Storage by the numbers

Findings in a recent IDC report show that the tide is turning for networked storage

It may not be everyone's idea of fun, but often I have to amuse myself reading storage-related statistics. Actually, my motivation is not exactly finding amusement, but rather -- how shall I put it -- trying to get some much-needed perspective with reality and hard numbers, and to take a temporary leave from the optimistic marketing spills that I hear so often from vendors.

A storage-related report from IDC caught my attention recently; it's dated August 2004 and focused on last year's worldwide disk-drive sales and next year's forecasts. I am not surprised that so many vendors refer often to IDC reports; the IDC analysts do a great job of slicing data according to a variety of criteria, including storage capacity, revenues, OS, and, of course, vendor. (Full disclosure: IDC and InfoWorld are both owned by IDG.)

Those different perspectives give a better understanding of how the storage market is evolving. As an additional benefit, the reports give more than one vendor reason to claim victory over the competition, citing the angles that are more favorable to their company and ignoring other data points. 

I'll let each vendor stand behind their own interpretation of the reports, but there are some numbers I would like to share with you. For example, you'll probably find it interesting that in 2003, vendors shipped about 812PB (petabytes) of additional storage capacity worldwide -- 42 percent more than in 2002.

Is your storage growing at the same rate? According to IDC's statistics, Windows seems to be the OS with the largest appetite for storage, with 387 additional petabytes gulped in 2003. That's followed by the Unix dialects, which totaled 254PB. The bronze medal goes to Linux, which is eating increasingly more storage. Linux may be stealing some of that from Unix (which showed a slight decline), but it still lags way behind at only 47PB.

I know what some people are thinking: all that storage for Windows is probably mostly for personal computing. Well not quite, although there is some truth there. 

A different table that tabulates only external storage -- excluding laptops, desktops, and small servers -- shows Windows still ahead at 189PB, followed by Unix with 175PB and Linux with 18PB.

I find also interesting that 84PB -- more than 48 percent of the Unix storage -- was purchased to be deployed on SANs. Windows customers deployed a little less for SANs, but their numbers were still close to 78PB.

However, Windows folks have added more NAS capacity in 2003, more than 36PB, while the Unix people have added less than 23PB.

Should we be surprised? I'm not. Those numbers confirm several interesting but already-known trends, including a still slow but persistent shift of capacity from DAS to networked storage and the increasing popularity of NAS in Windows shops. 

Incidentally, did you know that in 2003, we all bought more capacity for SAN than for DAS? Well, we did, and for the second year in a row, at that -- a clear signal that the networked storage tide has turned for good.

The IDC report gives numbers on the split between new FC and iSCSI capacity, too, but the numbers for the latter are so small that are not even worth mentioning. Maybe next year?

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