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Separating Hype from Reality

The storage industry continues to be a cauldron of innovation, ranging from new standards to new technologies to new management concepts. For example, at the end of October, the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) and the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) announced the approval of the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) as a new INCITS standard. At the same time, the Serial Attached Storage (SAS) specification was approaching its final form, with the first SAS-compatible products expected by the first quarter of 2005 at the latest, and perhaps before that. That's not all. In the past year, significant new hardware products have been introduced at every level of the storage infrastructure, from high-end enterprise storage solutions to removable flash storage sticks, and the growing presence of Microsoft is making things interesting. To cap it all off, Information Lifecycle Management (ILM), a compelling new overarching concept in storage management, is rapidly gaining traction. Amidst so much change, storage administrators face the challenge of determining what's hype and what might really have an impact on their operations now and over the next several years. Separating hype from reality is often complicated by vendors hawking new products they hope will find a market; venture capitalists funding new technologies they hope will work as expected; and market researchers trying to determine the industry's future. Of course, anticipating the future requires forward-looking thinking. But comparing a recent end-user study by TheInfoPro--an independent market-research company based in New York City--with a similar study the company released last year provides interesting insight into the current state of storage administrators' concerns, as well as hints about which developments might be important in the near future. The primary finding of the recent survey, which was administered to administrators at 250 primarily large companies with Storage Area Networks (SANs) already implemented, was that storage resource management (SRM) was finally beginning to build momentum. About 51 percent of the respondents already had installed SRM technology, up from 34 percent in 2003. Moreover, SRM topped the TheInfoPro's Technology Heat Index, a ranking of technologies that administrators plan to buy within a certain time frame. SRM received a rating of 100 on the index (very hot), followed by disk-to-disk backup and storage capacity forecasting, both of which received a score of 90. Although the use of SRM is clearly growing, it's only part of the story. In TheInfoPro's 2003 study, 22 percent of the respondents indicated that they planned to implement SRM over the next year. The actual number, therefore, fell slightly under expectations. More revealing, however, is that in the 2003 survey, 54 percent of respondents said that improved management tools were one of the two most important new features, services, or other improvements vendors could offer in the year to come. In fact, better management tools topped the wish last in 2003. That finding was consistent with another finding, which revealed that the need for improved management was one of the two top "pain points" that would drive storage spending in the year to come. In the 2004 survey, the number of respondents who put better management tools at the top of their wish list dropped to 22 percent. Lower cost and price reductions are now the most desired improvements. Comparing the two surveys reveals some other interesting developments. In 2003, 35 percent of the respondents put better interoperability at the top of their wish list from vendors. That number has dropped to 21 percent in 2004, falling from the second to the third position overall. At the same time, however, the number of respondents tabbing interoperability as a "pain point" that would drive purchase decisions climbed from 9 percent to 21 percent. Finally, there's some interesting data about the potential impact of new standards. In 2003, 89 percent of the respondents felt that storage-management standards were either important or very important. In 2004, only 7 percent felt that support for standards was one of their two top storage-management requirements. So, what's real and what's hype? Storage administrators are systematically addressing the topic of storage resource management. However, the adoption of SRM might not proceed in a linear fashion but rather in starts and stops. Both interoperability and standards support concern administrators, but their impact will be incremental over time. In the final analysis, despite the wave of innovation, change in the storage arena should prove to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary over the next several years.

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