Good news for tight storage budgets

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If you're in the process of finalizing your 2004 storage budget, you're probably pulling your hair out trying to figure out how to handle capacity growth, hardware procurement, and ongoing storage management costs on such a puny allowance. The economy may be loosening up, but that doesn't mean that upper management has untied the IT purse strings.

A few trends that will hit in full force next year may help you meet budget. For one, disk arrays based on Serial ATA (SATA) disk drives will be available from a wide variety of vendors, and they promise "good-enough" storage at much lower prices than SCSI or Fibre Channel arrays. So far, a limited supply of SATA disk drives has stymied widespread shipments of SATA-based arrays, but that situation should change early next year. You'll probably have to buy more gigabytes and RAID arrays than you did this year, but the price-per-gigabyte should go down considerably.

Serial ATA disk arrays will also spur the trend toward disk-to-disk backup, which, according to our reader surveys, is one of the hottest trends in the industry. I doubt that SATA arrays will actually be less expensive than tape libraries, but SATA will no doubt motivate tape library manufacturers to stay one step ahead on the price curve. Although tape-based backup has a number of other advantages over disk (e.g., removability), relatively low cost has always been—and always will be—its primary advantage. So, if you're sticking with traditional tape-based backup and restore, or are including tape in a D2D2T setup, cost savings are imminent.

Another trend that should have a financial impact next year is the availability of IP SANs. It's still a little early to tell just how much less expensive iSCSI-based SANs will be relative to Fibre Channel SANs, but it's safe to say that they will be less expensive. And even if iSCSI doesn't take off, its mere presence as a potential alternative can only have positive effects on Fibre Channel pricing.

From a cost-cutting perspective the effect of IP storage may be felt more in long-distance applications using iSCSI, FCIP, or iFCP protocols. IP storage will enable big savings in WAN- and MAN-based applications such as replication, mirroring, and snapshots. Also on the replication front, the big array vendors have recently announced relatively inexpensive asynchronous mirroring as well as the ability to mirror from high-end, high-cost arrays to lower-cost mid-tier arrays.

NAS has always been relatively inexpensive, but in some environments iSCSI will be viewed as an alternative to NAS, which may push prices down even lower—at least in the midrange.

At the high-end of the NAS market, the intense battle between Network Appliance and EMC is already forcing those margin-hungry vendors to become competitive on the price front.

No doubt, it will still be quite a challenge to meet your storage requirements while staying under budget, but new technology and increasingly intense competition will certainly help.

Dave Simpson,

This article was originally published on November 01, 2003