Global production and consumption of computer data is huge, and continue to grow rapidly, despite the current contractions in the industry. EMC and the School of Information Management and Systems at UC-Berkeley estimated in late 2000 that 12 exabytes (12 billion gigabytes) of data would be generated over the following 30 months. The rate of growth is increasing, as the demand for digital data soars through the conversion of non-digital archives and the introduction of new data applications.
Data storage and management are thus becoming major issues for businesses, large or small. Organisations will increasingly need an array of storage facilities and services, including disaster recovery, Web hosting, content warehousing, digital data exchanges (eg, for B2B purchase of stock videoclips), datamarts, disc mirroring, storage sharing, primary data storage, centralised back-up, archiving, and the like.
In a world where IT budgets are under increasing pressure and IT expertise is limited and expensive, there are obvious attractions in a unified, scalable and flexible storage solution, whether provided in-house or externally by a third-party specialist. Telecoms carriers see a major revenue opportunity in becoming providers of data storage and management services.
Storage area networks (Sans) are emerging as the principal data management solution. They are rapidly taking the lead as the most likely technology to provide a solution to current data storage and management issues. Sans are a natural evolution in data management that physically separate processing from storage by networking servers, storage units and storage controllers running over an optical infrastructure under sophisticated data-management software.
The data-storage requirements of modern high-end servers can be huge. For example, the recently released Sun Fire 15K mainframe-class server, intended for networked datacentres, has 106 processors, 500Gbytes of memory and four petabytes (a petabyte is 1,000 terabytes) of storage. Sans are the only practical way of providing key functions such as back-up and fast data recovery to such installations. They can be extended from user sites over the wide area network (Wan) by using dark fibre, ATM, Gigabit Ethernet or IP, and carriers see the promise of global networked virtual storage and data-management systems.
Offering Sans will be of interest to carriers in the metropolitan area network and the major Wan players. Sans are also creating a new class of business player - storage service providers (SSPs), which offer users virtual Sans and related data-management services over telecoms Wans. Many carriers, with their high-capacity optical networks and facilities centres, could be well placed to exploit parts of the SSP market. Globally, total Wan San traffic and service-provision revenues are forecast to reach $19.3bn in 2005 - an increase of almost 37-fold over revenues in 2000.
While intensive data consumers such as large corporates are the primary market for Sans, such services also have a place in the SME market - if the right services are offered at the right price.
Archiving, back-up and disaster recovery are currently done semi-manually via tape systems or CD/DVD read/write systems by many SMEs - if at all. Carriers have been attempting to open up the SME market for some years now, but one of the main difficulties is cost-justifying the broadband access on which modern IT systems depend.
Wan Sans require broadband access and will offer users a range of data-management services that are essential to any company in which IT is fundamental to the business. Wan Sans can be offered as a form of application service provision. For example, an SME could be using a Web-enabled logistics package, whose core database was held and backed up on a Wan San, which also provided the base for a disaster-recovery service. Such a package could have a very broad appeal indeed.
Margaret Hopkins is principal analyst at communications research group Analysys Research