Print, film, magnetic and optical storage media produced about five billion billion bytes of new information in 2002, and almost 800 MB of recorded information is produced per person each year, according to research from the University of Berkeley.

“”The overall capacity is just exploding,”” says

Bill North, research director for storage software with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. “”You’ve got to manage that, you have to back up that data, you have to move it from one class of storage to another, you have to make sure if it’s expired, you move it to something cheap.””

Software is evolving to facilitate that kind of data management, North adds. Nowadays, a company might have a storage network with hundreds or thousands of nodes, behind each of which are multiple disk arrays.

“”That implies the need for new, more efficient tools and for simplifying and automating those day-to-day routine activities.””

Making software self-aware

Software allows us to link storage to computers and provision it for particular use through a storage network.

“”More and more, the tools that make those connections and monitor the wellness of that kind of system are integrated from the host all the way through the storage device,”” he says. “”That integration is not complete yet but that is one of the areas where things are changing.””

While capacity gets higher and density lower, prices are also dropping.

“”We’re certainly expecting a serious erosion of prices over the next six to 12 months for all storage products,”” says Jennifer Ewen, senior market analyst with Toronto-based Evans Research Corp. But what’s showing the most change is storage software. “”I don’t feel the hardware per se is that complex — it hasn’t changed in 30 years,”” she says. “”It’s the software level that makes it more sophisticated and easier to use. That’s where the big drive is — making the software more self-aware, taking the management load off a human being and automating a whole lot more.””

There’s huge room for growth in adoption of storage management software, Ewen says. “”The market has yet to be convinced … that it offers a lot of the benefits that it’s sold on,”” she says. One benefit is that it’s less labour-intensive to manage storage; another is that it can help companies take advantage of their hardware to better manage their storage.

Ewen said small to mid-size firms are in the market for storage systems that are configured “”out of the box.””

With the size of storage-area networks (SANs) we’re seeing today, companies need an automated way to troubleshoot their storage network, says Jackie Ross, vice-president of marketing with Cisco Systems Inc.’s storage business group, which focuses on SAN switching. With virtual SANs, she says, instead of building out physically independent SANs, companies can consolidate them into an integrated fabric, while still maintaining segregation.

“”A network is a network,”” Ross says. “”The same networking concepts should be able to be applied.””

Cisco recently polled 100 of its large enterprise customers and asked what their top data centre IT requirements were. “”They all revolved around storage,”” says Ross, adding 90 of the respondents said “”business continuance”” was their top requirement.

“”That can mean everything from as simple as remote tape backup to something as involved as the ability to replicate in real time one data centre to another data centre.””

Large firms want storage tiers

Telcos are entering the service provider business in the areas of backup and data recovery, Ross says. While many companies aren’t eager to completely outsource their storage, they are willing to outsource the management of backup and data recovery — particularly if they don’t have the personnel or expertise to do it on their own.

Eighty companies surveyed by Cisco said SAN consolidation was important; what’s driving this is data centre consolidation (which in turn is being driven by lower total cost of ownership). And 73 companies said they’re moving toward application and service convergence. “”Tiering”” storage means companies are classifying their storage as, for example, Platinum, Gold and Silver. The class dictates the level of service needed for that application. If it’s Platinum, it’s mission-critical and must always be available. But other applications could be moved to mid-range storage, serial tape or even offline storage, she says.

This goes hand-in-hand with life cycle management; when data gets past its usefulness, it’s migrated to a different class of storage. “”That means companies are looking for data migration tools that will help them in moving this data from the high-end to the mid-range or to the tape applications,”” she says, “”and they’re doing that over the network.””

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