End-users speak out

As the increasing volume of data makes storage a hot issue, end-users are spending their money carefully, says Frank Timons

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As the increasing volume of data makes storage a hot issue, end-users are spending their money carefully, says Frank Timons

Much has been written in trade publications and vendor marketing materials on topics such as compliance, virtualisation and Information Lifecycle Management (ILM). Some of these appear to be taking off, while others still seem nascent.

There is a clear need to manage data storage more efficiently and economically. End-users are looking for ways to reduce complexity while dealing with the continual growth in data storage capacity. A look at feedback from end-users, resellers and vendors can illuminate what appears to be hype and what appears to be reality.

Navigating the murky haze created by vendor marketing buzz and soundbites from industry pundits can be challenging. According to our recent surveys, the current environment looks promising for networked storage.

The volume of data keeps on growing, driven by e-mail, applications focused on customerretention and the automation of business processes, and myriad regulatory and compliance issues. Although 92% of the end-users we surveyed already have some form of networked storage within existing infrastructures, attach rates are still relatively under-penetrated.

End-users expect the networked storage attach rate to climb to 68% in 2007 (from 40% today), with the FC SAN server attach rate climbing to 46% in 2007, up from 29% currently.

So why are IT professionals spending money? Quite simply, to help their businesses run more smoothly.

Unfortunately, the IT industry's myriad vendors and product offerings have added to the challenges of competing in the global economy.

More than two-thirds of end-users voted "complexity" as their largest IT challenge, suggesting, in our view, that simpler IT solutions are likely to win out in the marketplace in the longer term. 

Still, 54% of respondents cited "business support" as a spending priority, reflecting mid-business cycle conditions of spending for replacement infrastructure and normal operations.

IT investments seem to be driven more by business needs than technology for technology's sake.

End-users appear to be embracing some newer technologies in order to address infrastructure needs.

Resellers and end-users sing the praises of server virtualisation technology, and there appears to be robust demand for this technology.

More than three-quarters of  end-users in our survey are currently using or planning to use server virtualisation.

Storage virtualisation, while harder to define, is showing some early signs of interest and limited adoption.

Interestingly, most resellers we surveyed described storage virtualisation as either "ramping moderately" or "exhibiting strong demand".

Although there is no consensus on the definition of storage virtualisation, clearly end-users are demanding better storage management.

Another hot technology trend we have observed is the move towards cheaper disc products. The emergence of "good enough" ATA disc technology has introduced a tough low-cost competitor to both tape and primary disc.

Some 56% of end-users in our sample are currently using ATA technology, while a further 29% expressed interest in evaluating the technology.

Our research suggests the storage industry faces some interesting cross-currents. Enterprises have a seemingly insatiable appetite for more data storage capacity and are willing to invest in technology.

However, these customers are very eager to embrace technologies that will ultimately reduce the complexity and cost of current IT environments. All signs seem to point to a winning strategy: "Store and manage data simpler, faster, cheaper."

Frank Timons is a research analyst at Robert W Baird. He is presenting a case study at Storage Expo

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