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Thu 26 Jul 2007 12:00 AM

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A bigger byte

A few decades ago data storage was discussed in terms of megabytes – now the exabyte looms large for vendors such as EMC. Duncan MacRae dropped in to the firm's Storage World to hear its plans for super-sized storage.

Back in the 1980s, 5MByte and 10MByte disks were impressive pieces of equipment, costing hundreds of US dollars each. However, those days are long gone. In the modern IT climate, a single desktop icon on a computer takes up about as much RAM as an entire video game console had back in the 1980s. And when it comes to storing company data, some enterprises have now entered the realms of the exabyte (1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes).

With that amount of data to handle and safeguard, companies face an ongoing battle to store it, let alone store it securely. The issue of storage is not a new one but it is one that becomes more and more problematic as the world becomes ever-more reliant on information.

At the recent EMC World 2007 conference in Orlando, USA, more than 7,000 EMC customers, partners and technologists rolled into town, testament to the increasing importance of data storage.

For the first time, the event brought together three industry-leading user conferences: EMC Technology Summit, focused on information infrastructure deployment and information management; Mome-ntum, the EMC Documentum user conference focused on management of unstructured content; and the EMC Software Developer Conference, focused on the skills needed to develop new applications for infrastructure and information management.

There was a wide range of attendees, each with a unique perspective on the most innovative approaches to storing, protecting, optimising and leveraging their information. The influential conference also boasted 600 education sessions covering 364 separate topics. More than 115 EMC partners, and there were demonstrations of more than 50 EMC solutions.

"Just as bringing information together enhances its value to an organisation, bringing together the disciplines and experts responsible for managing that information also results in a tremendous amount of value for them and for the industry," said Frank Hauck, EMC executive VP, global marketing and customer quality.

The conference kicked off on May 20 with a keynote presentation by EMC chairman, president and CEO, Joe Tucci, which focused on the theme of ‘Building Tomorrow's Information Infrastructure'. Another key presentation was ‘Making Life Easier in Your Exabyte World' by David Donatelli, EMC executive VP, storage product operations.

And these were themes very much hammered home during the course of the whole showpiece - moving forwards and looking ahead to how business will deal with data in the years to come.

EMC is very much looking to the future and the theme of ‘momentum', which the company directors took every opportunity to reiterate during the conference, was well received by EMC employees throughout the entire food chain. Despite this, there were murmurings among some EMEA staff that although plenty of money is being spent on the development of EMC products, not enough is being invested in marketing them. Not everyone was in agreement though.

"You can't market a great product before you've developed a great product," said Barry Ader, senior director of storage product marketing at EMC. "Coming from both the marketing and product sides I would love it if we could invest just as much in both areas. We do invest in marketing our products but it's vital that we primarily invest in product development, so that we can offer our customers what they need.

Barbara Robidoux, VP of product marketing and storage platforms is in agreement.
"Our entire marketing strategy is built on what we call customer campaign and there are a number of different customer campaigns - in fact, there are eight and they tie in with different parts of our business. So there is a campaign focused on storing more intelligently.

"There's another campaign focused on securing critical assets. Another focused on getting business value out of enterprise adaptation. Different customers are in different situations."

Robidoux says what resonates with any one customer or any one city will vary to some degree. She gives the example of a very mature customer with a sophisticated IT infrastructure and centralised storage, who would probably be looking at how they can tier different levels of storage.

"That would be very different to a customer that doesn't have a strong, centralised storage infrastructure," adds Robidoux. "Maybe some of the smaller customers will be focused on consolidation. Just plain storage consolidation and we find customers like that all over the world who are still using direct attached storage, for example.

Robidoux feels the company has already made its name in protection. This, she said, goes all the way back to EMC's first protection product which was developed in response to its customers in Wall Street who required a business continuity solution immediately following the 1994 bombing of the World Trade Centre.

Since then, unfortunately, the company has had plenty of opportunities in the Middle East to prove the abilities of these solutions to get its customers back on-line or actually avoid a restart in the first place. One of the things that EMC has learned in the region is that the technology is critical but when people are enduring wars or natural disasters it is not just as simple as recovering information and getting back on-line.

"It's where your remote site is, who's there, how do get your people there," Robidoux explains. "Local people, the people who know the most about the environment, are busy trying to save their lives, their families and homes. So as far as we are concerned the planning process is as important as anything - the end-to-end services that we wrap around the solutions."

The Clariion storage line - storage that runs on AC power so it can run in the field - is one example of an EMC solution tailor-made for regions such as the Middle East. These systems are rugged so they are mobile and can be leveraged in the field.

"Of course, you have software on top of that to enable you to enable you to recover data, replicate data off-site to disaster recovery, whether it's local or remote," Ader says. "So there are many different ways that our solutions can help customers in those kinds of conditions."

Overall, the company is more than satisfied with its performance in the Middle and is excited about the opportunities here that it says it will be able to take advantage of.

"As businesses in these markets look to grow to network storage - many of them may still be on older storage devices - it's really a market opportunity for us," Ader says. "In the Middle East, for example, businesses are now looking at different technologies, such as IP storage. This enables customers to get to network storage and leverage it without all the skills that they may otherwise need for smaller network devices."

This rapid development ties in nicely with the EMC momentum theme - constantly developing in preparation for what lies around the corner for businesses across the globe.

The time when we stop talking about enterprise data storage in terms of exabytes - and we start talking in terms of zettabytes (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) - may not be too far off .

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