sun a suite of Web-based management systems that can support a wide range of storage technologies and applications.
Leading UK distributors
Hammer - Formed in 1991 Hammer specialises in data storage solutions
CMS Peripherals - Started in 1988, represents 40 vendors
Ideal Hardware - Established in 1987, Ideal was acquired by Bell Microproducts in 2000
C2000 - Started life in the UK in 1983 as First Software then changed its name to Frontline Distribution in 1988 before becoming Computer 2000, owned by Tech Data
Intechnology - Since 1983 it has sold specialist storage products and services through the channel