Key storage trends for 2006

By Dave Simpson

—The Needham & Co. investment banking firm released a report this month that reviewed the key storage trends of 2005, as well as the trends and technologies to keep an eye on over the remainder of 2006. Topping their list (in no particular order) were IP storage, information lifecycle management (ILM), storage virtualization, enhanced backup and recovery, security, and InfiniBand.

Eye on iSCSI
Although predictions of the size of the iSCSI market have historically missed the mark by a long shot, International Data Corp. (IDC) predicts that the iSCSI market will surge from about $300 million in 2005 to more than $3 billion in 2008.

However, a number of forces could still stall the iSCSI market. As noted by Needham analysts and others, although a number of small start-ups (e.g., EqualLogic, Intransa, LeftHand Networks) and one large vendor (Network Appliance) bang the IP SAN drum loudly, a lot of the market heavyweights pay little more than lip service to iSCSI, treating it more as a checklist item than a strategic technology. The primary reason for this, according to analysts, is that iSCSI represents significantly lower margins than Fibre Channel.

Nevertheless, Needham analysts note that more than 6,000 enterprises have deployed iSCSI, and user case studies attest to the benefits of IP SANs (see "Why users are embracing iSCSI SANs," in the January 2006 print edition of InfoStor, p. 30).

In addition to its primary advantage—relatively low cost—iSCSI could benefit later this year as 10Gbps Ethernet gathers momentum. Other market boosts could come from native iSCSI drivers embedded in the next generation of Windows (although Microsoft already offers free iSCSI drivers), and a move toward block storage access on NAS devices, or what Network Appliance refers to as "unified storage."

On the other hand, in addition to the foot-dragging from some of the large vendors, growth in the IP SAN market could be crimped by declining prices for Fibre Channel SANs and components. For example, 4Gbps Fibre Channel components are priced at, or just slightly above, 2Gbps Fibre Channel components. And a number of vendors offer Fibre Channel-based SAN starter kits for about $5,000.

ILM goes beyond ABC
According to a recent end-user survey conducted by TheInfoPro research firm, ILM has become a top priority for storage managers—at least at Fortune 1000 sites.

Last year, early ILM adopters typically started out with tiered storage, but 2006 will be marked by an increased emphasis on tools for data classification, prioritization, and data movement because one of the core concepts of ILM is that data should be stored according to its business value (including its value relative to compliance issues). And functions such as data classification should move from being mostly a manual exercise last year to being more of an automated function this year.

A short list of vendors of data classification tools includes Abrevity, Arkivio, CommVault, EMC, Kazeon, Index Engines, Njini, Scentric, and StoredIQ. (Kazeon has an OEM deal with Network Appliance.)

Virtualization for SAN, NAS
Put simply, virtualization separates the physical and logical view of data. Once the domain of smaller vendors, most of the virtualization attention is now focused on EMC, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) and IBM, each of which has a different approach on how to implement virtualization (e.g., network versus array).

Among those vendors, virtualization is still in its infancy, although IBM claims more than 1,600 customers for its in-band Shared Volume Controller (SVC) virtualization platform. EMC's play in the virtualization space is the Invista platform, which is just beginning to ramp up, while HDS espouses array-based virtualization in its TagmaStore storage systems.

Although virtualization is usually discussed in the context of block-based SANs, it is also taking hold in file-based NAS environments. NAS virtualization simplifies management by creating a single logical view across multiple NAS systems using distributed/clustered file system technology. Vendors of NAS virtualization, or network file management (NFM), products include Acopia Networks, NeoPath Networks, NuView, Network Appliance (which OEMs NuView's StorageX), and Rainfinity, which was acquired by EMC last year.

Enhanced backup/recovery
After decades of relative inactivity, good old backup and recovery is now hot, due in large part to the advantages offered by disk-to-disk (D2D) backup/recovery. Although most D2D implementations still involve tape (D2D2T), 63.5% of the companies in an InfoStor reader survey have implemented disk-based backup to some degree, and another 13% will implement it this year. (The remaining 23.5% of the surveyed companies have no plans to use disk-based backup/recovery.)

There are different ways to implement D2D backup, but two of technologies receiving the most attention are virtual tape libraries (VTLs) and continuous data protection (CDP). VTLs are relatively easy to implement because they emulate existing tape libraries (see "VTLs top users' priority list," in the January 2006 print edition of InfoStor, p. 1).

Representative VTL vendors include ADIC, Bus-Tech, Copan, Diligent, EMC, FalconStor, IBM, Neartek, Network Appliance, MaXXan, Overland Storage, Quantum, Sepaton, Sun/StorageTek, and Ultera.

CDP shifts the data-protection focus from backup to recovery, enabling users to recover rapidly to any point in time by continuously capturing modifications to data. Until last year, CDP was the domain of a number of relatively unknown start-ups, but 2005 saw the market entry of EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM/Tivoli, Microsoft, and Symantec.

Other vendors of CDP, or "near CDP," include Asempra, FalconStor, FilesX, InMage, Kashya, Lasso Logic, Mimosa, LiveVault, Mendocino, Revivio, Storactive, TimeSpring, and XOsoft.

Storage + security
Although a number of end-user surveys indicate that security functions such as encryption are not a high priority for storage administrators (only 5% to 10% of backups are encrypted, according to the Needham report), there is no doubt that storage and security will continue to merge this year. From a business perspective, Network Appliance's acquisition of Decru last year highlighted this trend, as did the Symantec-Veritas merger.

In a recent end-user survey conducted by TheInfoPro research firm, the vendors cited most often as suppliers of storage security included (in decreasing order) Network Appliance, EMC, Symantec, and NeoScale. In the same survey, about half of the respondents expected spending on security (out of storage budgets) to remain about the same in 2006, with slightly less than half predicting increased security spending and only about 3% predicting a decrease. (The February print edition of InfoStor will include a full report on TheInfoPro's storage security survey.)

Looking forward, the Fibre Channel Security Protocol standard is expected to be ratified in the first half of this year, which should strengthen SAN-level security. And Needham analysts also note that vendors are expected to broaden their focus beyond encryption this year to include other security features such as role-based access control (RBAC) and public-key infrastructure (PKI).

To InfiniBand and beyond
Until last year, InfiniBand seemed relegated to niche markets such as high performance computing (HPC) and high-end Linux clusters, but there are signs that this high-speed, low-latency interconnect may be crawling out of those niches into mainstream applications-and into the storage market. Most of the major server vendors offer InfiniBand-based clusters, and a number of storage vendors shipped InfiniBand systems last year, including Isilon Systems and LSI Logic's Engenio division. Cisco's acquisition of Topspin last year also added fuel to the InfiniBand fire.

Nevertheless, Needham analysts note that it remains unclear whether InfiniBand will reach the mainstream from a storage perspective, due in part to the entrenchment of Fibre Channel and improvements to Ethernet (such as 10Gbps Ethernet and remote direct memory access, or RDMA) that will pick up steam this year. (The February print edition of InfoStor will include a cover story on InfiniBand's potential role in the storage arena.)

According to Needham's report, other trends to watch this year include Serial Attached SCSI (SAS), managed storage services, wide area data services (including wide area file services, or WAFS), 4Gbps Fibre Channel, storage management standards (including SMI-S and Aperi) and, of course, more mergers and acquisitions.

This article was originally published on January 20, 2006