Consultants identify 2005 storage issues

Posted on January 01, 2005

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Backup still a big issue

By Heidi Biggar

InfoStor recently asked six analyst/consulting/services firms to identify the most significant storage challenges facing end users in the coming year and what, if anything, vendors are doing to help users tackle these issues.

Not surprisingly, all six firms said backup and restore is still a significant-and ongoing-pain point for organizations of all sizes, as are SANs, disaster recovery and business continuance, storage management complexity, storage utilization, and budgetary constraints.

What is interesting, however, isn’t necessarily the items that made the list (all of them would have made similar lists over the last few years), but rather the relative lack of “buzz” surrounding these issues and the technologies that are available to address them.

“Backup has been a ‘pain point’ forever, and while there’s no backup panacea it amazes me how little the uptake has been for disk-to-disk backup technologies,” says Jacob Farmer, chief technology officer at Cambridge Computer, an integrator specializing in data storage and backup systems. “Users just aren’t getting excited about these products unless they have a critical pain point around specific applications.”

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Farmer says that while a handful of innovative vendors have emerged over the last year or so with technologies that can help eliminate common backup problems (e.g., shrinking backup windows, performance issues, etc.), users aren’t rushing to adopt them, opting instead to remain loyal to their traditional backup vendors and platforms. “Users are taking a ‘common-denominator’ approach, even if that means compromising their objectives in order to have everything managed under the same platform,” he says.

New backup choices include a variety of disk-to-disk (D2D) and disk-to-disk-to-tape (D2D2T) hardware and software options, continuous data-protection systems, block-level replication, and third-party reporting tools, according to Curtis Preston, vice president of service development at GlassHouse Technologies, an independent storage consulting and services firm.

However, despite the availability of these products and others, most IT administrators are struggling with the same backup issues they did two years ago. In fact, some would argue that the backup problem has actually worsened over the past few years due to rising data volumes.

“As data volumes grow at an average of 75% per year, users are finding that their backup-and-restore processes can’t keep up,” says John Webster, senior analyst and co-founder of the Data Mobility Group storage research firm.

Common backup issues include the time required to perform backups, the reliability of backups (if a backup fails users don’t have the time to repeat the operation, or they may be unaware of a failed backup until they attempt to do a restore), and recovery speed, according to Randy Kerns, a principal with the Evaluator Group, which specializes in storage-related consulting and research for the vendor and user communities.

While the newer technologies-in particular, continuous data replication and “redundancy backup” methods, which make backup processes more efficient by eliminating redundant blocks of data-haven’t struck a chord with users yet, analysts expect them to become more mainstream this year, either as stand-alone products or more likely as components of traditional backup applications.

“In the coming year we’ll see all kinds of innovative products to enable traditional backup systems,” says Cambridge Computer’s Farmer. “Similarly, continuous backup-and-replication vendors will integrate their products more tightly with traditional enterprise backup platforms.”

In a presentation at the Storage Networking World (SNW) conference last fall, IDC analyst Bill North said he expected data-protection market leaders to add continuous data-protection (CDP) capabilities to existing products either through in-house development or via acquisitions. According to IDC, CDP accounted for less than 2% of data- protection software spending in 2003.

iSCSI, or IP-based storage, is another technology that has been slow to take off but has significant implications for end users, especially small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and remote offices of larger enterprises looking to consolidate storage environments and improve utilization rates (see “IP SANs enable storage consolidation,” p. 1).

The appeal of iSCSI is simple: It’s affordable and easy to implement, and it uses existing Ethernet networks. Robert Gray, research VP of worldwide storage systems research at IDC, says: “I can’t find anyone who has implemented iSCSI that is unhappy with it. It’s a good option where Fibre Channel is too complex.”

Stephen Foskett, a senior consultant at GlassHouse Technologies, says ­iSCSI-based IP SANs can help users consolidate their storage environments and make more-efficient use of their capacity, particularly in Windows environments.

“Most systems use less than half of their storage because of the expanding number of single-application Windows systems that have cheap internal storage,” says Foskett. “iSCSI SANs centralize the storage environment and deliver advanced features like replication and mirroring as a side benefit. iSCSI will bring centralized storage to the rest of the data center.”

According to IDC’s surveys, there is a pent-up demand for iSCSI in the user community that has been held back by recalcitrant vendors. “Suppliers are going to be surprised at the traction of IP-based storage this year,” says IDC’s Gray. While iSCSI products are available from a number of smaller vendors, Gray notes that the larger vendors have not been aggressive in promoting the technology.

As for the other top pain points-disaster recovery and business continuance, storage management complexity, and budget constraints-help is on the way.

For example, users have a number of new options for disaster recovery and business continuance, including fabric-based replication (see the Special Report, p. 24), low-cost options for SMBs, as well as new implementations of asynchronous replication for array-based replication.

Gray says that while the industry is taking steps to deal with the massive amounts of data now housed in SAN environments, it hasn’t been able to “deliver much value” to users yet. According to Gray, the next big step in SAN technology will come from “richer” virtualization technologies.

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