Economic downturns typically touch off budget cuts and if IT buyers have not felt the squeeze yet, you will: It’s coming and coming fast. As a result, some promising new storage technologies are facing an uphill battle in terms of adoption, and others may be shelved altogether.

According to data from Forrester Research, storage represents 11% or more of IT hardware budgets and the market size for storage is in the tens of billions of dollars. It makes sense since the firm says 24% of storage decision-makers are facing expanding storage capacity and 22% are prioritizing data retention and archiving projects.

Andrew Reichman, a senior analyst with Forrester, says regardless of how long the economy struggles, it is certain that belt-tightening in IT spending will be the norm for the next year. That’s why in his latest report, “Five Key Storage Strategies For A Down Economy,” Reichman offers advice to IT managers trying to reconcile budget cuts with data growth — a balancing act that merits its own event in the Beijing summer games.

Where will the storage buyers spend, and where will they cut? Reichman says customers should be investing in personnel-hours rather than new products by doing more with what they already have.

Topping Reichman’s storage ‘to-do’ list is capacity reclamation, which relates to significant gaps in the amount of allocated versus used capacity in most IT environments. However, to take back the gigabytes without buying new tools can be a challenge that requires downtime and a lot of planning.

Reichman also says auditing backup-and-replication configurations and implementing tiered storage methodologies, while time-intensive, are also proven ways to delay capacity purchases.

“The vendors are going to come at customers with all of these new technologies that are aimed at freeing up space, including data de-duplication, storage resource management [SRM] software, and thin provisioning,” says Reichman, “but these are low-tech things that users can do on their own without spending a lot of money.”

The one mistake Reichman warns against is cutting staff to save cash. “It’s a myth that cutting staff will always be better in the long run,” he says. “I characterize a lot of these storage environments as bare bones already. But a lot of things can be done with the people that you have in order to help delay purchases. In my opinion, cutting staff takes money out of one bucket and puts it in another by reducing operating expenses and increasing capital expenditures.”

If storage pros take Reichman’s advice and delay new storage purchases, some emerging technologies could bear the brunt of the economic downturn. Solid-state disks (SSDs) may be atop the list of nice-to-have and not need-to-have storage technologies.

“There are use cases where solid-state disks might be more cost-effective than traditional hard disk drives, but the majority of firms are not willing to spend more to get more performance right now. They will settle for good-enough performance if it means they have to spend less. Solid-state disks might be one of the technologies that gets put on the shelf for now.”

Another emerging technology concept that might suffer delays due to budget cuts is that of unified networking. Brocade and Cisco have been beating the converged LAN-SAN network drum for almost a year and, according to Reichman, a single switching infrastructure for both storage and networking traffic could result in significant cost savings in the data center. Just not yet.

“A single technology platform for LAN and SAN traffic has the possibility of dramatically reducing costs both in hardware and personnel by having a unified staff for managing everything,” says Reichman. “But converged networks will take significant investments and my guess is the economic squeeze might delay adoption for two to three years.”

But fear not. The storage vendors will survive — mostly. Conservative attitudes among IT buyers aside, there are opportunities out there for storage vendors, but capitalizing on them will require some changes in vendor behavior.

“Vendors that show they are willing to partner with customers in order to help them optimize their existing environments and provide them with tools to do so will gain market share more so than any particular technology solution,” says Reichman. “There are tangible benefits and use cases out there being realized with data de-duplication and thin provisioning, but partnering and enablement strategies are more valuable to customers than specific products.”

Reichman also predicts a return to one-stop shopping and continued industry-wide consolidation. “Users will tend to buy more from fewer vendors that can offer strong volume discounts. That is where we might see niche vendors with technology in one specific area start to lose. And the big fish will continue to swallow the smaller fish.”

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