by September 17, 2003 0 comments



After two years in the throes of a slowdown, the first that many IT players witnessed, this year saw a slow rebound in IT adoption and usage. And leading the rebound from the front was storage. The heightened interest in storage and backup was driven by a number of factors, including regulatory ones.

Concerns about disaster recovery, a fallout of the events of 9/11 and regulatory pressures (from the RBI for banks) were the primary drivers for backup solutions. Primary storage got driven equally by emerging businesses like private sector banking, insurance and off-shoring as well as by new investments in enterprise applications, including ERP by existing firms.

Overview
After a long period of technology based choices, like SCSI vs IDE or DAT vs LTO, the focus in storage and backup selection has now firmly shifted to application and need based choices of the buyer. Increasingly one can find vendors highlighting application areas and issues rather than technological differences when pitching their products.

That is not to say that there has been no significant technological innovations during the year. Serial ATA, Serial Attached SCSI, iSCSI, all made their presence felt during the past one year.

The enterprise IT decision maker would have heard quite a lot about SANs during the year, but it was NAS that gained wider acceptance, possibly because SANs are seen as only for those who have huge storage needs and matching budgets. No wonder then that the number of NAS devices and players has seen a manifold increase during the year. Meanwhile, the distinction between a SAN and a group of NAS devices is progressively blurring. And on the technology front, iSCSI became a standard during the year, leading to hopes of significant price reductions for SAN equipment. Given these two apparently conflicting trends, it would be interesting to see which way storage products and the market itself evolves in the years ahead. Right now, the bets are that the two would co-exist.

In backup, automation was the key trend, and tape capacities are seeing dramatic increases, with LTO Ultrium tapes gaining increased acceptance. Offsite storage and backup, including at Internet Data Centers is gaining acceptance after initial skepticism and concerns about privacy and security.

On the personal front, micro storage–small sized, USB-based flash storage, more commonly referred to as pen drives–that have been around for some time now, became more popular with prices coming down. Simultaneously, hard disk speeds are moving on to 7200 rpm, and the price differential between 5400 rpm and 7200 rpm for the same capacity, IDE is now down to a few hundred rupees. While 200 and 300 GB hard disks made their appearance, the mass market has stayed put for some time now
at 80 GB.

For personal backup, and for small volume, frequent backups in the workplace, the CD-Rewriter has emerged as the drive of choice. But the preferred media is still the CD-R and not the RW, thanks to the dirt-cheap pricing of imported, unbranded (and re-branded locally) CD-Rs. Concerns about their longevity though, remain. DVD writers have made an appearance in the Indian market, but have failed to achieve significant volumes thanks to fairly high pricing.

Major Markets
The big push for storage and backup devices this year came primarily from four user segments

BFSI: Banks and financial institutions are now required by the RBI and the SEBI to have policy based backup procedures and disaster recovery infrastructure in place. Coupled with the huge growth in the number of banks, insurance and other financial institutions, it is no wonder that this sector has been at the forefront of the storage explosion for the last couple of years. The next year may see a slackening of the pace here as most players finish putting their basic infrastructure in place.

Telcom: Telcos have been another growth sector for storage. Again a combination of new circles and new operators opening shop and regulatory needs (Telcos are required to retain call details for a period of one year) helped fuel this growth. As the number of connection in all modes of telecom services is set to grow dramatically across the country, expect more storage purchases by this sector

BPO: Again, a new business segment opening up, requiring huge amounts of storage. BPO incidentally has been the growth segment this year, what with their scales of operation, not just for storage, but also for networking, basic hardware, LCD monitors and a host of other sectors of the tech market. The predictions are that demand from the BPO segment for storage will increase if not remain steady in the coming year, what with more and more operations slated to be offshored from the developed world.

Petroleum: The Petroleum sector has been making some very significant investments in IT this past couple of years. Almost every one has gone in for an ERP implementation. The likes of ONGC have also invested heavily in IT to aid oil exploration. All this has converted to good news for storage vendors.

Concerns
Backup continues to be a major concern area for many enterprises. As the volume of data increases by leaps and bounds, it has become a big task to schedule and coordinate backups. Backup automation is just the first step in handling the issue. As the volume of backup increases, the back up window and the processing power required also goes up. The pressures of business demand just the opposite. The way out is beyond traditional tape rotation. Thus, serverless backup, point in time back and disk to disk back up have all been hot topics during the year and will continue to be so for some time to come.

Handling technology changes: To backup is one thing and to ensure that you can restore from the backup is another thing altogether. This becomes all the more pronounced when you change technologies. Existing archives need to be converted to the newer format to ensure that they are available when needed. Given that a growing organization is now likely to change its backup technology as frequently as it changes PCs (once in two to three years), and add to its collection of diverse backup equipment even more frequently, handling technology changes is becoming as big a challenge as managing the process itself.

Future directions
That leads us to the last section of this piece, the future directions that storage and backup is likely to take, the issues that anyone involved in implementing a storage solution will have to grapple with.

Storage consolidation: As storage and backup needs expand, organizations will have to think beyond localized storage or application based storage to storage infrastructure that spans the needs of the network, the applications and even geographies.

So, instead of treating storage purchase decisions as subsets of application server purchase decisions, large organizations will have to treat them as critical resources and plan for their acquisition and implementation in much the same way as they plan for an enterprise scale software.

Such an approach will in turn lead to consolidation of storage infrastructure, both structurally and physically. Thus, instead of storage being scattered all across the organization, you will end up with distinct pools of mass storage.

