Storage buyers battle weak economy

By Kevin Komiega

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.

Andrew Reichman, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, 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 who are trying to reconcile budget cuts with data growth.

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 that even though auditing backup-and-replication configurations and implementing tiered storage methodologies are time-intensive, they 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 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. “A lot of storage environments are bare bones already. But a lot of things can be done with the people you have 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 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 but not need-to-have storage technologies.

“There are cases where solid-state disks might be more cost-effective than traditional 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. Vendors such as 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.”

This article was originally published on September 01, 2008