Storage execution in a time of scarcity

An executive summary from a large end-user survey reveals how IT managers are dealing with storage "pain points" within restricted budgets.

By David Hill

Aberdeen Group and InfoStor recently collaborated on an end-user survey to investigate how organizations are managing their storage infrastructures within financial constraints. The study addressed the following question: How do organizations manage the growth in their storage infrastructure while at the same time dealing with budgets that may not reflect that growth? In general, organizations seem to be doing quite well, as evidenced by the following highlights from the study.

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Highlight: One size of storage growth doesn't fit all companies.

Research finding—The average percentage growth in storage will continue to be high in the next 12 months (see piechart). The study also reinforces earlier Aberdeen research that indicates that much of this growth is concentrated in relatively few "fast growth" companies, which are firms expecting a substantial increase in capacity growth over the next year. Fully half the companies are in the "moderate growth" segment. Surprisingly, a significant percentage of companies are in the "slow growth" or "no growth" segments, with a small increase expected over the next 12 months.

Analysis—The study reflects the general population of storage users and not just the fast growth segment.

Impact—For IT managers, the study yields results that reflect what is happening in the storage market in general rather than just in the most growth-oriented segment.

Highlight: Although overall growth in storage and budgets is expected, fiscal disciplines are still in place.

Research finding—More than half (55%) of the respondents indicated that they expect an increase in storage budgets for the next 12 months, whereas 80% expect an increase in the amount of storage. Managing the storage environment with the current budget and headcount constraints is a success factor for about 60% of the respondents. Moreover, 80% said that they justify a typical buying decision "always" or "almost always" as fitting within existing budget constraints.

Analysis—Budgets are tending to trail storage growth, and even though the fiscal straitjacket may be loosening slightly, the IT manager is still wearing it.

Impact—IT managers have to continue to plan their storage decisions wisely and should try to do their planning with a time horizon of at least one budgeting cycle.

Highlight: Even though the storage infrastructure presents some manageability issues to IT organizations, users find that these issues can be handled.

Research finding—Less than 4% of the respondents said that meeting formal or informal service level agreements was their greatest "pain point" in storage. Even when meeting those requirements was only one of multiple success factors, only 22% selected meeting service levels as one of these factors. However, about 60% of the respondents chose improved manageability as a benefit from new storage or storage management software.

Analysis—That IT managers do not worry about service levels does not mean that they are not interested in service levels. Rather, it implies that existing services are at least satisfactory and under no great threat of deterioration. The motivating force for IT managers is therefore improving the manageability and cost efficiency of the infrastructure, rather than improving service levels per se.

Impact—Because negative impacts on external service levels do not seem to be a major problem, IT managers should consider justifying their storage-buying decisions based on internal cost considerations and/or non-service-level-related business value.

Highlight: Although storage networking continues to make good strides, enterprises tend to focus on basics, such as improving the backup/restore process and storage consolidation.

Research finding—Nearly 40% of the respondents chose revamping the current backup/restore process as one of the major initiatives planned in the next year, and the same percentage chose storage consolidation. (Some of the respondents may have chosen both.) A high percentage of respondents (47%) planned either to expand an existing storage area network (SAN) or to implement a SAN for the first time. Benefits cited included improved manageability (60% of respondents), an improved backup/restore process (55%), and improved availability (54%).

Analysis—IT storage managers are focusing on better blocking and tackling—improving the backup/restore process and storage consolidation—as their storage infrastructure strategy. At the same time, progress toward greater use of storage networking continues at a strong pace.

Impact—IT managers should feel comfortable knowing that basics like improving the backup/restore process are still the focus of their colleagues and that they are not out of step. IT managers should not retrench, but continue their expected expansion of the role of storage networking in the storage infrastructure.

Highlight: IT organizations continue to maintain financial discipline in storage buying and will explore options to acquire functionally effective storage technology that is more cost-efficient.

Research findings—Only 21% of the respondents reported that they have no formal financial process for capital investments, and those respondents tended to come from small companies. The rest had some formal process, such as total cost of ownership (TCO) and/or return on investment (ROI) analyses.

Only 16% of the respondents stated that they do not ask a vendor to take part in the risk of a storage acquisition, and another 20% do not ask but would like to.

Approximately two-thirds involve vendors in some way, such as a free trial or flexible software licensing or hardware leasing terms.

Considering storage products from smaller storage vendors is a possible way to get innovative products that may deliver functionality, manageability, and cost advantages, but IT managers who choose this strategy also run the risks of lack of long-term product viability and serviceability. These smaller vendors may have relationships with larger storage vendors, which might help to mitigate the risk. A good number of respondents (43%) said that the value of the product is essential and that the relationship with a current storage vendor is not critical. Another 34.4% of the respondents said that both the value of the product and the relationship with a current storage vendor are critical. Just 22.6% said that only the relationship with the current storage vendor is the critical element in purchasing decisions.

Analysis—Even with better economic times, the financial disciplines that organizations apply to storage acquisitions are not likely to be relaxed. But applying financial planning alone is not enough. Enterprises are trying to have vendors help ease the risk of storage acquisitions and are willing to consider innovative products if substantial benefits—such as cost efficiency, better manageability, and/or functionality— are the outcome.

Impact—IT managers who are responsible for storage decisions should explore ways that storage vendors can help them reduce the risk of acquiring products from smaller vendors. And from long-established free trials to newer on-demand options, vendors in general seem responsive to trying to put together plans to help enterprises with this process.

Even though the time available to evaluate alternative products is limited, storage decision-makers should try to explore new products that may make a difference in their storage environments. They may find a new product that fulfills a significant need. If nothing else, they can better understand and articulate their requirements, as well as help influence their current storage suppliers' product development (and/or acquisition) directions.

What the study covers

Questions in the survey focused on the challenges that organizations face in storage, the plans to respond to those challenges, and the financing needed to pay for those initiatives.

The report provides IT managers with a better understanding of what organizations are doing in storage and how they go about the acquisition process.

It includes answers to the following critical storage issues:

  • The sources of organizations' greatest "pain points" in storage;
  • Success factors for users in managing their storage infrastructure;
  • What plans respondents have for major storage initiatives;
  • The benefits that end users expect to receive from their investment in storage hardware and storage management software; and
  • Prevalent strategies for financing new storage initiatives.

IT managers who read this report will be able to compare their storage strategy for the next 12 months against that of their peers.

David Hill is vice president of storage research at the Aberdeen Group (www.aberdeen.com) in Boston, MA.

This article was originally published on February 01, 2004