It may be a little early in 2007 to start prognosticating about what is going to occur in 2008 and beyond. However, there are some major trends — I would almost classify them as “mega-trends” — that I see taking shape. These trends indicate that, at a higher level, storage management is shifting from managing bits and bytes to treating storage as a cheap, abundant commodity that can be used to solve specific business problems.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the increasing number of small and midsize businesses (SMBs) who are switching to online backup. Though this trend started some time ago (some vendors noticed a serious up tick in business about 18 months ago), this trend should only accelerate in 2008.
Backup is strategic to SMBs only in the sense that SMBs recognize they need to do it and that they need help doing it. If they can outsource it for about the same cost or slightly more than they are paying now with a high level of assurance that it will work, most will do it.
Contributing to this trend is that backup service providers are maturing to become managed service providers (MSPs). They no longer provide just online backup and support user-initiated recoveries. They are diversifying to provide an entire range of data management services that SMBs need such as archiving, data classification and different tiers of disaster recovery services.
MSPs still are at different stages in providing these services and, for now, users should still view these new service offerings with a fair amount of skepticism. However, it is reasonable to assume that by 2009 MSPs should have many of the kinks worked out and will offer more robust data management services.
Another trend that is emerging is the need for storage managers to develop a close relationship with one’s legal department. This is significant because the way IT manages data going forward will be driven as much by their corporate legal departments as it is by internal business applications. “Just keep it all” or “Delete it after three years” may be good starting points for data management but the world has become much more complicated than that.
Andrew Cohen, who handles EMC’s legal department and corporate compliance, cites cost, legal statutes, defensible data management policies and e-discovery as the specific reasons that data management polices need to evolve and for IT and legal departments to work more closely together. Yet, for storage managers to focus on broader business and legal issues, they must put into place a storage infrastructure that doesn’t require their constant attention and is self-managing and self-healing.
That leads to the last major mega-trend I see emerging in storage: clustered storage. Anyone who deals with storage on a day-to-day basis knows that storage is anything but self-managing and self-healing — especially when used in a storage network. It anything, I would characterize most current storage network designs as exactly the opposite: self-destructing and self-defeating.
Clustered storage is shaping up to take one of two forms: clustered storage systems and virtualized storage. From a best practices point of view, clustered storage systems (sometimes called grid storage) from NEC, Isilon Systems and Panasas can create one large logical storage pool that are probably the best option. However, that model often requires companies to standardize on a storage vendor’s product which may or may not fit with how companies procure their storage.
Virtualized storage is accomplished using a network based storage virtualization product such as EMC’s InVista or Incipient’s iNSP. These products aggregate existing storage systems to present one logical storage pool to the server infrastructure as well as creates a common console to perform common storage management functions such as data migrations and provisioning.
How soon these emerging mega-trends come to pass remains to be seen. But dropping storage costs, the need for tighter relationships between IT and legal, and maturing storage technologies are contributing to the likelihood of these trends getting a foothold in 2008 and accelerating from there.