Enterprise wide storage management: This one is probably next in line once storage consolidation starts happening. As the cost of hardware goes down, it is not that you will be able to spend less of your budget on storage. Actually, it could be the reverse, with your needing to invest in storage management software and services in order to make your diverse storage and backup equipment work the way you want it to. Software based storage management is one area where a lot of enterprises will end up doing in the coming years.

Storage virtualization: And enterprise wide storage management leads to the next stage, storage virtualization. Virtualization is more talk than reality. Some demonstrations have happened, but beyond that there is still a long way to go. In theory, virtualization is the ability to represent and treat multiple physical storage units as one single logical unit, without being concerned about the size, technology and locational limits of the physical constituents.

Disk to disk backup: Tape has been the cause for many a headache for anyone having to take or restore from backups. Horror stories of tape and drive failures at critical junctures are too numerous to recount here. So, it is no wonder that the hunt for a replacement for tape is as old as tape itself! The limiting factors to an alternative have been the large capacities and the low cost per GB that tape offered. Ironically enough, the challenge to tape in both these areas is coming from the hard disk itself. Increasing capacities, improving performance and crashing prices have all combined to make the hard disk a good competitor to tape; and it does not suffer form the delays of sequential access or the failure of mechanical parts. In its simplest, a disk to disk backup solution can be thought of as a RAID array with software presenting the device to the operating systems and the applications as a tape device.

In reality, it is a much more complex device, having its own file systems and the like. But the prospects are intriguing enough, and many players already have devices out in the market.

In conclusion, the storage market is going through a growth phase. Expect more activity all around, not just in capacities and pricing, but also in terms of new technologies and even media

By Krishna Kumar

New Technology

iscsi
iSCSI has been talked about for some time now. But the specification was standardized recently only, in February this year.

iSCSI lets you access fast SCSI devices over IP networks, instead of using dedicated SCSI cabling, or as was happening with SANs, over Fiber Channel. At the lower end of the SAN market, iSCSI is expected to replace fiber channel, reducing costs.

Serial ATA
Physically, all that Serial ATA does is replace the wide, short and unwieldy cable that connects an IDE hard disk to the computer with a thinner, longer one. Beyond that, SATA is expected to make accessing data from a hard disks much faster, and make computers more compact, because the longer (1 mtr) wires can be routed properly inside the cabinet, and will generate less heat. The first SATA disks are out, and perform more or less at par with top of the line ATA drives. Faster drives and widespread adoption is some time off.

Serial attached SCSI
SAS is supposed to be the successor of SCSI, and is currently in the prototype stage. In a way it is to servers what SATA will be to the desktop. SAS cables can be up to 8 m long. SAS is very much work in progress.

Company Affairs

The storage industry has seen quite a churn in the last two years. Acquisitions and takeovers were the norm of the day. The website Storagesearch.com estimates that 204 storage companies have been acquired by others, changed their names or simply shut shop in the last two years!

The biggest one in recent times has been the acquisition of storage software player Legato by EMC. Both have a fairly strong presence in India, and it would be worth watching what happens to them, particularly to Legato’s hardware independent positioning. Legato is not the only purchase EMC has made. In fact, the company has been aggressively on the acquisitions mode, much like Cisco was in the network space some time back.

In the fag end of 2002, IBM “combined its hard disk operations” with Hitachi’s to form Hitachi Global Storage Technologies.

From a purely local perspective, IBM is giving a fresh push to its storage pitch in the country. So, you can expect to hear more from that quarter in the coming days. Leader HP is also not sparing any effort to keep the market with them.

While the local storage market does look crowded, fact of the matter is that many large players, particularly the storage
management ones are yet to set up shop in the country. As the installed base and fresh demand goes up, one can expect many of them to turn their attention towards us. In short, in the immediate future, expect more attention from an increasing number of storage players.

Current Buzz

NAS: Network attached storage, as against direct attached storage. Offers large storage capacities that multiple clients and servers can access directly over the network, rather than through a specific server. A NAS device is essentially an array of disks (RAID) powered by its own processor and OS.

SAN: Storage Area Network offers even more storage than NAS. A pool of centralized storage, running on its own dedicated high-speed network, and managed using sophisticated software.

Serverless backup: Traditional backup requires the server to initiate, control and complete the backup from primary storage to backup device. This results in applications running on the server being slowed down, and also a general loading up of the network. With serverless backup, the server initiates the backup with a command to a bridging device. This device, sitting on a SAN, now takes over and completes the backup process leaving the server and the network free to run routine tasks.

Point in time backup: A term used in the context of disaster-recovery planning and not in archiving. As against continuous mirroring of data to a disaster recovery site, Point in time systems take regular snapshots of data and is used in the event of a system disaster to recover from an alternate location. Point in time systems are cheaper to set up and run as compared to continuous-mirroring systems.

Information life-cycle management: This is one of the latest catch phrases to hit the storage market. ILM is based on the assumption that the same data would have differing values during different phases in its life within the system. SO, it would not be a sensible decision to allocate high value storage for low value information. ILM is nothing but allocating the appropriate storage resources to data depending on the stage in its lifecycle, which in turn depends on its current value to the organization.

Automatic data migration tools are used to migrate data from one storage location to another as its life stage changes.

MAJOR PLAYERS>>>>>>>

The Indian storage market presents a fairly crowded picture. And many more are expected to join them as the size of the marketplace increases in the coming years

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