Research Report: Enterprise storage

Our survey of over 600 InfoWorld readers reveals conservative spending patterns and an obsession with disaster recovery

Like the rest of the world, InfoWorld readers are spending a little less and expecting a lot more from their technology. That message comes across loud and clear in the results of this year's survey of readers who are involved in evaluating or purchasing storage solutions. Rather than increasing their investment in storage, our respondents seem determined to get more from what they've already got.

That hardware spending has fallen slightly should come as no surprise. With planned 2004 storage expenditures still averaging nearly $1.2 million dollars per year, according to our survey, it's only natural that companies would seek to understand how their money is spent before opening their coffers for the next truckload of new devices and technologies. But evaluating IT storage expenditures accurately may be easier said than done.

Today, storage administrators fight an uphill battle. In most large organizations, managing storage networks has become a nightmarish job, where the hungry ogre of demand devours terabytes of capacity and gigabits of speed with terrifying regularity. The root of the problem is clear: It is difficult to size storage by itself because business and performance requirements are inherited from other areas and applications such as databases, ERP, and CRM. Storage choices affect the overall performance and cost of computing, which in turn creates intricate chicken-and-egg problems.

Sizing Up Capacity

The intertwined relationship between storage and applications is nothing new, but networked storage gives rise to increasingly challenging problems. Right-sizing capacity calls for an aggregate view of the needs of application stakeholders across the organization. It's almost enough to make you nostalgic for the simplicity of DAS (direct attached storage), where storage belongs to a single box and operating system.

Networked storage has opened the door to almost unlimited scalability, but it has also widened the gap between two separate views of company data, from the OS (file-level) or storage (block-level) perspectives. The popularity of NAS appliances comes from their OS friendliness, but NAS devices must still overcome some of the limitations of the old DAS approach (see "Network attached storage scales up").

The difficulty in harnessing new storage technology is surely one reason that our respondents' are making the prudent decision to do more with less. Yet many of those surveyed still have unmet storage demands -- and vendors are steering their offerings to where demand is highest.

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Chief among these areas is networked storage for departments, branch offices, and SMBs (small to midsize businesses). Large storage vendors have moved en masse to address this vast market with new, downsized products. This phenomenon is too recent to leave tracks in our survey, but it probably represents the most pervasive technology trend in storage today (see "SANs break out of the datacenter").

Preparing for the Worst

Although storage spending has slipped overall, in Click for larger view. several areas it remains stronger than ever: data protection, disaster recovery, archiving, and e-mail.

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Although storage spending has slipped overall, in Click for larger view. several areas it remains stronger than ever: data protection, disaster recovery, archiving, and e-mail.

CTOs have never been sloppy on security, but the threat of terrorism has made U.S. companies painfully aware of potential vulnerability. No surprise, then, that disaster recovery and data protection rank as the most important factors driving spending for 42 percent of our readers. In addition, our respondents are dedicating one quarter of their budget to acquire new tape libraries, drives, and media.

Our survey breaks out regulatory compliance separately, but the second most-cited motivating factor for buying storage, data archiving, most likely arises from its own, related "fear factor" -- a desire to save everything, in case some obscure new regulation or other legal circumstances dictate that certain documents must be retrievable.

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No doubt a similar motivation underlies the high percentage of respondents who cite e-mail as the leading growth factor. The unrelenting increase in spam must also have played a role. Moreover, enterprise users continue to demand quick access to old mail, prodding storage administrators to throw more hardware at mail stores whether they like it or not. Exacerbating matters, end-users often employ e-mail as a kind of content management system, using e-mail folders to hold original copies of messages and attached files.

Data growth and the need to maintain backup windows consistent with business demands continue to drive the purchase of disk drives, backup devices, and networking equipment. A striking 41 percent of spending planned for this year will go to adding capacity and performance with new disk arrays. A significant portion of that will be networked storage: On average, companies will dedicate 17 percent of their budget to extend or improve their network.

Making the Most of It

Asked to name the two top priorities for storage spending next year, our respondents show a consistent resolve to increase the effectiveness of their storage solutions, dividing their preferences evenly between improving management and promoting better use of their resources. Nonetheless, it's a well-known fact that growth in demand -- and an enduring preference for performance over administrative discipline -- results in ad-hoc purchases that leave many companies with more capacity than they really need.

It's only fair to conclude that adding more storage on top of already oversized capacity is a necessary evil that our respondents cannot avoid, even as the intention to do more with less persists. In response, many storage vendors are investing significant R&D dollars to simplify management, reduce incompatibilities, and reduce cost per terabyte.

Those efforts must play well with our readers, given that their responses show an unmistakable tendency to pursue new technologies early in the game. Nonetheless, true, garden-variety 2Gb Fibre Channel equipment remains the leading choice among those surveyed, despite a dramatic increase of interest in two newer technologies, iSCSI and 4Gb Fibre Channel.

These two new technologies fall at opposite ends of the performance spectrum. Typically, those who plan to buy into iSCSI are taking their first steps beyond DAS, pooling storage with an emphasis on cost over performance. By contrast, storage managers looking seriously at 4Gb Fibre Channel want to squeeze faster response times from a high-end, datacenter SAN.

Switches and Software

Many of those surveyed express interest in evaluating another cutting-edge technology, intelligent SAN switches. This relatively new category aims to ease provisioning, data replication, and disaster recovery. More than a third of our respondents plan to evaluate SAN switches in the near future and already have a clear idea of the benefits they expect. That's surprising, considering that the technology has yet to mature and that today's products usually have a vendor-specific slant.

Our respondents appear less thrilled by storage-management software, which held only nine percent of the storage budget for 2004, on average. In fact, the percentage of those surveyed who were interested in purchasing storage-management software fell below the percentage of those who had already deployed it. Perhaps that's because many customers have already licensed what they need. But grand promises of improved storage administration and reduced costs, backed by disappointing results, may also have contributed to the decline.

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Veritas came across as the undisputed leader in storage-management Click for larger view. software in our survey, with twice the installed base of its nearest competitor. Best known for its enterprise backup software, this nimble company has moved aggressively into the data life-cycle space, where organizations meet regulatory requirements and manage data across various media, from creation to deletion. Veritas also has ambitious long-range plans to provide cross-platform software for managing the storage side of utility-based computing.

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Veritas came across as the undisputed leader in storage-management Click for larger view. software in our survey, with twice the installed base of its nearest competitor. Best known for its enterprise backup software, this nimble company has moved aggressively into the data life-cycle space, where organizations meet regulatory requirements and manage data across various media, from creation to deletion. Veritas also has ambitious long-range plans to provide cross-platform software for managing the storage side of utility-based computing.

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Obstacles to Overcome

When asked to name their top two storage-management challenges, nearly half of our respondents once again point to data availability and recovery. In many organizations, backups have been performed by rote for years, but recovery has seldom been tested on a large scale. Now the pressure is on, and many organizations are learning how difficult it is to implement backup or archiving game plans that result in quick data recovery.

Among other challenges most often cited, improving resource utilization and managing more storage without additional staff ranked high. Each earned votes from a 38 percent of readers. The moral: Interest in new technology never rises without a practical end in mind. And today, that end is to stretch resources as far as they will go while meeting a profusion of business demands.

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