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Sun 19 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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Learning to swim in the sea of data

The storage industry is booming but customers are struggling with increased volume and lower budgets. We ask experts for their solutions to the problems

|~|main_storage_roundtable.jpg|~|Storage problem solvers, top to bottom: Raymond Kang, Brian Moroney, Mohamed El-Shanawany, Jason Phippen, Graham Porter|~| The virtual panellists

BM- Brian Moroney, general manager, Hitachi Data Systems Middle East and Mediterranean and Africa

GP- Graham Porter, marketing manager, Sun Microsystems Middle East and North Africa

JP- Jason Phippen, director, product marketing, Computer Associates

ME- Mohamed El-Shanawany, storage sales manager for Middle East and Pakistan, IBM Middle East

RK- Raymond Kang, managing director, Tandberg Data (Asia)||**|||~||~||~|
The storage market ended the year 2004 on a positive note. According to IDC, software alone was worth US$7.9 billion in revenue worldwide last year, but while vendors see growth in storage, systems administrators look at it as a reason for concern. As data grows exponentially, they are faced with the task of making sure they are capable of handling the volumes of data while curbing the costs to do it at the same time.

IT Weekly rounds up some of the biggest players in the industry to reveal their views on the pressing issues customers have about their storage requirements, how they see the market moving forward, and what customers should take into account when designing a cost-effective storage strategy.

What are the most pressing issues in storage right now?

GP:If you look at what customers are doing they have some huge problems in storage. And those are not problems that vendors have created. Those are problem caused by the business environment they are in.

A lot of the people we are talking to tell us that their data requirements are nearly doubling every year and they are looking at how to deal with it. Just going out, procuring it and making it work takes time. There’s a lead-time, so they’re always running to catch up. They’ve got issues with budget because IT people still have a problem in going back to the business world and asking for money and justifying it because they don’t speak the same language. That's a cultural issue. Business people don’t see the benefit of IT. They don’t understand the terminology. They just say ‘We want more.’

Probably only 10% of the people here have a service level agreement between the IT bunch and the users, so the users keep asking for things and they don’t pay for it. So they just ask for everything. It’s like a child at Christmas. They walk into a toyshop and they come out with two pages of what they want. And in reality they’re going to get five things. The users today are not being held accountable for everything that they want.

Another thing that these people kept telling us is ‘How do we decide what information we keep?’ ‘How do we decide what the user can store?’ These things are missing today. This is probably the culture in a company. We can sell them solutions, but the one thing IT companies can’t sell is culture and management. You also have business issues like compliance where people have to store data and legally hold it, and the IT people look at it and say, ‘How am I going to do this?’ ‘Where am I going to get my budget from?’

BM:When you go around and talk to CIOs, they all face the same sort of problems. It’s ROI — “How do I keep up with compliance?” “How do I manage my storage?” Storage is becoming very, very complex. How does one manage it? How does the IT manager make sure that he’s getting the right performance for the right application?

Also, if you talk to both small and medium-sized businesses and large enterprises, you’ll find that they have the same issue — they do not have enough people. Everybody is coming to work with less people and reduced costs. The problems, whether it’s a large company or an SMB, are pretty much the same. It’s the compliance issues, and it’s the management issues. They tend to be the same problems. If you look at the growth that most companies are going through right now, if they don’t have the same problems today, they will have the same problems in the future. The amount of storage in the world is doubling pretty much every two to three years. Managing that amount of raw data can be pretty complex so I don’t think you can say that the SMB market has more complex problems than the enterprise market. They all have problems and pretty much they’re the same.

Do you agree that each customer’s storage needs should be addressed differently and that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all storage solution?

BM:I agree. Every customer has problems but generally speaking most people use IT for the same sort of applications — everybody is using Oracle or SAP. Everybody will tell you that theirs is unique. It’s the fact that everything is unique that makes them all the same.

Yes, they’re a little different but the software they offer now — if you can put it across your whole range of storage and you can make the adjustments within the storage that suits you, then we have something that is available for all our customers.

ME:In IBM we have customers from entry-level to enterprise and accordingly we are aligning our products to fit all customers. We have different product ranges to fit more variety and different customer requirements. We believe that entry-level customers should buy entry-level [products]; mid-range customers should buy mid-range [products]; enterprise customers should buy enterprise.

Our message to our customers in IBM is that we try to align the cost of investment in storage as per the value of the information. Depending on the value of the information you shall decide on the technology, such as whether to use tapes or SATA disks or whether to use fibre channel disks.

