Storage: Hardware takes a backseat

Intelligent data management grabs the wheel of the enterprise

Ask two IT managers what were the most important storage trends for 2006, and you’ll probably receive two sharply different answers. The reason is that, this year more than ever, storage events defied any simplistic, black or white, one-sided description.

Take mergers and acquisitions, which together with new alliances and OEM agreements were still making headlines in 2006. The goal of acquisitions such as Seagate-Maxtor, or the still-pending Brocade-McData, is to create a single dominant supplier in their respective spaces, not to mention lowering costs by consolidating R&D and manufacturing. By contrast, other deals such as EMC-Avamar follow a “buy don’t build” strategy, where the goal is not an immediate increase in market share but to acquire a strategic technology.

Interestingly, the overwhelming majority of the technology-driven acquisitions were aimed at nabbing de-duplication, data classification, search, indexing, and archiving technologies. Clearly, capacity and performance are no longer the only deciding factors in enterprise purchasing decisions, but it would be a mistake to brush them off.

Both SAN and NAS vendors continue to chase the traditional pillars of capacity, performance, and scalability. In fact, nearly every Fibre Channel vendor has completed the update to 4-Gb gear. On the iSCSI front, although vendors such as EqualLogic, LeftHand Networks, and Intransa might like the new technology to advance even more rapidly, 10-Gig connectivity has become increasingly present in 2006. And in enterprise NAS, a very dynamic group of vendors, including BlueArc, Isilon, and Panasas were joined by NetApp in delivering clustered storage solutions that push performance and capacity beyond the limits of traditional file serving.

Deployments of new SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) drives have been sluggish in 2006: Apart from a few exceptions, Tier 1 vendors seemed to have too much on their plate to worry about introducing new drives. However, close to year’s end, Gateway, LSI Logic, and HP all announced new entry-level arrays based on SAS. Surely more will arrive in 2007.

In 2007 customers can look forward to storage solutions that are more aware of application and business requirements and that favor “intelligent” data management over brute performance or blindly allocated capacity. IT shops stand to gain more by shrinking their primary tier by two-thirds with good archiving tools than by implementing a larger cache or deploying a faster array.

This is a big change. We may well remember 2007 as the year that marked an historical shift in storage, from a hopelessly inevitable increase of the managed pool year after year to a more focused and attentive growth that storage managers can control.