"There are cycles in technology where it goes from centralised to distributed. And we're now back to centralised as relates to data centres", said Gary Gysin, storage networking vendor McData's worldwide vice president of sales and service.
The executive agrees with competitors Cisco and Brocade that the problem of complying with regulations like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the Unites States -- which require companies to retain more records -- is proving a key driver for data consolidation from small remote servers back to company warehouses.
Other factors include the need to simplify administration and provide disaster recovery features.
Remote data woes are particularly being experienced in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Deb Dutta, Brocade's vice president responsible for the region.
"If you look at the Asian customer, normally you have a very distributed infrastructure," he said. But at the same time, the links powering that infrastructure are probably not the best or the most reliable. In addition, organisations are already "spending tonnes of money, talent, equipment and time in building the data centre infrastructure."
Dutta said the result had been a number of divided data management solutions where small servers at each remote office simply consolidated each day's work into the data centre at the end of each day. However, the lack of IT manpower at these remote locations could cause issues, he said.
"The guys in the branch office -- they're not IT people," said Dutta, noting this could mean the process often did not work as planned. Cisco's Australian storage lead Dylan Morison agreed, telling ZDNet Australia the cost of trying to manage so much remote infrastructure was becoming a "nightmare" for many companies.
Morison said that unless there were guarantees that remote staff administering data would get everything right, it was a situation "fraught with danger".
Ultimately McData's Gysin and Brocade's Dutta agree that on average companies currently keep only 25 percent of their data in data centres, with the remainder being spread out between remote locations and employees' desktop machines.
The trend is seeing the vendors diversify their offerings to try and match their product lines to the inward flow of warehouse-bound data. Cisco and Brocade, especially, are keen on the wide-area file services (WAFS) technology which aims to allow companies to store content in their data centre without necessarily sacrificing performance.
Key to the approach is the speed at which customers want to access remote applications.
"Latency's the killer and that's what we're trying to overcome," said Cisco's Morison, noting his company was working at integrating WAFS into its routers. "Those customers out on the edges need to think that when they access applications [from a data centre], that it's the same as when they're accessing it on a local area network."
Brocade's own WAFS technology uses caching technology to try to overcome the latency problem. Dutta reckons it's being used in 70 installations around the world, with several Australian companies trialling it for the past two to three months.
Cisco's Morison envisages the return on investment from solutions like WAFS will eventually prove their value. "When you're looking at customers that have 50 sites, or 80 sites, with some even into the thousands," he said, "there's huge savings involved there."