We align the cost of investments in technology. We have a wide range of products from entry level to the enterprise to make sure that we satisfy the needs of the customers, with the right investment for each customer. We believe that customer requirements can fit anywhere from the entry level to the enterprise. So depending on the customer requirement he has the right to choose. We at IBM give our customers the right to choose which product to buy from which category.

JP:I think there are two trains of thought. Heterogeneity enables customers to maintain their price leverage. They buy things from multiple vendors even if it’s two big vendors. They can maintain price leverage. There are people who are going to buy the best-of-breed solutions from a particular vendor. That means it causes management challenges because those environments are typically managed as silos.

And then you’re also finding certain sections of customers who are actually looking for one-stop shops — tightly integrated hardware and software solutions from a single vendor because that gives them guaranteed interoperability.

And there’s no one size fits all. For management, there’s no one size fits all because everything has a different value.

When planning their storage strategy, what should IT managers take into consideration?

RK:We believe that there will be collaboration between the disk and tape technologies.

To help customers protect their data and secure their data, we are proposing a three-tier storage architecture to our customers.

The first tier will be online data — the mission-critical data such as databases, e-mails and application data. You need access to it so you will require high-performance disk systems. The second tier will be low-cost disk architecture such as SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment). By storing data on low-cost disk arrays data can be recovered faster. The last tier will be for long-term archiving and that is the area where I’m very confident that tape will be the paramount technology.

In today’s storage information management systems, you can’t do without the two. The reason you need disk for backup is for fast retrieval because today you need to back up more information. For tape you need to store information for a longer period of time. Data such as legal documents, medical reports, medical images, and engineering drawings — all these you can’t just delete over a period of ten years.

Also for reasons such as accounting scandals, companies are now becoming more responsible to answer to the public. That’s why audits are happening to impose and maintain accountability, which means you can’t just delete data when you feel like it.

You need the best storage solutions whether it is disk or tape, and leverage on their characteristics to drive down cost.

BM:CIOs problem is trying to do more with less. It’s trying to run his computers, and it’s trying to run his business without spending more money. One of the things that customers should be looking at is virtualisation.

Virtualisation enables people to keep products — that perhaps they might have made obsolete — running a bit longer.

Customers should also use different tiers of storage and different costs of storage to different values of data. If you need the highest response or the best performance, you have to put it on the latest and fastest storage. If, however, you have an application that only needs to retrieve data from storage once a month — you just want some archived data — you put it on perhaps less expensive storage. And that less expensive storage might be storage that you owned three or four years ago that you’ve written off but you still keep.

How do you see the storage market evolving? How do you see customers’ needs changing?

GP:A lot of storage companies are moving towards software. They want to get 50% of their revenue from software simply because it’s becoming very hard to make profit in selling hardware. You can’t sell hardware alone. You have to have a solution and services. And that’s how you are going to make money and differentiate yourself. In software you have higher margins, so that’s where the customer value is, because in the disk environment all they are doing is making it bigger and cheaper. There’s no sudden technological advancement; they’re just simply finding a way to make it bigger and cheaper.

ME:We believe that customers are becoming more oriented towards storage solutions. Customers are not looking to buy task-specific hardware anymore. They’re not buying hardware infrastructure for specific tasks but they’re buying a complete solution. Customers want to make sure that if they are buying a hardware or software it will be a completely workable solution. Customers have understood that buying islands of infrastructures might not deliver the complete solution at the end.

JP:Acquisitions will continue. I think a lot of smaller companies — software companies particularly — will cease to exist. They will be acquired. In the last two years there’s been more storage start-ups since about 1998 and these companies are literally starting up with a view to getting acquired. You see a lot of these small level companies creating technology specifically to be acquired.

You find that some of the potentially quite big — about US$50m to US$100m dollar — software companies, backup and recovery companies like CommVault and Backbone, will sooner or later be acquired. The hardware companies are looking at software to differentiate and it’s easier to buy than it is to build in that instance.

As for the industry, the storage industry is still growing. I think the storage software industry is growing worldwide at probably 15% CAGR (compound annual growth revenue). I think in the Middle East it’s a lot higher, probably around 20% to 25%, if you look at the IDC numbers. These types of vendors didn’t just actually happen a couple of years ago. As customers become more educated, become more mature, they are looking to understanding the issues, so that when they understand the issues they can fix the issues. When they fix these issues, it drives up storage business in the region.||**||

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