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Who guards the guards: Storage

Making predictions about the storage market isn't difficult. Suggest that capacities will go up and costs will go down and you shouldn't go too far wrong.
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Written by Angus Kidman on

Making predictions about the storage market isn't difficult. Suggest that capacities will go up and costs will go down and you shouldn't go too far wrong.

However, as soon as analysts and researchers start getting more specific, they sometimes start getting more inaccurate — or so an examination of key predictions about the storage market from five years ago suggests.

Superficially, 2003 didn't look that different to the present day. Networked storage was already widely deployed, disk was increasingly prevalent although tape retained a key role in archiving, and IT managers were debating which interconnect technology would provide the right balance of cost versus performance.

The dominant brands of the day — EMC, IBM, HP, Dell, Hitachi and Network Appliance — also remain much the same, though a degree of corporate consolidation has inevitably occurred: the biggest acquisitions coming in 2005 when Sun Microsystems swallowed up Storagetek and Symantec purchased Veritas.

One successful META prediction was that the costs of staff to manage storage would grow at a much more rapid rate than the hardware itself.

2003 marked the beginning of a sustained period of growth for storage sales. As of December 2007, the external disk storage market has seen 19 consecutive quarters of year-on-year growth, according to IDC.

Are you being serviced?
One readily apparent change is where the dollars are being spent. In 2003, according to IDC, hardware accounted for 60 percent of the storage market, services 30 percent and software 10 percent.

While no-one yet wants to break out the proportions for 2008, it's clear that hardware now claims less of the spend, not only because of falling costs but because of the increasing role of virtualisation, which places software — and intelligent management decisions — centre stage.

To be fair, IDC saw that coming. "It is logical that vendors shift their emphasis exclusively from hardware to incorporate software and services as part of delivering a storage solution to the market," its market summary at the time noted.

A broader trend to rationalisation was also evident. A survey by META Group, since acquired by Gartner, found that 60 percent of IT managers expected that consolidation would form a key part of their storage plans, with more centrally developed and enforced policies. The same managers also predicted that the percentage of hardware budgets allocated to storage would remain constant.

One successful META prediction was that the costs of staff to manage storage systems would grow at a much more rapid rate than the hardware itself — and account for a much higher percentage of the IT budget.

Big storage may be cheap but getting people who know how to operate it has proved increasingly costly — and difficult.

While predictions that volumes would continue to expand have remained accurate, identifying the kinds of content that consume space has been more difficult.

Future-gazing is rife with risk, though, as even those who indulge in it acknowledge. Gartner has begun including a "missed" section in some of its current reports. For storage, its 2008 report singles out a 2004 prediction that SAS disk drives would be widely integrated into external controller-based disk storage systems by 2006.

"SAS development initiatives encountered unforeseen difficulties, delaying its introduction into the external controller-based disk storage systems market by one year, and then, only at the margin in the entry-level segment of that market," its current report notes.

And while predictions that volumes would continue to expand have remained accurate, identifying the kinds of content that consume space has been more difficult.

In 2003, continued growth in e-mail usage — and a parallel need to retain extensive e-mail archives for legal and regulatory purposes — was fingered as the main culprit.

While that remains a burning issue in 2008, the rapid growth in the production and consumption of online media, triggered by sharing sites such as YouTube, was not anticipated by many market watchers.

Streaming video at that time relied on protocols such as Real, QuickTime and Windows Media, all largely abandoned in the wake of Flash-based formats.

Faith in the future
Given that mixed record, how much faith should CIOs put in what the experts are telling them now? Leaving aside the issue of "well, asking someone is better than doing nothing", some predictions still seem worth pursuing.

The key storage truisms — we want more and getting more is costing less — remain solid.

The key storage truisms — we want more and getting more is costing less — remain solid.

IDC predicts that storage capacity is continuing to grow at 60 percent a year. Gartner calculates that by 2011, the cost of storing a single gigabyte on an external controller-based disk storage device will drop to US$1.05 — of which the vast majority will be management costs rather than the media itself.

Now that SANs are widely accepted, the biggest area for growth in networked storage is generally considered to be small and medium businesses. While their individual spend is likely to be much lower than, for example, a bank or mining company, they have some other advantages: market volume, shorter decision cycles and a willingness to accept packaged solutions.

Another widely promoted area of growth is online storage, which IDC expects to expand fourfold between now and 2011. Again, adoption is likely to be stronger amongst small businesses and consumers, rather than larger shops that already have wide-area networks in place.

That notion ties in with another concept that analysts have steadily pushed in recent years: enterprise tech decisions are increasingly being driven by end users, who expect the same sophisticated technology at work that they enjoy in their private lives.

"By 2010, end user preferences will decide as much as half of all software, hardware and services acquisitions made by IT," Gartner suggests.

In storage, that means an increasing need to support external storage devices ranging from flash memory to iPods, along with an expectation that data should readily be accessible online.

While that sounds plausible, remember that more or less no-one saw it coming in 2003. Why should our knowledge of 2013 be any better?

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